RICHMOND, Va. -- More than 50 pit bulls seized from Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick's property face a Thursday deadline to be claimed, and if no one comes forward, they could be euthanized.
Federal prosecutors filed court documents last month to condemn 53 pit bulls seized in April as part of the investigation into dogfighting on Vick's property. No one has claimed any of the dogs, which are being held at several unspecified shelters in eastern Virginia, the U.S. Attorney's office said Wednesday.
The civil complaint filed by federal prosecutors does not name Vick and is separate from the criminal case against him. But it does state that the pit bulls were part of the dogfighting operation known as "Bad Newz Kennels," which Vick and three cohorts are accused of operating. The document also includes detailed allegations about the nature of the animals' training regimen and about the dogfights occurring at Vick's property at 1915 Moonlight Road in Surry County.
The government filed three public civil forfeiture notices in a Richmond newspaper to publicize the dogs' confiscation, and the deadline for claims is 30 days after the appearance of the final notice, filed July 24.
Federal prosecutors declined to comment Wednesday on the seized dogs, but typically what occurs after property confiscated during investigations of criminal operations goes unclaimed is that the government asks the court to have the items declared forfeited. In this case, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson will make the final decision on the dogs' fate.
"There's no dispute over who owns the dogs," said Daphna Nachminovitch, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "Obviously this is not going to be a process where someone steps forward and says, 'This is my dog, can I have her back, please?' "
Though Hudson, who also is handling Vick's criminal case, will determine what becomes of the pit bulls, Nachminovitch said that it's likely that they will be euthanized because they're unadoptable as pets.
"These dogs are a ticking time bomb," she said. "Rehabilitating fighting dogs is not in the cards. It's widely accepted that euthanasia is the most humane thing for them."
Vick, 27, said through a lawyer this week that he will plead guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture. He is scheduled to enter his plea agreement Monday and could face up to five years in prison.
Three Vick associates have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and agreed to testify against him if the case went to trial. They said Vick provided virtually all the gambling and operating funds for the Bad Newz Kennels enterprise. Two of them also said Vick participated in executing at least eight underperforming dogs by various means, including drowning and hanging.
The locations of the shelters holding the dogs haven't been disclosed out of concern that the animals could be stolen, Nachminovitch said.
"They are a hot commodity in the world of dogfighting," she said.