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Activists, some fans gather for Vick court appearance

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -Steve Stanaway and his Chihuahua, Dinky, were in the majority outside the federal courthouse, on hand to voice their disgust with Michael Vick.

Curiosity seekers from as far as Massachusetts lined up early and stood hip to hip in front of the downtown courthouse Thursday, some with signs condemning the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, others sporting Vick clothing and rallying behind the former Virginia Tech star.

Vick supporters were far outnumbered, evident by the boos that greeted Vick as he emerged from a sport utility vehicle at 3 p.m. to appear on dogfighting charges.

"I've taken a side. I'm with the dogs," Stanaway said.

He said many of his York County neighbors support Vick, a Newport News native. But he pointed to the lengthy, detailed indictment.

"They've got 18 pages of evidence out there," he said. "All of it can't be wrong."

Hours before Vick arrived, Shawn Dodson sat in his Vick jersey, 110 miles from his Lynchburg home.

"You don't see them with signs with the co-defendants' names on them. It's because he's a superstar," he said, motioning to protesters. "It's not right."

Authorities accuse the player and three others of sponsoring "Bad Newz Kennels," a brutal dogfighting ring headquartered on Surry County property Vick owned. Authorities said the men killed underperforming dogs, electrocuting, hanging, shooting or drowning the animals.

The four men pleaded not guilty and were released without bond until a Nov. 26 trial.

The indictment's gory details have incensed animal rights activists, who showed up in force Thursday. They toted signs with huge pictures of pit bulls mangled in fights, and a few of them wore dog costumes.

John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States, said the unfortunate case offered a chance to highlight the ugly sport of dogfighting.

"There are a quarter million dogs that are fought to the death in these pits every year," he said. "Now we have a great opportunity to do something."

One hundred people were allowed in U.S. District Court for Vick's arraignment, and a courtroom holding 200 was set aside for the overflow.

Some began lining up before sunrise, switching off with friends to take bathroom breaks as they waited through the day.

Susan Schwabe came at 8 a.m. The former Vick fan carried a sign reading, "Prosecute All Dogfighters."

"I'm here for the dogs," she said. "They don't have a voice."

Beside her, Vick supporter Tyrell Allen dragged on a cigarette. On his feet were Vick's signature Nike shoes.

Allen figured Vick might have bet on dogs a few times. But he thought it wasn't anything special, and figured Vick's case was only getting attention because he's a star.

"Dogs fight every day," Allen said.

By late afternoon, dozens of onlookers had swollen to hundreds, corralled across the street from the courthouse behind police barricades.

Around 4 p.m., a mixture of shouts of "We love you" and jeers rose as Vick emerged from the courthouse and quickly hopped into a truck.

Afterward, one protester exchanged heated words with a Vick supporter, who suggested race might be at the root of Vick's case.

But Schwabe focused on the bigger picture.

"He has tons of talent," she said. "I just hate to see this happen."

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