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August 06, 2009

Talk Back: Michael Vick's Next Play

Readers have had a range of reactions about The HSUS giving Michael Vick the opportunity to participate in our community-based End Dogfighting outreach programs designed to steer kids away from dogfighting. We took note of the anti-gang and anti-violence programs done by others in urban communities, and re-engineered these programs to combat dogfighting. These programs are built around the leadership of ex-dogfighters who have turned around their lives and who are now engaging kids in more positive interactions with pit bulls.

There’s still a lot of raw anger over what Vick did, and we at The HSUS share the feeling that his acts of cruelty were horrible and wrong. That’s why we so aggressively worked for his prosecution. But dogfighting is always horrible and wrong, no matter who does it or where it happens. I imagine that readers would have the same reaction to every dogfighting case we’re involved with because it always has the same basic story line: people taking enjoyment from the extreme pain and suffering they directly or indirectly inflict upon animals. In this case, Vick's prominence ensured that the details of the case would be repeated over and over again.

Participants in The HSUS's End Dogfighting pit bull training team
© The HSUS
Participants in the End Dogfighting pit bull training team.

I've laid out our general position on Michael Vick's future as an anti-dogfighting advocate consistently during the last several months, but today I want to add something to what I've said.

With tens of thousands of people involved in dogfighting, in hundreds of communities, it is impossible for us and law enforcement to arrest or scare off all of the perpetrators. We have to prevent them from getting involved in the first place, and build community support for our position. That’s why we have added our community-based programs to our portfolio of anti-dogfighting activities.

I personally am thrilled whenever a dogfighter turns around, just like I am pleased when a trophy hunter lays down his weapon or a bullfighter puts down his cape to join our side. I have to think that many of the ex-dogfighters we work with may have some self-interested motivations in getting involved. But we give them a chance to demonstrate an actual, on-the-ground commitment to our (and other) programs, and then we make our judgments. It's the same with Michael Vick. We did not endorse his return to the NFL, or vouch for his character, and he is not a spokesperson for The HSUS. Rather, we are simply giving him a chance to make good on his promise that he is through with dogfighting and now wants to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. That’s what we do at The HSUS: we give people an opportunity to turn away from cruelty and toward the light of kindness and compassion.

If Michael Vick doesn’t fulfill his pledge to combat dogfighting, we’ll be the first to call attention to that. But if he does come through, and he turns some kids around and helps animals, then I’ll be the first one to say that’s a good thing. Change for the better is what we are all about.

Here are some of your comments:

Under no circumstance, regardless if Vick volunteers in your program to end youth at-risk for dogfighting, should he ever be reinstated in the NFL. He can be forgiven, yes. Everyone deserves a second chance with society, but not as a role model for U.S. boys. The NFL should be over for him. I will boycott any sponsor. How dare they. —Carolyn Cavallo

Though I am disappointed to learn that the NFL has conditionally reinstated Vick, I am hopeful that with his following, he can be influential in teaching the atrocities of dogfighting and the consequences he paid as a result. I feel that the cruelty and the suffering he imposed on these animals should have stripped him of the privilege of playing in the NFL. It was a big opportunity for the NFL to stand up big against animal cruelty by not reinstating him. It is up to him now to do some good for the pit bulls that are still alive as he embarks on this mission with the HSUS. I am skeptical since he did not stop the cruelty on his own. He stopped because he was stopped. Greatly in part to the work of the HSUS. Let us hope. —Franni H.

Bravo Wayne! I'm so glad you are open to letting Michael Vick help educate at-risk youth in the Anti-Dog Fighting Training Camps! I hope he takes you up on this and in so doing, acknowledges how hurtful his past has been to not only himself, but to the youth who look up to him, and of course to the dogs who are the real ones who suffer. Education is key! —Bonnie Hale

I've read the remarks of Wayne Pacelle, justifying the partnership of the well-recognized organization that speaks for animals that cannot speak for themselves and a former athlete convicted of animal cruelty. Frankly, I am in disbelief. If Mr. Vick is sincere, he could form a nonprofit organization to accomplish this without utilizing the good name of the HSUS. I think, Mr. Pacelle, you have allowed the organization to be used by Mr. Vick. When it comes to animal cruelty, there can be no compromise. The animals paid the price of their life. Mr. Vick is focused on regaining his professional football career and HSUS was the pawn to accomplish it. I am so disappointed in the actions of HSUS on this matter. —Janet Olin

Please continue to remain current on Michael Vick. I am one that does not support his return to NFL, and hope the league sends a message by having no team sign him. I am concerned that his "remorse" is more PR than anything. I'm all for giving people a second chance, but I just cannot get past what he did. Thank you. —Sarah

How can you ask for our help on ending dogfighting and abuse of animals and also have Michael Vick work with HSUS? No connection with this person is acceptable. Please take my name off your mailing list immediately. I want nothing to do with an organization that is so disrespectful of animals. —Janelle M. Bryant

HSUS has been making great inroads into stopping dogfighting. Investigations and raids have broken up powerful fighting rings and that is good. However, if dogfighting is to fade from the landscape, enlisting the help of reformed convicted dogfighters is crucial to this effort. I have mixed feelings about Michael Vick being reinstated to the NFL. Our country has a good judicial system. Was his sentence punitive enough? No! What he did to those dogs was barbaric, horribly cruel. But a "just" punishment doesn't really exist at the moment. I like to believe that within every human being lies a seed of good that is just waiting to be nurtured to fruition. Dogfighters need to be severely punished but if at all possible, they need to be rehabilitated and, through therapy, made to learn empathy and compassion. Hopefully, then their history and newly discovered sense of what constitutes a moral, civilized being could be the most influential deterrent to sadistic animal abuse currently available. —Susan T.

Today, as Michael Vick's name and photo were again mentioned in the national news, I cringed and am seeking to rid myself of the anger that still wells within me. I try to remain positive, hoping he can stay on the right track and help children end the dogfighting cycle. I won't be happy until these events are monitored and reported. I know he served his sentence and I'm ashamed that I still wish to punish him. If he is sincere, my reactions are wrong. Really wrong. He CAN do so much good if he chooses to break the cycle of dogfighting. I have a large pit bull mix rescue—he came to me without a collar, was thin, and I didn't even realize he was still a puppy. He's my big boy and the thought of him being mistreated again is unthinkable. He is only one of thousands....I cry. I will put my trust in Michael Vick to make a difference. —Patti Alexakis

I am very disappointed in Goodell's choice of reinstating Vick, but I am appalled at Mr. Pacelle's naïveté.  As both a coach and an educator in a large urban city, I am convinced Vick’s presence is a danger to my students and athletes as a visual, as a professional athlete and especially as a connection to the word HUMANE. I have volunteered and been up to my armpits in dog poo, have walked countless dogs for the local shelter and begged people to have their animals spayed or neutered. I just cannot swallow doing these worthwhile activities with the face of Vick behind this organization. Please, please, please reconsider. —D

And about the End Dogfighting program specifically:

Thanks so much, Wayne, for your excellent follow-up of the Vick case. We will be watching to see what happens. It would be great if he would sincerely participate in bringing this message to the at-risk kids. Additionally, whoever did your photos of the guys and the pit bulls is AMAZING. BEAUTIFUL photos! Thanks for sharing them. —Therese

Kudos to these men for becoming fine examples to kids especially. I hope there is continued success with the End Dogfighting programs. —Jenn

Love, love, love these guys! Talk about role models. What value they have created in and for their lives! This is the epitome of responsible adults and pet owners. Right on! —Maria

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