In shadow of Vick case, 2 NFL players show love for dogs

By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
September 7, 2007
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- As the Michael Vick dogfighting case drew headlines all summer, Club K-9 did brisk business.
About the time the Vick agreed to a plea deal, talks heated up about expanding the day care for dogs operation backed by linebackers Will Witherspoon of the St. Louis Rams and Dan Morgan of the Carolina Panthers.
Now, with Vick facing jail time and indefinitely suspended from the Atlanta Falcons, Morgan and Witherspoon have agreed to help sponsor a rescue program that places stray dogs in homes.
"We're on the opposite end of the scale" from Vick's situation, Witherspoon said.
On Sunday, Morgan plays in his first game in a year when the Panthers open the season against Witherspoon's Rams. While the main storyline will be Morgan's risky return after at least five concussions, the friends will probably be discussing canines when they meet on the field before the game.
"We love dogs and we want to see them treated good," Morgan said. "We try to help them out as much as possible."
In the shadows of all the negative news from NFL players -- from Vick to "Pacman" Jones to Chris Henry -- Witherspoon and Morgan have quietly built their business.
"I think it's a great thing they do there," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "I wish we would be reading about that kind of stuff in the paper. There is a lot more of that stuff happening in this league on a daily basis."
Witherspoon and Morgan quickly become friends five years ago as Panthers' teammates. Their love of dogs -- they own a combined six -- was a major factor.
After going into real estate ventures, the two decided to enter a partnership with Charlotte businesswoman J.P. Brewer who had already opened a doggie day care center in downtown Charlotte.
The trio opened a second center in the suburbs
"You bring your dogs whether you're going to a Panthers game or if you just want to drop them off for the day," Morgan said. "If you're going away for a long vacation you can drop them off."
The operation's Web site says it's "committed to providing a safe, clean, fun-loving environment" for dogs with indoor and outdoor play spaces and "bed and breakfast style boarding."
Dogs run around in open space, playing with each other and a variety of toys. There are grooming facilities, veterinary services, and overnight boarding available.
Witherspoon, who left the Panthers to sign a free-agent deal with Rams before the 2006 season, is now hoping to open another location in Missouri.
"It's a lot of fun," Witherspoon said.
And the polar opposite of the federal dogfighting conspiracy charge Vick pleaded guilty to.
"That's a touchy situation especially as an NFL player to even talk about," Morgan said. "But us owning a doggie day care, we love dogs, we take care of dogs. We adopt dogs, we bring them in. We pay for them ourselves. We do a lot of stuff that comes out of our pockets to give dogs better homes. We do a lot of positive things for dogs."
Brewer said they've partnered with an area dog rescue operation -- Project HALO, for Helping Animals Live On -- to form a nonprofit shelter that places stray dogs in homes.
The new group, to be called Club K-9 Halo, opens next month and Morgan and Witherspoon have agreed to be "lifelong donors."
"We bring in dogs off the street," Morgan said. "We adopt them back out.
"We just both love dogs."
AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this report.
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