Vet Asks: Is Vick the Problem or is it the "Punishment"?

Postby Marinepits » August 21st, 2009, 3:17 pm ... vick_N.htm

Veterinarian asks: Is Vick the problem or is it the 'punishment'?

By Patty Khuly, Special for USA TODAY

Forgive. Forget. Rehabilitate. Resurrect.

When Michael Vick of NFL and dogfighting fame partook of an interview with James Brown on 60 Minutes last Sunday night, the aforementioned verbs were all in attendance —— along with 11 million American viewers like me

It was a great performance. Brown passed some stinging zingers. Vick handled almost every one with unexpected aplomb. It was just what you'd expect from a well-coached player working hard to prove he's still got game. Based on his performance, I'd say he probably does. At the very least, he seems to want it bad. But does he deserve the "second chance" he and his stakeholders so clearly crave?

Looking into Vick's big brown eyes, courtesy of CBS, it was hard to recall the lurid details of the crimes that happened under his watch. But it was easy for me to decide that nothing he said was believable. It doesn't take an empath to know this was not a man who had achieved animal enlightenment after a stint in prison. Desperate? Maybe. Rehabilitated? Definitely not.

But my personal beliefs may seem beside the point given that Vick has now "paid his debt to society" to the extent our justice system was able to enforce. Now it's all about what's fair and what's not when it comes to his career and his role as a spokesman for animal friendliness. Time to ratchet down the anti-Vick vitriol and cast him as a respectable man on the mend.

After all, we wouldn't want anyone thinking we hire sadists to play football for the NFL or —— in his newest gig —— preach to kids on the merits of group dog hugs in the Humane Society of the United States-sponsored dog-and-pony show his handlers have cooked up

No, Vick's media peeps want you to see him for what he now seems: a more mature, self-flagellatingly repentant core of a man who has thrown off the husk of adolescent hoodery via a seething trial-by-fire only Leavenworth, Kansas, and American bankruptcy can conjure.

"Second chances," all his supporters recited on 60 Minutes. It's the American way, they implicitly intoned. Even the Humane Society's media-savvy Wayne Pacelle threw off questions regarding HSUS liability in the face of Vick's poor risk potential: No, because "it's all up to Vick now." In other words, if he chokes, no one loses. And also because millions of eyeballs means a big win for the HSUS and others who can "learn to forgive" in the face of a PR windfall.

Like you, like Mr. Pacelle says he does, I believe in redemption. I believe in second chances (though for Vick it's closer to 17 than to two, but who's counting?). I can even look beyond Vick's confessed sins and muster the same kind of compassion I can for any one of my patients as I do my best to heal their limbs and fix their ills. Animal-loving people are just like that.

Yet even if I were to believe in his apparent emotional transformation, even if I wanted desperately to see him minister to children headed down his same tortured path, even if I knew deep in my soul that Vick's participation in anti-dogfighting campaigns would save dogs' lives and alter society's perception of animals forever, reality has a way of smothering my softhearted veterinary impulses.

Why? Because despite my bent towards a compassionate read of the man behind the cruelty, it's my contention that Vick hasn't yet paid for his crimes against animals.

Call it a technicality if you will, but to my mind, "Conspiracy to Travel in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities and to Sponsor a Dog in an Animal Fighting Venture" doesn't come anywhere close to condemning this man for what he has confessed to have done —— not if the animal cruelty inherent to such a charge doesn't merit additional repercussions.

Even if you don't see it that way, veterinarians like me always will. That's why after all we do to protect animals and alleviate their suffering, it's especially outrageous to watch the HSUS and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals jump onto the Vick bandwagon.

In so doing, they offer Vick a high moral stomping ground from which to revive his career while effectively endorsing the criminal justice system's lax treatment of those who finance and operate establishments that trade daily in animal cruelty. What does that say to the children they'd have Vick preach to?

Though it might surprise you, I don't blame the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles so much. Though I'd never buy a ticket to see Vick play and will boycott NFL football altogether out of disgust, Vick has done his time by American legal standards and, therefore, deserves to work his trade. Sadly, I've come to expect nothing less from the NFL —— or our celebrity culture in general.

Consequently, the real problem here is not Vick per se, it's a society whose laws would deem 18 months an acceptable prison sentence for a charge that by its very definition denotes animal abuse. If the sentence fit the crime, I'd argue, there'd be far less of a backlash against a Vick in sports.

Still, while others in animal welfare may feel righteous and just as they trade on Vick's downfall, his fame, and his career's holy resurrection, the rest of us animal advocacy workers know better. For my part, I'll consider him good and rehabilitated when he has done the time that fits the crime.

When will that be? I'll admit I'm not so sure, but I can promise you this: Based on the severity of his crime it won't be one second before the very last Bad Newz kennel victim is 100% recovered. Given that most of them are underground, he may have to prove he can resurrect more than just his career to get me to come around to his way of seeing things
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