Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why I am Thankful for the Michael Vick Saga

On the eve of the day that Michael Vick was released from his prison term and is now home serving the rest of his sentence in house arrest, I wanted to reflect on what he has done--albeit not intentionally--to help pit bulls across the nation. I know it sounds odd ... a pittie advocate like me almost grateful for this horrible case of abuse and to this misguided man who lost everything (and he had ALOT to lose) for the crimes he and his cronies perpetrated toward his canine victims.

However, when one looks at the big national picture regarding dogfighting and how it is handled in our legal system, no other case has catapulted the atrocities of dogfighting to the public arena in this way and no other case has done more to show that the victims of these crimes deserve a second chance at life instead of what was and is usually recommended for them -- a "humane" death. Pit bulls are now regarded with more compassion and understanding, and that is something that no other dogfighting bust has ever accomplished. As we all know, there are many of these busts nationwide each year, with a few here in Dona Ana County as well--for both cockfighting and dogfighting.

In reality, Michael Vick paid a much higher price than the average dogfighter pays in our justice system. It is because of his celebrity that such a bright and harsh light was upon him. As most of us know, he is not the first nor the last who will use and abuse this powerful yet loving dog breed. Most of those busted for these crimes get away with a slap on the wrist (as we have seen here), and most of their victims meet the fate of death after all the anguish and fear they have endured most of their lives.

There is talk out of HSUS that Michael Vick may go to work for them in their campaign against dogfighting. I hope this does happen for several reasons. First of all, I genuinely believe that all former criminals deserve a second chance at life and to redeem themselves after they have paid their debt to society. Michael Vick is no different and isn't more of a monster than anyone else who has committed this crime. I also think that, even if Vick is not genuine in his feelings toward wanting to help dogs, his ability to get the message to the public is a powerful one. He can speak to those youth who are caught up in this lifestyle in a much more meaningful way than you or I can do so.

Another thing I often point out, which does not necessarily earn me any popularity points among my peers, is that even some of those who work in animal welfare are prejudiced against this dog breed and fear these dogs. I can't help but wonder about the irony, too, of an animal-welfare and justice system that calls for the systematic death of the victims of the crimes it fights so hard against. Imagine if we did this for the human victims of crimes? These dog victims are "saved" from their abusers to often suffer more in intense confinement after their supposed salvation and then meet their demise when all is said and done. That is something we need to question and raise our voices against, too.

As Michael Vick goes to work for the HSUS, I hope he and all of us will openly challenge this big, powerful, rich animal group to use some of its vast resources to do more than just lead busts against dogfighters and call for harsher penalties and laws. The HSUS needs to do more than launch educational campaigns to convince the people of this nation that dogfighting is nothing more than a human-constructed world of carnage and cruelty. Although I agree with all of these messages and efforts, where I diverge with groups like the HSUS is that they then walk away from the very victims that they alone have the most power and resources to redeem and rescue.

I hope we can convince HSUS, PETA, and others to monetarily and vocally support the animal groups in this nation that are poised and ready to help the actual victims of each of these crimes (BAD RAP, Best Friends, Villalobos Rescue Center, etc.). The Michael Vick dogs have proven that most of the dogs from these cases are savable and deserve as much of a second chance as any other homeless dog. For an update on the ones that ended up at Best Friends, all of which were deemed the most challenging to rehabilitate, see this recent story: Boon to the Breed.

As we reach a point in this nation where more and more homeless animals are saved, we need to ask ourselves what is the way forward for the humane movement. To me, it is in saving and advocating for all the underdogs and undercats of this society. After all, it was not that long ago we were killing 24+ million homeless animals a year. Now, that number is down to about 3 to 4 million. Of these, about a million are pit bulls and bully mixes. Another large quantity are feral cats. These are the underdogs we should be targeting most for our efforts.

After all, it's easy to save a cute and cuddly animal; there is no want of homes for these types. The ones we need to save now and speak up for are those that are most marginalized.

At right is a picture from the recently-released DVD documentary about some of the Vick dogs called Vicktory to the Underdog. I encourage everyone who can to order this film and watch it. It is about both human and canine underdogs, and it is a story of success and triumph over all that ails us.

I sincerely wish Michael Vick a better future -- one that is not riddled with the suffering of innocent dogs forced to do something that is more unnatural to them than any of us realize. I hope he can also reach some of the people out there that continue to participate in this sorry excuse of a "sport".

1 comment:

Tangi Adopt A Rescue said...

Wonderful post and right on. Dogs and people can change and learn new ways. Thank you for posting this important info.

It is people like you that are making the day when the killing stops in our shelters grow closer. Keep this articles coming.