Yesterday, the animal welfare community shuddered. Twice.
The shudder was when the headlines came out that Mike Vick, who had been involved in a dog fighting operation and served 19 months in prison in connection with his dog fighting operations, announced that he would really like to have a dog again.
Apparently his daughters miss having a dog and it's hard telling his daughters that he cannot have one any more because of his actions. This certainly isn't the first time Vick has said these sentiments....but it was probably the first time his words appeared in mainstream media.
For Vick, it's hard to have empathy. Clearly he was involved in cruelty to dogs, and the act of torturing and killing dogs. At some point you have to accept that your actions were so terrible that you lose the privilage of participating in that activity again. Vick has regained the opportunity to play in the NFL. He has regained the opportunity to be cheared by thousands of fans (even though many sports fans disagree with his 'right' to do that). He has regained the opportunity to make large amounts of money. But giving him the opportunity to own a dog again sort of fits under the same idea of allowing a child molester the opportunity to work at a daycare or a drug addict to have a job as a pharmacist.
You just have to draw the line somewhere. Or at least you'd think.
But the CEO of the world's welthiest 'humane' organization disagreed. "I have been around him a lot and feel confident that he would do a good job as a pet owner," said Humane Society of the United State CEO Wayne Pacelle. Shudder #2. Pacelle also went so far as sort of excuse Vick for his behavior because as a society we give a lot of "mixed signals" about our concern for animals -- even going so far as to compare those who hunt and raise animals for food (you know, to help people survive), and to experiment on (you know, to cure diseases to kill people) to dog fighting (you know because torturing dogs for the fun of it is sort of similar to those others).
Today, Pacelle "clarified" (or backtracked a bit) his position on his blog:
"There may be some who would forever deny Michael Vick the opportunity to have a pet. I understand that sentiment. But there is a larger principle at stake here. We at The HSUS are about the business of change—personal and societal change. Our work with Michael Vick is helping to change the view of pit bulls in urban communities from fighters to friends. We must be open to the possibility that rehabilitation is possible, and faithful to our hope that people can change. When that rehabilitation succeeds, it’s to the good for all involved—people and animals alike."
Now, let's put this comment in perspective.
Three years ago, Pacelle called for the dogs from Vick's fighting operation to all be killed....with no chance for rehabilitation. "Officials from our organization have examined some of these dogs and, generally speaking, they are some of the most aggressively trained pit bulls in the country," said Pacelle. "The fate of these dogs will be up to the government, but we have recommended to them, and believe, they will be put down."
So, let's put aside that by all accounts, the dogs were mostly fearful, and not aggressive, when actual evaluators came in and judged them. But how is it that the leader of the world's largest 'animal protection' organization believed that there could be no rehabilitation for the dogs (the victims), but they now completely believe in rehabilitation for the person responsible for victimizing the dogs.
Who the hell's side is HSUS on?
While Vick has been getting a lot of positive press and accolades, even HSUS is siding with the person that just 4 years ago was fighting and killing dogs.
The continued support for Vick by HSUS has pretty much everyone with much sense questioning them.
K9 Cuisine: Why I can no Longer support HSUS
Bad Rap: File this one in your "Have you been smoking crack?!" category
In fairness, HSUS has changed their policy on 'pit bulls' rescued from dog fighting operations -- and are now giving them the opportunity for rehabilitation. This is a great first step. I'm not sure the second step in believing in rehabilitation should be the person who victimized (and often) killed them.
I hope that Mike Vick is indeed rehabilitated. And I want to hope that his work in talking to kids in schools is making an impact and ending abuse in inner cities. But I think he can still do his work without owning a dog -- and without the unwavering support of HSUS.
But it could be a good sign if HSUS is embracing rehabilitation...but hopefully they will focus the need for it not on others, but focus it inward. HSUS needs to get back to putting animals first, instead of giving priority to fundraising, political positioning, and propping up their PR mouthpiece of Mike Vick. They could use the embrace of new thinking that would allow for all animals to be saved instead of supporting the very organizations that are senselessly killing shelter animals. They could use siding with the animals first, instead of siding with the abuser first.
In many ways the Vick fiasco has helped a lot of animals. It shed the light on the realities of dog fighting and also that first and foremost, dogs are a product of their environment and they are rehabilitatable. It's shown people that the dogs are the victims, and worthy of being saved, and has led to literally hundreds of dogs being saved over the past 3 years. It also has shed light on HSUS, and led many to realize that the organization's first priority isn't the animals.
Rehabilitation is possible in most cases....and hopefull for HSUS, the rehabilitation they now say they believe so much in can come from within.