The Benefit I See in Michael Vick

We're angry at Vick, sure, but angry enough to change a passive society and a backward justice system? I hope so.

Editor’s Note: So you might be suprised to read a headline like this on Dogster. We can’t blame you. Usually we come down pretty hard on Michael Vick — we do so even in our list of Dogster Values — and we’ll continue to hold him and other abusers accountable for their criminal actions. When a reader asked if she could share her opinion on Vick with you, even if it was an unpopular opinion, we agreed. More than anything, we want Dogster to be a place where we can have a civil conversation about all things dog, even when the subject matter gets a rise out of us. We invite you to weigh in below. But do keep any racist and ad hominem attacks in check: we will absolutely delete those. —Janine Kahn, EIC


I have been a passionate Pit Bull advocate for more than 20 years, from Pit Bull education to campaigning against BSL to being very active in Pit Bull rescue and placement. Very few dog issues spike my passion more; not because they are my breed (they aren’t), but because they’re big-hearted dogs who merit far more compassionate concern than they get.

So when Michael Vick came along and was placed under the public spotlight, I felt relieved. Finally, this was an opportunity to put these issues front and center. Michael Vick, unlike every other fighting case to involve a gang member or good ol’ boys network, was less apart from the average American citizen. He was a cultural icon. A remarkable and charismatic athlete, a success story out of the projects, someone many wanted to be.

Through such familiarity, the case would surely be seen as striking closer to home and thereby rally more interest. People would listen. For a time, Pit Bulls could be seen as victims, they would have champions, and average America could learn more of the fight industry and be able to personalize it. Because this was Michael Vick.

Humane forces in this country knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the media itself was more than willing to oblige, for this was Michael Vick. Not all that long prior, the Boudreaux family of Louisiana had been indicted on dog fighting charges, but this registered barely a blip in the media. Featuring a multigenerational family with the most-prized fighting bloodlines in the world (Floyd Boudreaux himself was known as the “don of dog fighting”), the case was far more significant than Vick’s.

But it was less palpable to our senses. There was little promotion of this landmark arrest, no particular public outcry, no picketing, no demands from our country that justice be served. And so it was not. The famed Boudreauxes were acquitted, and the operation is back up and running. Once again the Boudreaux yard is filled with dogs, and it elicits no sense of urgency — whereas Michael Vick bringing his pet to a PetSmart puppy class does?

Michael Vick did horrible things, and there is nothing that ought be allowed to diminish that. However, nothing he did (which includes the cruel and torturous killings of dogs) is anything but commonplace in inner-city Pit-fighting culture. Dogs who don’t fight fearlessly enough are often dispatched in retribution-style killings, in which the wrath of the owners descend upon these poor dogs full force.

We must be far more strident in ensuring dog fighting is brought to an end in this country. Just because Michael Vick got busted doesn’t mean it has stopped. It hasn’t. This must remain the point of concern, for if it doesn’t then we have missed the point entirely.

Nothing underscores this more to me than our misplaced anger at the Humane Society of the United States. Granted, it made a bad judgment call to partner with Michael Vick, but it remains the front line in shutting down dog fighting in this country, via strong lobbying to get tougher laws passed, developing an informants’ network and infiltrating operations, maintaining a hotline with fat rewards for tips leading to convictions, and instituting Pit-positive programs to influence the upcoming generation.

And yet partnering with Michael Vick matters to us more?

We cannot be angry at Michael Vick, fairly, for the sentence he received. We must rather be angry at laws and the judicial system that handed such a sentence down. Those who feel Vick received preferential treatment for being who he is are sorely in need of education. Do you know how many similarly accused get off scot-free or with very light sentences?

And we cannot be angry at Michael Vick for subsequently being hired by the Philadelphia Eagles. The team did that of its own volition. It knew the decision would inflame dog lovers — and it didn’t care. This is a wake-up call. We need to boycott more, protest more, articulate ourselves with our votes more. We need to have more voice.

Finally, we cannot be angry at Michael Vick for getting another dog; he was within his legal rights to do so. If we are to be angry, our anger must be toward the state of humane law in this country. Many convicted of animal abuse have only short-term restrictions towards owning animals again. If we need to be restless over something, let it be that.

This was a wake-up call, and we need to take it as such. Anger at Michael Vick is understandable. But not allowing it to be an admonishment against ourselves as well is a tragic waste. We are dogs’ voice. We need to stand up, be counted, and fight for these animals far more than we do. Not liking something is one thing, but striving to bring change is quite another.

About the Author: I have been a passionate animal welfarist since age six with an interest in many animal issues. I share my life with three breeder-purchased dogs, a Giant Schnauzer and two American Cocker Spaniels, and I’m never without foster dogs in my pack. I have maintained an active presence in rescue for the past 17 years and am co-director of the transport based rescue Southpaws Express. I also share my life with a feral born cat, Cheza, who is sassy enough to live among them all.

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