When Rebecca Huss, L'92, saw the phone slip taped to her office door, she knew something unusual was going on. In this age of voice mail and e-mail, a message on paper stands out.

The note said an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia wanted to talk about dogs, and not just any dogs. Michael Vick, star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, had been implicated in a dog-fighting ring, and the case was all over the media. Huss, an animal law expert and professor at Valparaiso University School of Law, was about to join the show.

In Richmond, G. Wingate Grant, R'72 and L'79, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, had been assigned the asset forfeiture side of the Vick case, which was separate from the Vick prosecution. His team of government lawyers was looking for an animal law expert to help develop recommendations to present to the court on disposing of the dogs. Huss's name kept surfacing.

Seeing the University of Richmond connection, Grant contacted Wade Berryhill, professor of law, emeritus, and asked about Huss.

"He remembered her and said she was very good," Grant recalls.

The court appointed Huss guardian and special master to the dogs seized from Vick's Bad Newz Kennel in Surry County, Va.

Because of Vick's celebrity and money, media interest was intense. Huss's name appeared in the New York Times and People magazine in the same week. Valparaiso assigned a media expert to handle queries. Grant says the case "was probably the only asset forfeiture case ever featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated [Dec. 29, 2008]. People usually think of asset forfeiture cases as taking cars and Rolex watches from drug dealers, but there is a forfeiture provision in the Animal Welfare Act."

Huss found herself in Virginia, working with animal behavior experts. At one point, she realized she was "covered with animal hair and fluids," she says. "You never know where being a lawyer is going to take you."

Usually, after a large-scale seizure in a dog fighting case, the dogs are euthanized, Huss says. But the government wanted to avoid that, and Vick's deep pockets presented a rare opportunity.

Huss and Grant helped convince the court to order Vick to pay more than $928,000 to care for the dogs. The funds also paid experts to evaluate each animal to see which, if any of them, could be saved. Moving the dogs into federal custody provided rare options, Grant says.
"It was emotional to know that my work on placing the dogs would affect their lives, and possibly the public's safety," Huss says.

In the end, 47 of the 51 dogs were saved. Most went to rescue operations and others were placed in foster care or permanent homes.

As a result of the case, several states, including Virginia, revised dog fighting laws and related statutes. Huss published "Lessons Learned: Acting as Guardian/Special Master in the Bad Newz Kennel Case," in the 2008–09 volume of Animal Law Review. She continues to receive calls on animal law issues.

This article originally appeared the in the summer 2009 issue of Richmond Law, the University of Richmond School of Law alumni magazine.