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.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

100. Mom is more than his truest friend

Washington Irving wrote, "A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts."

By my count, this is my 100th column, and I cannot think of a better occasion to express my appreciation and love for "my truest friend." Irving says it better than I ever could, although he neglects to note the tendency to take a mother for granted- in those times of "prosperity and sunshine."

I am fortunate that my mother has always been there, unconditionally, supporting me, even when she disagrees with me. Driven, but wandering, I have certainly been a handful. Without pause, she is always there to pick me up, and remind me that life does go on.

Growing up, she was the glue that held our family together. I have previously written about some of the challenges my father experienced; however, through it all, she was there- to help him and support us. My parents had a "traditional" relationship, in that she often catered to my father's needs. Even though we found this bothersome at times, Mom knew best, and considering the mitigating circumstances, it worked for us.

I do not think my mother has ever missed a day of work, nor has she ever, to my knowledge, dismissed a responsibility- regardless of how she felt physically or how much she is inconvenienced. My father had many ideas, and she always stuck it out with him- whether it was running a small farm or opening a small restaurant. My siblings and I took her for granted, often running her around town; somehow she managed running a household, small business and getting us to practice on time. All the accolades rendered upon mothers around the world certainly apply.

For my parent's 30th wedding anniversary, we threw them a surprise party. The event featured my father glowing in the attention, and mom out on the dance floor, cutting a rug to the 50s music we arranged. For the event, we put together a parody video, noting in particular the stereotypes within our family. We had my mom, played by my wife, waiting "hand and foot" on my dad, with the religious tune of "Hallelujah" playing in the background every time she walked on screen. She is an angel; my father knew it, and we know it. She has such a sense of kindness and calming, and their marriage of over thirty years was a testament to her commitment to our family.

After my father passed, my mom entered a new segment of her life- one that my siblings and I found refreshing. She has become rather outgoing; doing much more than she ever could in her traditional marriage. She plays cards with her girlfriends, attends Indians games, and makes the occasional trip to Amish country. More than a mom, and my truest friend, she's pretty fun. And funny.

For example, at a recent family gathering, she made "Better Than Sex" cake. Of first note, is this idea that I do not think my mom ever said the word "sex," until I was 30. On this day, my 15 year old niece had over her slightly younger boyfriend. In discussing her cake, my mom without thinking, turned to my niece's boyfriend and said, "So, is it better than sex?" Before she even realized what she said, we were all nearly on the floor in laughter. The startled boyfriend answered the question brilliantly, noting that he had not yet tried the cake.

Very much conservative-leaning, our disagreements, though rarely expressed, are often political. And when our disagreements are discussed, her frustration with me is actually somewhat endearing. I suppose if it were still in her power, she would like to "send me and my liberal ideologies to my room." And since she hardly ever gets mad or frustrated, I feel guilty in that I almost find it funny when she attempts to express it. It is though she does not even know how to do it. Perhaps I will arrange an "anger empowerment" therapy session for her.

Despite the idea that her world is more black and white, she is amazingly adaptive when she must consider shades of gray. I often think what a great world this would be if everyone could be like her. Since that is not possible, I am selfishly grateful that she is my mom, and this column is dedicated to her.