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Michael Vick, Rehabbed? Not Bloody Likely

Despite Vick's farcical 60 Minutes appearance, groups in Philadelphia and elsewhere are speaking up for his victims and for pit bulls in general.

by
Julia Szabo

Bio

August 19, 2009 - 12:13 pm

Former Atlanta Falcon, now Philadelphia Eagle Michael Vick, fresh off Sunday’s appearance on 60 Minutes, sure has his loyal supporters, and they have surprising strength in numbers.

All seem to agree that Vick has done his time for running Bad Newz Kennels, his infamous dogfighting ring. So he tortured, maimed, electrocuted, drowned, and body-slammed a bunch of dogs. You want remorse for that, when other football players kill people? Leave the guy alone! Vick sat in jail long enough, he’s been punished enough, he deserves a second chance, now let him enjoy a full comeback to the NFL with all the benefits that brings.

Besides, isn’t one of Vick’s posse none other than the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States? Enough, already.

I’m no fan of Vick, but I’m trying to see things the way his fans do. And I’m actually starting to like the “he’s done his time” position. Because I can think of some others who’ve done their time and deserve a second chance: the dog lovers of Denver, Colorado. For more than four years now, Denver’s dog lovers have endured the Mile High City’s ban against pit bulls, the very dogs Vick got sidelined for abusing. The pit bull ban has been in effect since May 2005, strictly enforced by the Denver Division of Animal Control. Any dog found astray within Denver city limits is killed if it’s determined to be a pit bull, or even a mutt that’s only part pit.

Under Section 8-55 of the Denver Municipal Code, any dog owner who refuses to surrender their pet pit bull — their beloved animal companion and four-footed family member — will face up to a year in jail and a $999 fine. This ordinance also bans shelters and humane societies from harboring pit bulls, and forbids any U.S. resident from transporting a pit bull through Denver without a permit.

I’ve visited the Denver city pound, and I’ve also visited crowded municipal animal shelters in other cities that are full to bursting with pits and pit mixes. And I can tell you, as sad as it is to see a shelter crowded with sweet, unwanted pits behind bars who want and deserve a second chance, it’s even sadder to see empty cages that would hold pits if they hadn’t just been killed. Many dog lovers have moved out of Denver to be able to keep their pit bulls; many more refuse to travel to the city.

If you call yourself a dog lover and think breed-specific legislation doesn’t affect you, think again. Not only is BSL entirely un-American, it means that your favorite dog could be next, especially if it’s another breed (hello, Doberman and Rottweiler) with a reputation for being “dangerous.” BSL, explains Jim Willis, animal advocate, author, and U.S. ambassador for World Animal Day, “is a dangerous threat to all dogs everywhere.” Any dog can, and has, easily become the target of misunderstanding and prejudice.

So the dog-loving citizens of Denver now say they deserve a second chance to prove the lesson learned by politicians in Amsterdam, which lifted its 15-year pit bull ban in June 2008 — with responsible handling, pit bulls and pit mixes are no more dangerous than literally any other type of dog. And they plan to march on Denver City Hall this Tuesday, August 25, at 1 p.m. to demand an immediate repeal to the breed ban. Organizers and supporters of the march are urging all dog owners, regardless of breed preference, to join in the protest (but please leave dogs at home), which takes place at the Denver City and County Building Lawn, 1437 Bannock Street.

And what of those who still feel outrage that the Philadelphia Eagles signed the player named Vick? They aren’t exactly shutting up and going away. In fact, they are urging fellow dog lovers to boycott — not just the Eagles, but the products and services of the team’s high-profile corporate partners (founding partners include Budweiser, Pepsi, and Verizon). Yet more Facebook groups have sprouted: Dog Owners Against Philadelphia Eagles, My Dog Hates Michael Vick, Mike Vick Hates Your Dog.

The Humane Society of the United States has high hopes that Vick will be an effective spokesperson against animal cruelty, and the 60 Minutes segment revealed Vick advising school kids to “love your animals.” However, the board of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the largest animal-welfare organization in the City of Brotherly Love, wants nothing to do with Vick and refuses to work with him.

Author Jana Kohl is an animal advocate who’s worked for the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies:

“I personally believe that redemption is possible,” Kohl says. “I’ve seen it as a psychologist and I saw it when I worked for the Wiesenthal Center in the case of a neo-Nazi, on a mission of hate, who went through a gradual transformation that ended in true redemption. It was a long and painful process for him to confront the issues in an in-depth way. This, in contrast,” she adds, referring to Vick’s televised profession of remorse, “is a farce. … Abusers weep for themselves, not for their victims. Unless they undergo intensive therapy and experience a major catharsis that pertains very specifically to the acts they committed — which means confronting the torture head-on, and that which preceded it earlier in their life — there’s no genuine growth or insight; only the masquerade of being rehabbed. They are rehabbed on the surface, but deep down inside the sickness remains. There’s no shortcut to redemption after being a torturer. And Vick hasn’t even begun the process.”

More important, Kohl adds: “Unless Vick turns over all the names and locations of other dog fighters to the Feds — and you bet he knows plenty — he hasn’t paid his debt to society. Unless he’s willing to participate in the arrest of those who are still torturing dogs in the fight ring, this business is far from over and will haunt him, as well as taint those who have helped rehabilitate his image for personal greed, corporate greed, or as a means to raise funds for their charity.”

In the end, nothing will bring back the dogs that were cruelly killed by the newest Eagle and his former cohorts. But that doesn’t mean those animals should be forgotten, either. Next month, Philadelphia’s non-profit Main Line Animal Rescue will unveil a very public memorial for those voiceless Vick-tims; the group plans to put this message on a billboard not far from Eagles stadium:

How great that Michael Vick is once again able to throw a ball. Too bad his dogs aren’t alive to catch it.

Amen.

Journalist and author Julia Szabo wrote the Pets column for the Sunday New York Post, for 11 years and now pens the "Living With Dogs" column for Dogster.com. Follow her on Twitter @PetReporter1. Photo credit: Daniel Reichert
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