Carrying signs with slogans like "No awards for dog killers" and "Cowards abuse animals," Tuesday evening about 100 protesters picketed the award ceremony at which convicted dogfighter Michael Vick received an award for his courage and sportsmanship.
Protesters, many holding pictures of Vick's mutilated fighting dogs, and a few with dogs of their own on leashes, lined the road leading to the Martin's West banquet hall, where the Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback, was set to accept the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation's coveted honor.
Every year 32 players receive the honor, which is named after a longtime Baltimore Colts trainer who also worked as a physical therapist at a hospital for disabled children. The idea is to acknowledge players who are "role models" and "exemplify commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage."
"I am here to protest that the Eagles have given Michael Vick a Courage Award and everyone else has gone along with it," said Darlene Sanders Harris, who organized the demonstration. "I don't think he exudes courage or any of the qualities they are looking for in an Ed Block recipient."
Animal advocates have voiced their dismay at Vick getting the honor since last December when his teammates chose him for it. Hundreds of emails and calls poured into the foundation's Baltimore office, and thousands of people signed online petitions.
Numerous Baltimore-area animal advocacy groups joined the outcry, as did national organizations including American Kennel Club.
The foundation, however, declined to intervene, allowing Vick to get the award although it meant bolstering security and canceling a popular tradition at the dinner where fans could mingle with players and get autographs.
"People have the right to voice their opinion," foundation spokesman Paul Mittermeier said at the dinner. He wanted people to know that the executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States was attending the event, too.
As the ticket holders arrived at the party, many dressed in eveningwear, most of them had to drive past the protest, which was largely silent.
One protester wore a dog costume splotched with red paint to resemble blood. Others who have been picketing Eagles home games since the team signed Vick drove from Philadelphia to show their solidarity. Some guests honked and hooted their support. Others gestured obscenely and yelled things like, "Leave the guy alone."
Stacey Mateo of Abingdon, who was attending the dinner with friends, said of Vick, "He deserves to be here just like everyone else."
Vick, at the party with his fiance, wearing a dark suit and large diamond studs in both ears, declined to speak to a reporter about the protesters except to say, "I already addressed that."
Ann Coleman, a Baltimore pit bull owner and member of B-More Dog, a pit bull advocacy group, was part of the crowd protesting outside. She knew the names of the various bloodied Vick dogs displayed on the signs.
"We're not going to forget about this," she says.
Barbara Goldstein of Pikesville, who fostered a Cocker Spaniel that had been used as a bait dog by dog fighters, simply didn't understand why anyone would honor Vick.
"I find it appalling to give this to someone that has gotten enjoyment from hurting dogs," she said. "What is he courageous about?"
Baltimore's recipient is Ravens safety Dawan Landry, who after suffering a serious neck injury and missing the last 14 games of the 2008 season, returned this season to regain his starting job.