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August 16, 2009

Postscript to Tonight's 60 Minutes

It’s about the dogs, and it always will be.

I say this as a reminder, because they weren’t much in sight during tonight’s "60 Minutes" broadcast. They were the subject of discussion, of course. But television viewers didn’t see much of them, since this was the first opportunity for a major news organization to get Michael Vick on the record for the crimes he committed against animals.

Vick apologized for the horrible suffering he inflicted on dogs throughout his life. I spoke about the horrors of dogfighting and how our continuing focus must be to attack the problem in every community where it exists. And I also spoke about giving Vick the chance to fulfill his pledge to help us reach at-risk youth in America’s cities and to steer the kids away from the alleys and abandoned homes where street fighting festers.

The words carried promise. And I’m happy about that. But still, they were just words.

Let’s remember that when we look at the face of a dog we see something more. We see creatures with the same spark of life that we have. We see an innocent pair of eyes and an overwhelming desire to please us—at almost any price to them. They are Silly Putty for us—ready to be our pampered companions in our laps or beds, to retrieve and return a ball as we throw it time and again, or even to fight to the death with another dog, as long as they think we expect that of them.

Michael Vick, from his boyhood days onward, was up to his neck in that horror show. He will never escape the shame of it. It will always be a part of his biography and his legacy—the mountain of press coverage about him dating back two years guarantees that outcome. But he has a chance to add a new chapter to the biography, as long as he is committed in the months and years ahead to using his celebrity to bring awareness and to persuade boys and young men to love their animals instead of fighting them.

He once destroyed. Now he can help save—both dogs and kids. It won’t make right what he did, but it is still the right thing to do for him from this day forward.

On the set of "60 Minutes," with the cameras bearing down and the legions of behind-the-scenes workers crowding in, there was a crackle of energy in the air. So many millions would be watching.

The most important stakeholders, though, didn’t see a minute of it. They were, God help them, chained in dog lots and backyards across our nation. Rain fell on some. Others sweltered in the muggy night. Many bore scars from previous fights. None had ever felt the soft hand of compassion.

Words don’t matter to them, and never will. Only deeds do. And tonight Michael Vick committed to become an anti-dogfighting advocate. When we turn adversaries into allies, that’s always a good thing.

Note: The full "60 Minutes" piece and additional commentary from me and Michael Vick are available on the show’s website.

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