I’ve been following the NFL draft and pre-season activity fairly close this year, and I see that our boy Michael Vick has signed with the NY Jets.
Believe it or not, it’s been around seven years since the whole Michael Vick/dogfighting thing blew up. It was a tough thing to witness; all of that misery inflicted upon all of those innocent dogs. Vick was, of course, convicted of his crimes, served time, and then found his way back to pro football in ’09.
Personally, I didn’t probe too deeply into the madness as it was going down. I saw some pictures, got the lowdown on what happened, and heard when Vick was arrested and eventually sentenced. I was depressed for a few days, thinking about all those dogs who were killed; many no doubt unaccounted for.
But I didn’t get caught up in the lynch mob energy surrounding the story, nor did I dwell too much on the dogfighting trade. As ugly as it is, it’s just another facet of animal exploitation that can get inside your head if you’re not careful. I won’t turn my eyes away from suffering, but I also refuse to be emotionally obliterated by the actions of others… to be the “effect” to someone else’s fucked-up “cause.”
That said, most people in the animal advocacy movement were out-of-their-head livid about Michael Vick’s actions and many, I’m sure, would not have objected to a slow, painful, public execution of the guy. Accordingly, I’ve been asked more than once about my opinion of Michael Vick.
My answer is this:
I have no opinion of Michael Vick.
“Say what? But you’re a vegan! You’re a big animal rights guy! You’ve been involved with all kinds of dog, cat and farm animal rescue-type issues! Why don’t you hate the bastard?”
Here’s my response:
Those of us in-the-know understand that – contrary to popular folklore – it is a radical misunderstanding of pit bulls to think that they are inherently violent. Instead, we understand that for a pit bull to be a “killing machine,” he would have to be conditioned and trained to be that way. This is a known fact about the breed and an uphill battle that pit bull rescuers face daily. The prejudice and ignorance surrounding these loyal companions is legendary.
Therefore, we understand that if a pit bull is violent, it invariably gets back to the specific influences and environment that the dog was exposed to. Because of this, we fight like hell to rehabilitate a pit bull rescued from the fighting world, as opposed to the popular, mainstream protocol of having him “euthanized” as a lost cause because he might snap again.
The paradox here is that animal rights people would not agree with killing a pit in this situation, because we know it wasn’t the pit’s fault that he wound up violent. And yet, most cast no such logic toward any human involved with dogfighting.
“He should fucking know better! Send him to the chair!”
Many see Vick as a lost cause, figuring that what he did was unforgivable and, hey, he might snap again. So let’s execute him… or at least put him in prison forever… or at least make him give ALL of his football money to animal charities.
Emotionally, I understand how and why someone might feel this way.
However, consider this: Animal rights is all about seeing animals on a similar plane as we see our fellow humans. If this is our truth, shouldn’t we, in turn, see our fellow humans on a similar plane as our fellow animals? In other words, if we’re willing to give a violent pit bull a break – that is, an honest shot at rehab and a return to a normal life – because of the poor upbringing and social conditioning he was most assuredly subjected to, why would we not give a human a similar break due to THEIR poor upbringing and social conditioning?
“No! That’s different! The human should know better. The human had a choice in the matter, but the animal did not,” is a common retort.
But isn’t this perspective just another form of speciesism? We’re saying that dogs must have a drastically lower mental capacity than humans, and therefore should be afforded some leniency. This is speciesist. Plus, one’s “mental capacity” is not a criteria in our society for whether one human deserves greater access to their rights than another. Why should we make such a distinction here?
Frankly, I’m much less interested in the actions of Michael Vick and much more interested in the sociological factors that formed his mindset. What kind of society do we have that can cultivate such violence and ill-regard in someone to begin with? I gotta believe that Michael Vick didn’t pop out of his momma’s womb like that, ready to rush out to the backwoods, set up a betting pool, and watch dog’s rip each other apart. What happened to him along the way? What sociological factors influenced him to do this, or at least numbed him out from having any sense of compassion toward these dogs?
That is the line of questioning that we all must meditate on – daily!
Dogfighting and all of its participants are kind of like a cancerous tumor in the body of society. Sure, with enough resources (law enforcement, automatic weapons, vigilantes, etc), I’m sure we could “chemo” that shit into oblivion…. for a while. But – from this holistic, metaphorical perspective – that would just be about addressing the symptom… the “tumor.” That still doesn’t address the root cause of what created the environment for the tumor to take hold and grow. It’s like someone who contracts cancer for real. To the extent that the disease came about due to key lifestyle elements (as is typically the case), I would get interested in what caused the cancer to begin with. Because no matter how you may choose to treat the cancer, you definitely don’t want it coming back!
Now, having said all this – yes – humans and animals tend to respond differently to “correction.” The programs for rehabilitating a dog from the fighting trade would look very different than human rehab. Therefore, someone like Michael Vick must understand that there is a “cause and effect” consequence to his actions… that there are karmic ramifications to the brutal and egregious treatment of our fellow living beings, and one of the ways we have to pay the piper is through our prison system.
Beyond that – and perhaps more damning – are the karmic ramifications that one must eventually face within their self. Anyone who has the capacity to participate in the kind of barbaric, blood-curdling activity that is dogfighting, whether it be for profit, sport or leisure, undoubtedly has some very disturbing baggage they’re carrying around. And from one human to another, I hope Vick has been able to sort through it all.
In the meantime, I try to take daily inventory of my own actions. I try to be mindful of all the ways that I might be inadvertently contributing to the cultivation of anything disharmonious.
It’s a daily practice.
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Side Note: Many of the actual pit bulls from Vick’s kennel have been successfully rehabilitated at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, which I’ll be visiting later this month. More on that in a future post…
PS. This is blog #5 of my 20-blogs-in-30 days series for June 2014. Thanks for being here…