Saturday, September 01, 2007

Michael Vick, off with his head?

The dog fighting controversy swirling around Michael Vick has got me thinking. Allow me to talk this thing out while I freewheel some thoughts on the matter…

Until I met some dogfighters the only thing I knew about their “sport” was what I'd read in the Jack London novel, White Fang.” London dramatizes the horrific stomach turning violence and yet makes the reader unable to STOP reading. There is one chapter about a fight between White Fang, the wolf dog mixed breed, and Cherokee, a bulldog, that absolutely mesmerizes. Just now, I finished reading it again, and STILL it captivates. Check it out here if you dare.

With Vick, the dog fighting charges have turned into a “black thing,” at least for some African-Americans, and they just might have a point, albeit a feeble one. It seems that in recent times dog fighting has become common fare in the hip-hop culture as some kind of twisted status symbol, but all the guys that I knew who fought dogs are white.

In rural Birch Run, which was once as Caucasian as anyplace could be, kids used to talk about the rumors of dog fighting that “might” be taking place thereabouts. Once, a buddy and I made a bicycle trip to an abandoned farmstead in an overgrown woodlot where it was said that fights took place on occasion in the dark of night. We found the perfect spot for a dog-fighting ring in that spooky place within the three-feet tall foundations of a long demolished weed grown ancient outbuilding.

I’m sure a lot of the appeal of such a thing is its forbidden nature. Want to make something popular? Tell people they can’t do it.

The fellows I knew who train fight dogs, as unlikely as it sounds, they love their animals. There’s a macho element to it—the breeding, training and fighting of muscularly fearsome creatures. There’s no appeal in it for me, but I can see why it might to others.

It’s been some time, but they spoke of their animals like coaches referring to athletes. I asked about dogs getting hurt or killed and they scoffed, saying there’s no way they’d let their animals get too injured. The fights are supposedly stopped before anything too damaging happens, or so they claimed.

I HAVE seen cockfights though. Well, just one; because one is all I could take once I learned that its more about gambling than chickens, and I can’t think of anything more boring than gambling. I once went to a horseracing track with a fellow marine someplace in the Bay Area. After the first race I went stir crazy. I hated it—I spent most of a day at that track; but without the gambling, there was no real reason for me to be there.

I CAN tell you this—people who engage in fighting roosters or dogs are very passionate about it—that’s the commonality. They are obsessed with the training, feeding, and breeding of their animals, and continuously think ahead to the next matches. For these guys, animal fighting becomes a habitual lifestyle. They make bets with each other, go on trips together, and it’s all they talk about. They enthusiastically go over past matches as if speaking of the World Series or NFL playoffs.

The stuff Vick was supposed to be doing—the killing of his losing dogs—I’ve never heard tell of it. That seems to be a special kind of gratuitous cruelty reserved for meaner circles. Such a thing would seem unlikely for most, because those dogs are not cheap. Only someone with a lot of bucks would ever consider destroying their animals so nonchalantly. Vick probably did it to show off his wealth and how “bad” he is. Some men think the more cruelty they show the more street credibility they rate. It’s that “gangstah” thing again.

It’s now a foregone conclusion that Vick’s going to go to jail—perhaps for years. The way law enforcement works they start loading up on laws and statutes violated, in this case for such things as transporting fight dogs across state lines, illegal gambling, conspiracy, or any one of the other dozens of illicit possibilities of which he came within smelling distance. Once the feds “want” you, they WILL get you.

Here’s where all those comparative morality and philosophy classes I’ve taken over the years start to kick in. Those courses taught me to look at matters more than just on the surface. For instance, because of the “animal life” that Vick destroyed, his own “human” life is now finished. He KNEW he was breaking the law, but did so anyway. Even more damning is that it’s certain that he knew of another sports figure, another NFL player, who was imprisoned a few years back for similar offenses and STILL Vick did it. So, its cut-and-dry right? Well, not so fast...

Now for the tricky part! I personally don’t understand the existence of laws with penalties that can put a man in jail for years, in Vick’s case as many as five, when it’s for killing or being cruel to animals. It seems disproportionate and hypocritical. I’ll explain.

I’m not belittling laws prohibiting animal cruelty, but there seems to be a proportionality and duplicity issue when there are scads of other legal activities that involve the killing, maiming and “torture” of animals.

Is it that only “certain” animals are deemed worthy of society’s protection and ONLY in certain situations? For instance, we eat chickens by the millions, so why is it against the law to fight them? Would it be illegal to fight other non-human animals, such as beetles, crickets, mongoose, snakes, etc? No one will ever go to jail for trying to get two mice to fight. Why are dogs different than, say, crickets? Is there some kind of animal kingdom hierarchy written into law decreeing that we imprison people for certain activities involving only specific animals? It seems that there is. My question is why?

Think about this: It’s legal to fish and hunt. If you’re familiar with hunting you know that many animals don’t die directly after being shot by bullet or arrow. Many are gut-shot or wounded non-lethally and so escape the coup de grĂ¢ce, only to die a slow agonizing death elsewhere. It happens a lot.

When fishing, anglers don’t kill the fish as soon as they catch them. To keep them fresh, they put them in a creel or on a stringer where they linger on in apparent agony for hours. Shouldn’t we start sending people up the river for that? I’ve heard people claim that fish don’t feel pain, that all that flopping around as they die is just involuntary muscle spasms. Is that not a ridiculous assertion?

Those who scream for the head of Vick for his cruelty and “murder,” are just as likely to be completely comfortable with defending a woman’s “choice” to end the life of her fetus. As long as it’s sheltered unseen within the woman’s body then it must not be a living being. Science shows with utter certainty that a fetus IS living. Within a few weeks of conception it looks, moves and reacts like a human. In fact, to many of us it IS a little human and every bit as important, if not more so, than ANY of Vick’s dogs.

The "choicer’s" sputtering retort goes, “Well, THOSE are just unconscious “reflexes,” and do NOT reflect the presence of cognizant life!” My answer: Okay, so YOU say, and the law is on your side at this point. Still, the abortion controversy provides one more example of how subjective ALL these “life” laws truly are; including those Vick is charged with.

Every year, animal shelters and pounds across the nation “put down” hundreds-of-thousands of unwanted pets. Why aren’t all the people seeking the scalp of Michael Vick also up in arms over the slaughter of all those innocent animals? Admittedly, many of them are, but society as a whole is NOT.

If it’s the violence that is objectionable, shouldn’t we also end organized fighting sports between humans as well? Men die every year in the ring trying to beat each other’s brains out. Why is that legal while cockfighting and dog fighting is not? Boxing aficionados say the difference is free will, but put two fighting cocks together and they WILL fight; the same is true for fighting dogs. At least with chickens, if they die in battle we can eat them. In fact, that’s EXACTLY what I did—though it was a little on the tough side.

Obviously, Vick is being made an example just as Martha Stewart was. When the opportunity presents itself, prosecutors seek to take down celebrities. By doing so they become celebrities themselves. I don’t believe the feds are going after Vick so earnestly because he’s black; nope, it’s because of his celebrity status. Prosecutors are primarily politicians. How do you think Rudy Giuliani began his political career?

Personally, I hope this case causes society to reexamine all aspects of this issue. I eat meat, but I don’t hunt for the same reason I don’t collect firewood. That hunting is called a “sport” shows the true nature of its current place in our culture. Simply put, MOST people hunt for the “pleasure” or the “sport” of it. They feel empowered by the act of killing. They argue that “they eat what they kill” as if that makes it okay. They also contend that they are conservationists because without hunting, animals would over populate and starve. Those aren’t strong arguments but weak excuses designed to rationalize the same sort of bloodlust that drove Michael Vick to do what he did.

“But it’s not the same thing!” I hear hunting proponents protest, but I beg to differ. History shows that it’s easy to justify just about ANY wanton behavior, from killing whales, to slavery, to genocide. I’ll be honest, I’m not totally against hunting—it would be unreasonable to even attempt to ban it; but I AM against kidding ourselves as to WHY people hunt. NO one NEEDS to hunt anymore. We can get meat at the grocery store.

The idea that we allow thousands of amateurs with firearms—which most are—to stream out into the woods during certain “seasons” to theoretically winnow out populations of wildlife is ludicrous. I can’t imagine a more inefficient and dangerous way to do such a thing. If we must cull animals then it should be done professionally by people who are not just as likely to shoot each other ala Dick Cheney.

Heck, in Cheney’s case, he was on a “preserve” where birds are bred for hunting—so much for “hunting for conservation.” Watching a bird fall dead from the sky is what drives hunters like Cheney. I’m sorry if this offends hunters, but I only address these issues in the context of speaking argumentatively to the charges against Michael Vick.

Vick, and animal cruelty violators like him, shouldn’t serve time behind bars, at least not until we come to grips with all the other social discrepancies involving the way “we” treat “nonhuman life.” I despise his cruelty and his conceit, but to end his career, and thus his life this way is every bit as wrong. Considering the millions he’s made and could make, why not fine him instead of jailing him? Let him play ball; and let him continue to earn his millions. Then fine him for at least half of the millions he would make while he would have been jailed. How much more good could be done by giving those millions to an organization like the SPCA? Now that would be real justice.

In my opinion, effectively ending Vick’s life is more of a tragedy than what he did to those dogs. Come on, he didn’t murder people; he killed animals. Society LEGALLY kills millions of animals every year in all sorts of horrible ways. Until animals have the same rights as people then we need to rethink how we punish misguided idiots like Michael Vick.


The Rainmaker said...

Dark thoughts....great post anyway.

Anonymous said...

Very clearly thought-out and logically presented, gave me much food for thought. I have a close friend involved in dog fighting here in Angeles, yet I've never met someone who loves dogs more. Go figure...

PhilippinesPhil said...

Thanks Dan...dark subject.

Hey mac2, I'm glad it turned out "logically," but as I said up front, all I did was spit it out as it occurred to me. I suspect that the extra mean stuff that Vick and crew was doing is the exception more than the rule; but, fighting dogs is illegal, and he knew it. I would never defend his actions but the penalty needs to be rethought. Thanks man.

KA said...

he used to kill his dogs if they lost - read about some of his tactics, and it's not the same as what other trainers do.

Alot of dogs also die, slowly, after afight because of the initial mauling. They die by internal injuries... so pretty slowly and painfully. Not quite the same as when a birddies when you hunt it.

To be honest, I prefer dogs to humans almost all of the time. So i'm not the one to talk to about dog fighting...heh.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Yes Kat, its safe to say that when trying to make comparisons on subjects like this that nothing is "quite the same."

Most hunters are not crackshots. Many "birdies" are winged or hit by only one or two pellets and are able to fly off and die elsewhere.

People put animals "to sleep" all the time or "put them down" for whatever reason they feel like. To name a few: "Moving into a new apartment too small for dogs," the dog tends to nip people," "the cat box stinks," you name it. There's no law against killing your pet for any reason for which you decide, and if you just drop it off at the shelter you've done virtually the same thing. To put Vick in jail for years for killing his animals is BS until we start putting everyone else behind bars who has ever had their dog or cat put down. And why is killing a dog by bludgeoning, drowning or hanging considered any less "humane" than any other way of ending an animal's life? I've killed animals by bludgeoning and it was as quick and painless as any injection, and cheaper too.

People improperly care for their pets all the time. Few if any of them go to jail for it. Its ONLY high profile people like Vick who get taken down, but I suspect his most serious "no-no's" involve gambling, conspiracy and "organizing" dogfights.

When I was a kid I loved dogs. When I started to run and deliver papers I learned to hate them. I have little empathy for them, but I do admit that I cannot resist a cute little puppy.

KA said...

Actually, no - there was a woman who used to starve her dogs and she ended up going to jail for a time because of how badly she abused them. I dont think it was significant enough of time.

As for putting their pets down; i put a pet down because I adoped him after he had parvo from a shelter and he had a seizure that clamped his jaw shut... he was in a great amount of pain. As for all other reasons for putting down dogs, I think that's stupid and wrong too.

Shelters actually arent all that bad - a lot of shelters have no euthenasia, and there are people like me who will always come and get them; and not once has someone said "I can't keep my cat/dog, can someone take them?" that I didn't volunteer for.