Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Michael Vick Controversy and the ASPCA

This week we have heard all kinds of different views on the issue of whether Michael Vick should have been signed by the Philadelphia Eagles after his release from federal prison. He served a 23-month sentence after he and three other defendants plead guilty to felony crimes related to operating a dogfighting ring. He operated his Bad Newz Kennels for six years. He confessed to electrocuting, hanging and drowning dogs that lost or were timid in the ring, only after others implicated him.

It's obvious that I'm a dog lover so it isn't too hard to imagine that I was appalled that the Eagles signed him. I thought that someone would. I knew that some team would sign him and calculate that the furor of the dog lovers would eventually blow over once the football season started. It's easy to rationalize anything away when there is lots of money to be made. I just never thought that the team that would do so would be so close to home.

These are some of the arguments that I have heard over the past week concerning Michael Vick:
  1. He has paid his dues and deserves a second chance.
  2. It was all about dogfighting so now it's over. "This is not about animal abuse."
  3. The argument that dogs fight in the wild so it was no big deal that they fought for money.
  4. This is about football so just shut up. (A variation of #2)
  5. Vick was unfairly sentenced and singled out. "People drink and drive and kill people and don't serve 23 months in prison."
  6. This is only an issue because it's about dogs. "If Vick had been running a cockfighting ring, there wouldn't be such a big stink about it." "Sarah Palin killed a moose and people didn't get so worked up. What's the difference? Is a dog more important than a moose?"
The redemption argument is the one that the Philadelphia Eagles seem to be utilizing. It's a theme that Americans especially love. The team appears to be attempting to re-branding Vick as "an agent of change" and describe his partnering with the Humane Society of the United States as a way of speaking out against animal cruelty. The Eagles' Jeff Lurie has said, “He has a chance to prove he is committed to saving more animals than he has eliminated."

I like to believe in redemption and I like to think that many people can change. Somehow, this scenario just seems so wrong... The skeptic in me doubts that someone who committed such violent acts could transform so quickly. I was interested in the opinions of the people who work in rescue on a daily basis. I know many people who are involved in specific breed rescue and I had a good idea most of the rescue folks weren't buying into this. No. Experience has given many of them a jaundiced view of their fellow human beings and this case has just set their simmering anger ablaze. A director of a Philadelphia-based rescue who pointed out that on the 60 Minutes interview that Vick did, he just talked about himself and never mentioned the dogs! He didn't believe that Vick was the least bit repentant. He said that it was all about Vick and how he had suffered! 60 Minutes just gave Vick a forum to reinvent himself.

In a blog entry on the ASPCA web site, Ed Sayres: The Road Ahead for Michael Vick, the organization's president states in the opening paragraph:

"After careful consideration, we have decided to speak out now about Michael Vick because of the special circumstances involving the ASPCA. Several months ago, Mr. Vick's PR representatives approached the ASPCA to help educate America about the heinous act of dog fighting following his release from prison. We were the first animal welfare organization given the opportunity to work with Mr. Vick but immediately turned him down due to the unique knowledge we had of his indescribable and barbaric acts of animal cruelty where he and his associates savagely electrocuted and beat dogs to death after they lost their brutal fights."

The blog can be read in its entirety @

The image of the young pit bull is from Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain.