What Happened When I was Dumb Enough to Buy Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound? Find Out in “It Went to the Dogs”.


Who Chains You Books Announces Our New Release…

It Went to the Dogs:
How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups

by Tamira Thayne

What could possibly go wrong when a dog activist buys Michael Vick’s dogfighting compound? As it turns out…everything.


The house sat empty, an eerie white sentinel against the flat winter landscape, now guarding only whispers of the past. A six-foot white metal fence with coded entry gate lined the country road, abandoning its purpose at the property line and allowing passage to all with the temerity and curiosity to walk around.

The bullet hole in the front window went unnoticed.


Tamira Thayne was alone, parked across the street, and early for her appointment with the Hampton Roads, Virginia realtor. Today was the day she’d tour Michael Vick’s former dogfighting compound, something she’d never imagined nor particularly wanted to do.

It seemed pretty creepy, truth be told.

Tamira felt the whispers surround her, reaching out. The rescuer in her wanted to rescue the ghosts, too; embrace the broken dogs who lay undiscovered and probably buried on the property, assure them they weren’t forgotten. She shuddered, pulling herself together.


The decision Tamira would make that fateful day in February 2011 would lead not only to a home for her nonprofit’s rescue dogs, but also to the most turbulent four years of her life: she faced down allegations of racism, community harassment, poisoning, and, ultimately, false charges aimed at driving her and Dogs Deserve Better from the county.

There was a reason Michael Vick felt he could get away with dogfighting in Surry County, Virginia—and why he got away with it for as long as he did…

With over 200 bw photos and documents.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-946044-67-9 • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-946044-69-3

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About the Author

Tamira Thayne pioneered the anti-tethering movement in America, forming and leading the nonprofit Dogs Deserve Better for 13 years.

During her time on the front lines of animal activism and rescue she took on plenty of bad guys (often failing miserably); her swan song culminated in the purchase and transformation of Michael Vick’s dogfighting compound to a chained-dog rescue and rehabilitation center. She’s spent 878 hours chained to a doghouse on behalf of the voiceless in front of state capitol buildings nationwide.

Tamira is the author of It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups, the Chained Gods Series, the Animal Protectors Series, Foster Doggie Insanity, and Capitol in Chains. She’s the editor of More Rescue Smiles, and the co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles. In 2016 she founded Who Chains You, publishing books by and for animal activists and rescuers.

Tamira is an Air Force veteran who lives by a river in the woods of northern Virginia, with her husband, daughter, one dog, six cats, and hundreds of outside birds and critters she adores from afar.

As Dogs Die in the Cold, Humans Flaunt their Lack of Morality, Compassion


A PA dog I never succeeded in freeing from his tether, watching him suffer for years.

“Don’t read the comments…don’t read the comments,” I muttered to myself, as I angrily and helplessly perused a particularly gruesome article about a dog frozen solid on a Toledo, Ohio porch, just days after Christmas.


After all, everyone knows most online commenters crawl from the boggy swamp each morning and slither back into its putrid depths as even daylight flees their remonstrances.

It’s madness to entertain the notion of reading this swill.

I read the comments.

“WHY do I read the comments?” I muttered to myself, as the next wave of anger crawled up my gullet and lodged in my thyroid, causing the death of millions of necessary cells and an immediate need to increase my dose of levoxyl.

One might reason that no one could logically argue that a dog left to freeze to death, curled up on the porch of an abandoned home, was within the bounds of humane treatment.

Yet online commenters—suffering from an obvious lack of morality and compassion—would once again cause me to lower the bar on what I perceive as the most subhuman level of societal dreghood.

Besides the whole gamut of “It’s just a dog” comments, one particularly egregious human posited that—because people are so much more important than dogs—if the guy had run into financial troubles, it followed that he would choose himself over the dog.

This was met with an odious amount of agreement from the peanut gallery of her fellow bog-dwellers, and I was forced by my remaining unexploded blood vessels to comment that a moral obligation to take care of humans in no way precludes the very same moral obligation to care for the animals we’ve taken responsibility for.

I also told them they were sick people. Sick, sick people.

Because they are.

In truth, though, I almost envy these heartless beings. Might it not be nice to be entirely unmoved by the plight of others?

To not hurt for the dogs left outside in the cold winter months? To not feel the excruciating and needless death of this poor creature as a black mark on the collective soul of our society?

Sometimes I wish I didn’t care. It turns out that caring is exceedingly painful.

Last night it dropped to 11 degrees in Culpeper County, Virginia, and below zero in many areas of the country. It’s set to dip even lower as the week goes on.

What do I do with this pain?

Even before I officially began advocating for backyard dogs in 2002, I remember the heightened anxiety I experienced on cold winter nights, and the very real fears for the survival of chained and other dogs left outside to fend for themselves in temperatures that would freeze a human within moments.

Now that I’m off the front lines of animal rescue, I find myself continuing to experience extreme anxiety in the severe cold, the knowledge of what these dogs must survive never relinquishing the space it has carved into my spirit.

As I walked to my chilly bedroom last night, changed into my flannel jammies, and threw on my space heater for a few minutes to warm up the room, I tried to push the pain aside so I could free myself (and maybe them?) in dreamland.

I shivered at what I perceived as the frigid touch of my blankets, feeling immediate shame that I could tolerate so little cold while the dogs didn’t even have the luxury of losing themselves in sleep, spending their 14 hours of darkness locked in a battle for basic survival.

I put myself in their fur for just a moment, feeling the wrap of the chain around my neck, the cold metal flash-freezing to my exposed skin, my hopeless and fruitless search for someplace, anyplace, within the reach of my tether to provide even a moment’s escape from the subzero windchill. I would huddle in the corner of my drafty house, wishing for bedding that didn’t exist, and a kindness and empathy from my guardians that would not be forthcoming.

I was depressed, despondent, terrified of death’s approach.

But I was just a dog, after all.

I pulled myself from the vision. The air around my bed was heavy with suffering, both mine and theirs, and I was wrapped in a cloak of misery.

What do I do with this pain?

That, I still have no answer for.

This Christmas, Finally, Pennsylvania Chained Dogs Will Find a Gift Under the Tree

(This Op-Ed appeared in an edited version in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, and can be read and commented on at this link. I encourage you to post a comment, as it will encourage the paper to print more animal opinion pieces.)


In the past, Pennsylvania winters have brought the gift of anxiety to both dog rescuers and caring citizens forced to witness the suffering of neighborhood dogs from the warmth of their kitchen windows.


While some humans hung lights from their porches and stockings from their chimneys, their dogs hung from tethers in the backyard—cold, hungry, thirsty, miserable, and, most of all, isolated.

Anyone who stepped forward to ease the suffering of these forgotten dogs was told to “mind their business”, or, worse, arrested for the “crime” of providing food, water, or medical care to one of God’s creatures.

As founder of the first national nonprofit focusing solely on backyard dogs, I spent 13+ years leading efforts to free dogs from chains in Pennsylvania. In just one example, I recall watching two Cambria County dogs fight to stay alive in the subzero temperatures of a miserable January day. The skinny white husky huddled in her flimsy, strawless house, while a short-haired boxer in the same yard shivered and shook as she devoured every morsel of the food I offered, skin taut over protruding ribs.

It was obvious to all Pennsylvania citizens who possessed a beating heart that these dogs—and the thousands like them left chained to suffer the frigid elements—deserved better than the life to which they’d been sentenced.


Yet Pennsylvania law lagged behind what most understood to be moral truth.

This holiday season, for the first time ever, Pennsylvania chained dogs will find the gift of a law under their trees, and animal advocates and caring citizens alike will be the bearers of a merrier, i.e. less anxiety-ridden, Christmas.

In June of this year, Pennsylvania passed a comprehensive animal care package, which benefits chained dogs by prohibiting tethering for more than nine hours a day, and—even better—30 minutes or less in temperatures below 32 degrees.

While some may argue that a nine-hour law will be difficult to enforce, I maintain that a difficult law is better than no law at all when it comes to protecting Man’s Best Friend.

During my tenure on the front lines of efforts for chained dogs, I was left with no legal recourse to help chained dogs. I’m thrilled to say that is no longer the case.

To ensure that the new laws are enforced and upheld by humane agents and police officers, I offer three tips for concerned citizens:

  1. Keep a copy of the law on-hand. Most humane officers are well-versed in the new laws, and will make a reasonable effort to ensure they are enforced. However, many police officers will be less familiar with new animal laws, and you will want to have a copy of the law in hand while discussing the case with officers. You can find and print a copy of the law at this link: https://www.animallaw.info/statute/pa-cruelty-%C2%A7-5536-tethering-unattended-dog
  2. Document the case. No one is more concerned about getting a neighborhood dog help than you are, because you’re witnessing the neglect daily. In order to relieve both your suffering and the dog’s, do the legwork required to prove the law isn’t being followed. Keep a journal of the times of day you see the dog left chained in the yard. Take photos, and consider setting up a live feed that records more than nine hours if necessary. An investment of a few days on your end can save a dog from a lifetime of misery on a chain.
  3. Accept the responsibility to testify when necessary. A humane officer may drop a case if he/she doesn’t have eyewitness testimony. While I know it can be scary, the dogs need us to be their voices. Remember that they cannot speak for themselves.


When I chained myself to a doghouse on the Pennsylvania State Capitol steps for 54 days advocating for passage of our anti-tethering law in 2010, my steadfast dream was that this day would come for chained dogs. It didn’t happen then, but now, in 2017, animal advocates and concerned citizens who came together to make this dream a reality can lay this gift at the feet of the chained dogs, finally presenting them with the justice they deserve.

I, for one, couldn’t be happier about it.

Five Ways for a Citizen to Tell if a Dog is Living Chained 24/7:

  1. There’s no grass. When dogs live chained for life, they end up with patches of dirt or mud instead of a grassy area, especially in the circle at the outer edge of the chain’s reach. The dogs run the perimeter out of frustration or boredom, and the chain’s dragging pulls out the grass.
  2. The doghouse is broken down, chewed up, decrepit. If a dog is chained 24/7, there’s a good chance he/she has been there for years, and this may not be the first dog to be sentenced to this fate. In these cases, the doghouse is old, falling apart, and has holes or other structural damage that make it an unsuitable shelter for the dog.
  3. The dog looks unkempt, smells badly. Dogs who spend their lives outside rarely if ever receive baths, and so their fur is dirty, matted, scruffy.
  4. The dog has fleas, ticks, other parasitic issues. A dog who spends 24/7 outside with no preventative will suffer flea, tick, worm, and other parasitic infestations. These become obvious to the casual observer, and without medical intervention, can prove deadly.
  5. The dog becomes angry, territorial, depressed, or shows signs of mental deterioration. According to the CDC, chained dogs are up to 3x more likely to bite, due to lack of socialization with humans and the fight or flight syndrome. A chained dog is unable to flee, therefore he/she must be on the alert and prone to increased aggression.

About Tamira Thayne:

capitolbookcover16loTamira Thayne pioneered the anti-tethering movement in America, forming and leading the nonprofit Dogs Deserve Better for 13 years. During her time on the front lines of animal activism and rescue she took on plenty of bad guys (often failing miserably); her swan song culminated in the purchase and transformation of Michael Vick’s dogfighting compound to a chained-dog rescue and rehabilitation center.

Tamira’s spent 878 hours chained to a doghouse on behalf of the voiceless in front of state capitol buildings nationwide; her organization rescued and rehabilitated thousands of chained dogs, finding them new, inside homes and families.

In 2016 she founded Who Chains You, publishing books by and for animal activists and rescuers. Tamira is the author of The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, Foster Doggie Insanity, and Capitol in Chains, and the co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.

DDB: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas from 27 Missouri Dogs


27 Dogs. A Nonprofit Lacking in Christmas Spirit. And a Woman Who is Fighting Back.

Can We Bring Her and the Dogs She Serves the Special Christmas They Deserve?


Annie was chained to a tree. Hopeless, helpless to find a better life. Then she was rescued by Dogs Deserve Better-Missouri and Melody Whitworth. Now she has that chance she always dreamed of.

Annie deserves a wonderful Christmas, just like every rescued dog. But she’ll need a Christmas miracle to find a package from Santa under her tree this year.

A couple weeks ago, Dogs Deserve Better’s Director Denise Cohn flew (on the organization’s dime, mind you) to Missouri to dump the whole branch (yes, including the 27 dogs), with no discussion, no explanation, and no just cause.

She had no plan in place to care for the dogs. But you don’t get to just dump dogs and assume they can care for themselves, do you?

Denise promptly got back on a plane and flew away, expecting Melody would care for the dogs even though her dream—and the rug—had just been pulled out from under her. Despite a signed contract giving Melody the right to run and build a Missouri facility under Dogs Deserve Better, she, her volunteers, the branch they’d been successfully running since 2008, and their dogs were dumped by Dogs Deserve Better without a moment’s notice.


Melody at the DDB Good Newz Rehab Center in February 2014

Melody has filed a lawsuit in Missouri court against Dogs Deserve Better for Breach of Contract. More will come on the case as it progresses.


For now we need to focus on the immediate needs of the dogs. Melody is staying strong and fighting back, and the best way we can help Dogs Deserve Better Missouri is to SHOW THEM OUR SUPPORT.


Every year at Christmas Dogs Deserve Better runs a Sponsor a Dog for the Holidays Program. This is an amazing feel-good incentive that I started the second year after founding DDB, and it was truly our best-loved annual event. People raved over the photos of the dogs with their gifts, and they adored playing a part in bringing the dogs happiness after they spent years at the end of a chain.

Supporters could sponsor one of our foster dogs for the holiday season, and we’d mail them a photo and a little writeup about their special dog. They often gave sponsorships as holiday gifts for loved ones, and some of our supporters came back year after year to the program. It was special.

Every Christmas we raised enough money for every dog in our program—usually over 100 dogs—to receive his or her very own Petco or Petsmart gift card. We also paid vet bills and folks loved to send the dogs packages with gifts they picked out themselves too.

We loved playing Santa Claus, and so did our donors.


Melody’s volunteers on a trip to Petco for their doggie gifts

Melody’s dogs were ALWAYS a BIG part of the program. All her dogs got gift cards, and they often went as a group with foster dogs and foster parents to Petco to buy their gifts and share in the fun.

We usually raised enough funds through our holiday program to put $2000 or so on Melody’s account at her vet’s office. As you can imagine, rescuing chained and penned dogs (who come with NO vet care) is often a costly endeavor. I was thrilled to be able to help Melody continue her work for chained dogs without the added stress of wondering how she would pay for vet fees into the new year.

But this year, DDB (aka The Grinch) Stole Christmas from the 27 Rescued Dogs in Missouri. They threw them out of the organization, eliminated their safe place to lay their heads, and cleaned out their Christmas tree.

DDB is running their Holiday Sponsor a Dog program alright—but not a single one of Melody’s dogs is included.

Without our help Melody’s dogs at DDB-MO will not have Christmas.


Please help.


Melody working with one of our shy dogs at the Good Newz Rehab Center

Let me tell you a little bit about Melody Whitworth, and why I feel we all need to stand and fight by her side. Melody was the ONLY rep to ever get an official branch while I was with Dogs Deserve Better. She quickly showed she was capable of operating to a very high standard, and her enthusiasm for the cause and calm efficiency brought people together.

Earlier we had many reps all over the country, but no one was ever authorized to take their work for chained dogs to the level that Melody was. She was given this responsibility, this trust, because she was (and IS) strong, honest, committed, and operated her branch with the utmost integrity.

She never needed me to hold her hand, but she appreciated and needed the financial support of the national holiday program to give her dogs the Christmas they deserved.

Melody ran her branch the way I wished I could run DDB. She negotiated, she built bridges, and she was and is respected by the volunteers, foster homes, and community that she works in.

I too respected and still respect her greatly.

I’m asking DDB supporters to support Melody in this fight. What Denise Cohn and the DDB Board of Directors has done and are doing is shameful. Absolutely shameful.

I hang my own head over the way the group I formed, devoted myself to, and loved for 13 years has treated a woman who gave the chained dogs and this organization her ALL.

The best way we—as supporters of Melody and DDB-Missouri—can show her we have her back is to choose one or two of the 21 dogs listed on her Holiday Sponsor a Dog page and send along a package or a monetary donation. Your donations will go ONLY to Melody’s branch, and will be used to care and provide gifts for the 27 dogs there that have been pushed aside and ostracised by Dogs Deserve Better.


If you’re a dog lover, and a supporter of all I’ve worked for and Melody has worked for to bring better lives to chained dogs, this choice is a no-brainer.

I will be choosing a dog this evening to support with my donation. I will fight by Melody’s side.

Please, stand with us! Let Melody know she is not alone, that she doesn’t have the full burden of the care of 27 dogs on her own. We are here for DDB-Missouri.

Here’s the link:



For Benny


For Botsman


For Bruno


For Chaos


For Dakota


For Giget


For Henry


For Jfar


For Jessie


For Junior


For Lady


For Lucy


For Marshall


For Molly


For Reba


For Simon


For Squeaky


For Sugar


For Sydney


For Teddy

Sponsor a Formerly-Chained-But-Now-Free-And-Loving-Life DDB Missouri Dog for the holidays. Because they deserve better than the treatment The Grinch has given them.


Thank You for Reading, Caring, and Sponsoring! I will post an update this weekend.

Please share. This story deserves to be heard, and these dogs need all the support they can get. My gratitude to you, and Happy Holidays.