Thursday, August 9, 2007

101. Who is the animal in this case?

By now, most are familiar with the allegation that professional football player Michael Vick engaged in illegal dogfighting. At this time, it appears that he is being encouraged by his lawyers to accept the plea bargain, which will likely contain one year in prison. In addition to one year of freedom, admitting to the charges will cost Vick millions of dollars in salary and endorsement deals.

In the dark, grotesque world of dogfighting, in which individuals train and fight dogs, often Pit Bulls, owners seem to enjoy both the bloody battle and wagering on the outcomes. The Human Society describes it this way:

"Dogfighting is a cruel blood-sport in which two dogs, trained to be vicious by torturous methods such as beating, confinement in trunks or closets, or feeding them gunpowder, are pitted against each other in a fight to the death or until one dog cannot continue, for the amusement of spectators and high-priced wagering. Fights can last for hours as the dogs are trained to continue even after brutal wounds are inflicted."

In the Vick case, it is alleged that the dogs that did not meet "show" quality in their test fights were killed, even more tortuously, by hanging, drowning, electrocution, or by beating them to death.

I participated in several of the letter writing campaigns- to the National Football League and Vick's sponsors, such as Nike, which led to his suspension and loss of promotional sponsors. I told them, in addition to the form letters, that I had no intention to support any company or organization that employed people of such moral repulsiveness. I am a lifelong Browns fans, and I would miss rooting for them, but I could not consciously sit there and watch, and support, such a disgrace.

While many people realized the ghastly inhumanity of dog fighting, still others were reluctant, or surprised, that the incident created such an uproar. Disturbing were the comments made by people like Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins, who quickly ran to Vick's defense and said, "I don't know if he was fighting dogs or not, but it's his property, it's his dog. You want to hunt down Mike Vick over fighting some dogs? If that's what he wants to do, do it. I think people should mind their business." In addition, a lot of fans, who seem to care more about winning football games than the lives of "man's best friend," held steadfast that Vick was innocent until proven guilty, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence. Still others, as a matter of procedure, considered making race a factor.

Vick, who is a registered dog breeder, did not seem too concerned when he commented that he looked forward to clearing his name. Of course, at the time of that statement, he was hiring a high-profile defense team. Even as three of his co-defendants were admitting guilt and taking plea bargains, it seems that Vick is holding out for an O.J. Simpson-type legal miracle. While it could happen, all evidence suggests that a plea bargain would be in his best interest.

As much as I want to see Vick and his sordid friends spend years in jail, the greater good is the attention that this issue has gotten around the country. After paying his dues, Vick will still be wealthy enough to live a comfortable life. It is even likely that he will play football again, if not here (hopefully the NFL will give him a lifetime ban), then maybe in Canada or Europe. The combination of people forgetting and fans wanting their team to win, could lead to reconciliation- though never in my heart. But I hope that people will not forget that dogfighting is illegal, and that there are millions of people that are very passionate to the issue. In addition to the dogfighting, other types of animal fighting, such as cockfighting, have made news, and additional legislation has been passed making it illegal as well. Alas, there are even local reports- evident by the inquiries that have been made into cockfighting in Sheffield Township, and the rumors that heavily persist as to viability of dogfighting in Lorain.

There are not enough adjectives to describe how I feel about this case, but the bigger picture is our regard for animals- especially those animals that rely on us for every aspect of their lives. There are many levels of animal cruelty- far beyond the atrocities presented here. In addition to those animals that live in horrible conditions and die young to support our appetites, sadly it is often our own pets that are neglected and mistreated. The lack of compassion endured by animals includes both those that are needlessly butchered or hunted for food or pleasure, and those that silently sit desolately by themselves in tiny cages and cold barns.

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