Can I just do that right now?
Everyone probably knows by now that I will look for and generally criticize the way animals are portrayed in TV, Movies, Books, etc if I feel the animal has been wrongly portrayed. Kind of like those historical buffs that freak out because of historical-inconsistencies in historical dramas.
Anyway, many of you are probably aware that the media can and does, sometimes unknowingly effect our views on many things, be it organic food, to vitamins, to fashion choices.
Something that is not often addressed outside of the dog-world is how dogs and particular dog breeds are portrayed by television. Sure, walk into a room of Bully-Breed lovers and they’ll be able to tell you with 100% certainty that the media is seven times more likely to report a dog attack if the dog involved is a pit bull or pit bull type breed, and when the breed is unknown, or listed as ‘mixed’ the dog will - in most cases, be reported as a “Pit Bull type” anyway.
Pit Bulls, are not, and never have been the only dogs effected by the media in a negative way. Years ago, when the beloved children’s movie “101 Dalmatians” came out, Dalmatians became the most popular breed for families overnight. Unfortunately, the dog people thought they were getting, a small, cute, bouncy, well-mannered puppy, very quickly grew into a fifty-plus pound dog with endless energy, a stubborn and headstrong personality and in many cases - a high prey drive.
There were several notable attacks on children by the dogs, and because of the mix of the above issues, plus the fact that many Dalmatians were being bred and sold by irresponsible or simply uncaring backyard breeders - Dalmatians fell quickly from the spotlight, being abandoned in large numbers by their owners at animal shelters, in the streets, and in some cases simply killed.
Because of the reasons stated above, I am always particularly critical of tv shows and their uses of certain breeds of dogs. Police Dogs, shown in many a late-night TV drama, are often depicted as scary, angry German Shepherds, out to get the bad guy by any means necessary. Obviously, I wouldn’t expect a TV show who features a police dog for a five or ten second montage to show the dog being pet by it’s handler or playing fetch, and few people (Hopefully) will go out to buy a Shepherd with only the thought of an aggressive hard-to-handle dog in mind.
Earlier last year, the Pilot for the TV show “Body of Proof” filmed in my town. We don’t have a lot of tv-shooting here often, and as a city with a failing economy everyone was ridiculously excited about the whole thing, of course, when the Pilot finally aired - many of us sat down to watch it.
During the episode, despite the fact that it in no way effected the plot or moved it forward, the script referenced a Pit Bull attack not once, not twice, but three separate times. I ended up turning off the show, the next day at the shelter I volunteered at several of us sat down to talk about the unfairness of it, and the two adopters that backed out that morning on the pit bulls they had been planning on adopting.
I can’t sit here and say that “Body of Proof” was the reason those dogs lost their homes, but it was indeed something I considered.
On the other hand, constantly showing a breed of dog as friendly, loving, or perfect has it’s disadvantages as well. I remember the case of a dog attack from several years back, for instance, involving a women and a strange Golden Retriever. The women was bitten several times, and when asked why she approached a strange dog, she admitted to believing that all Golden Retrievers were friendly.
Now, this is not specifically the media’s fault, and instead a misstep that was on all accounts human. Everyone should know better then to approach a strange dog no matter what it’s breeding. However, no one will ever convince me that consistently seeing a friendly companion on TV, in ads and in books does not effect ones common sense.
Because of the negative media surrounding certain breeds, dogs, like people, get typecast. While unfair, it’s understandable, but I’m constantly looking for a show or movie that breaks the mold without making a giant political statement.
Well, I found a show like that in this week’s episode of Haven, a Syfy Original about a town and it’s inhabitants that suffer from something called “The Troubles”, in which families from the town suffer from different supernatural problems. This can be anything from, when under stress they magically set fires, to every few years needing to jump into the bay and become mer-people.
This episode featured a bunch of naked men, running around town acting aggressively. When searching for the cause, the main characters come across a empty (animal wise) farm with a barn full of naked feral men, cuddling and asleep. The farm’s owner, an unlikable man who I’ll call Mike because lord knows I don’t remember his name demanded the naked feral men be removed from the property, while his young son complains that he can’t find his missing dog “Jessie”.
As the plot moves on it becomes apparent that Mike has a trouble, that kicks in when he treats an animal inhumanely. (Later explaining why his family insisted he run a farm without animals)
Without telling his son, Mike brings the dog to the local animal shelter to be put to sleep after he contracts rabies. All of the dogs at the shelter, feral dogs who were being prepared to be euthanized - turned into people, running around town causing havoc, stealing food, and in rare instances, biting people.
Later in the story, after “Jessie’s” young owner is dog-napped by the human “Jessie”, it becomes apparent that Mike was jealous of the dog, explaining to “Jessie” that he “was jealous of how his son loved him, and would run to hug him first when coming home from school,” after apologizing to Jessie for not treating him well or getting his his shots, “Jessie” and the rest of the feral dogs return to their original animal forms. “Jessie” succumbs to rabies, dying, while the rest of the dogs run off (Presumingly to continue to be feral out in the woods).
Now, while the plot was a bit weird, what excited me deeply was the types of dogs used in the show. First of all, “Jessie”, after returning to his natural form, turns out to be a large Rottweiler, a dog that is never, ever shown to be a child’s pet (or even a ‘good dog’) in television or movies.
Secondly, the remaining dogs, shown to be feral, unwanted and aggressive were shown in not the normal pit bull or bully breeds so often type cast for the role, but instead a good mix of dogs, including Collies, German Shepherds, Labradors and at least one pure-bred Golden Retriever.
(Shout out to HomeofTheNutty for the ScreenCaps)
Whether these dogs were paid ‘actors’ provided by a company or staff members own dogs used for a shot or two is unknown. What I do know though, is that as a dog rescuer, it’s these types of things that really give you a nice change of pace.
I should probably throw in here that the show is filmed in Nova Scotia, where in several counties Pit-Bulls, Dobermans and Bully breeds are outright banned, so having the normal ‘type cast’ bad dog available for shooting could have simply been impossible for the show, so they went with what was easily accessible.
I highly, highly doubt anyone in the show thought “Lets have some ‘normal’ looking dogs be the ‘bad dogs’ for once” or “Lets give pit bulls a break”. After all, the dogs were a small side plot to everything else going on in the show, and I doubt breed mattered enough to actually go searching for anything specific.
But that’s not the point.
The point remains that for one night, on one show, on one channel, the constant fear mongering and popular bad dog image was laid to rest for an hour. For five seconds, a Rottweiler was shown to be a loving, caring, protective companion to a little boy, instead of the dog being led away by an extra in an animal-control uniform after a serious animal attack on a Law and Order special.
For five seconds, a Golden Retriever ran across the screen as an unwanted, aggressive, abandoned dog, living it’s life in the woods outside of human society. The poster dog for all things good and obedient, many people still live behind the rose colored glassed that say a dog such as that could never be aggressive and certainly would never, ever end up homeless or at a shelter.
Of course, I do not live behind the thought that one episode of a SyFy television show with a five second scene of a friendly dog will make much difference in the minds of the masses.
But I do believe just a slight change in the type casting for dogs in our media can.
Just think, what do you think would happen if shows like Law and Order, Body of Proof, Bones and other popular television dramas stopped type-casting ‘bad dogs’ as Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Dobermans, and instead occasionally showed a Collie, a Retriever or a Spaniel as the perpetrator of an attack?
Do you think the public might take a step back and realize that all dogs, breeding and size aside, can be dangerous if poorly management? Or would we simply sigh about how un-scary that Retriever on TV was?
I really don’t know, and I will not pretend to hold all the answers.
But I do know this - If anything, it would be a happy game changer for me.
Many of you have probably heard the heart-wrenching news of Onion, a 120 pound Rhodesian Ridgeback mixed dog that killed his families one year old child a few weeks ago.
The 6 year old dog had reportedly previously shown no aggression towards the infant or any other human. In fact, the family believed that Onion truly loved the one-year old boy, and the two regularly played together.
However, the child was allowed to use Onion as furniture, and after Onion had fallen asleep after a long day of play with the boy, the boy was left on the floor and crawled over to Onion, grabbing onto him and trying to lift himself up as ‘he had done a hundred times before’. Onion awoke and grabbed the boy, shaking him and breaking his neck. The attack lasted 30 seconds, and the dog seemed totally unaware of what he had done after the fact.
It’s a horrible incident, and the boys father wants Onion put to sleep, quoted as saying that “Onion needs to be punished for what he did,”. Of course these are words from a heartbroken father, no doubt (rightfully) blaming himself for his sons death.
There are rescue groups hoping to save Onion, having found place for him in a sanctuary where he will never be placed up for adoption or have interactions with anyone other then sanctuary staff.
Now, there are two things that really bother me about this story, and I’ll write about both of them.
1. Just Blame The Dog.
The fact is, children should never be allowed alone with dogs.
There are no if ands or buts about this. No matter how loving, sweet, and loyal a dog is with your child, leaving them alone together (especially if the child in question is an infant!) is tempting fate. I know, I know, how many people get killed by dogs a year? Only about 30. But there are over 80,000 dog bites reported a year and more then half of those are bites on children under six years old.
You have to understand, and this is something so, SO many people have a hard time understanding when looking at their sweet Fido or LuLu - Dogs are not people. Dog’s lack moral or social codes. They don’t necessarily have the ability to reason at the level some people expect of them.
Example: “LuLu would never bite my little Lisa! She knows Lisa’s just a baby!”
In truth, Lulu very well may understand that Lisa is a baby. Or, she could think Lisa is prey. Fast movements, high-pitched prey-like wails and strange smells could lead to a dog thinking an infant or a toddler is not what they actually are.
And who are you as a parent to take a chance?
It’s up to all parents to teach their children to respect family pets, and all animals for that matter. This includes teaching them that dogs or cats should not be grabbed onto for balance, poked in the eye, or have their ears or tails tugged on.
Of course, the infant in this story was too young to know better. But he was not too young to be taught. Allowing a infant to use the dog as a means to pull himself up should not have been encouraged or allowed to happen ‘100 times before’ because you just never know when a dog will have enough, when a dog will be shocked awake, or when a dog has a muscle sprain, a hotspot or lyme disease (which makes joints extremely painful).
Or course blaming the parents will do no good in this case.
But on the other hand, neither will blaming the dog.
2. “It’s tasted blood!”
Onion in particular has started a firestorm. Those who hate pitbulls (or anything that looks like one) are hoping the use this tragic incident as a firestorm to help their anti-dog agenda. Others, dog lovers, are hoping to bring light to that fact that this could have been prevented with proper management of both child and dog.
However, several similar comments caused me a deep sigh and an eyeroll.
“He tasted blood! He needs to be put down!”
This is an old wives tale, first of all. I remember first hearing it when I was about 4 years old when my pet cat bit me. One of the adults visiting my home gasped and grabbed my hand, checking for blood. “Better not let it break the skin!” The adult worried to my mother “Once it gets a taste for blood it’ll never stop”
Okay, we’re not dealing with Cujo here people. This is not an evil dog that spent the last 6 years of it’s life planning on a baby being born into his family just so he could kill it.
Theres also no reason to think he would do it again.
Bite histories in dogs are not things normally researched. Why?
Well because most of the time, when a dog bites someone, it is euthanized.
However, a few lucky dogs with “Bite histories” are saved every year by rescue groups, attorneys and behaviorists hoping to give them a second chance.
Here’s a fact most dog lovers and owner don’t like to think about, or will outright dispute:
It’s something that happens. Just like cats scratch, or rabbits nip, or horses buck, it’s a fact.
Any dog with teeth (or as I found out, without teeth) can bite.
However, dogs are not man killing machines. They don’t bite for the fun of it.
When a dog bite happens, there is always a story, theres something, even if it’s just something small, that led up to it. Unfortunately, those surrounding the incident will very often not learn that story, as the animal is gone long before behavioral testing or a investigation into the incident can be performed.
The question remains, will Onion became a fierce bloodthirsty monster because of this incident?
Well, lets look at other incidents of dog bites by properly housed family pets (not neglected, unsocialized or otherwise abused dogs):
The most common bites suffered by family dogs are as follows:
“You got in the middle of a Dog Fight” bites. (Been there, bleed that)
Intruder! Intruder! bites
Resource guarding bites.
Now, dog fight bites are, well, they just happen. If your dog gets in a fight with a stray (or even one of your other dogs) and you get in the middle, you’re probably going to get bitten. In fact, you could be mauled.
Why? Because when dogs are fighting, they see nothing but the dog they’re fighting and will bite anything. They can be the best trained dog in the world and they can ignore your commands of here, sit, and stay while fighting. They go into a different mode, a fight or flight mode. They’re literally in survival mode, and bites suffered during a dog fight, although they can be devastating, should not be taken personal or used to determine the overall personality of the dog in question
Now, any dog in a dog fight can and will more then likely bite a person getting in the way. However, once the fight has been broken up, that dog can go on for the rest of his or her life never biting another person for any reason.
Why? Because they were well raised and socialized with people. Because they’re respected by their owners and not beaten, neglected or made to fear them. Because they probably don’t remember biting a person, and because they have absolutely no reason to do it again. They don’t live their lives in survival mode. They eat breakfast, sleep on the couch while their owners are at work and go for walks. They’re normal dogs, who, when put in an abnormal situation will lash out at anything, even the people they love.
Intruder! Intruder! bites are similar in a way.
A dog, who can have never shown any aggression before, can feel that something is wrong. Maybe the neighbor next door took the liberty of an unlocked door and entered the home to return a pie plate, or maybe the guy from the electric company decided to check out the meter by just hoping the fence.
Whatever the reason, the dog feels that something is amiss, and that that person, who, while his owners were home would regularly be a welcomed and licked guest, now becomes an intruder that needs to be scared off.
This can also be called territorial aggression, when a dog feels this is ‘his’ space and the person wandering in is an outsider.
Now, this dog could chase someone away, nip their ankles or all out bite them.
But, after making sure to the lock the doors, installing a larger fence or investing in some obedience training, this dog could live the rest of his years never harming another person.
Resource guarding bites are something people in the dog world hear a lot about.
The dog thinks this is “HIS” bed or “HIS” toy or even “HIS” kid, and will react aggressively to anyone (even his owners!) when he feels they are a threat. This is a serious, SERIOUS training issue that can effect all dogs of all breeds. It’s seen in dogs of all ages, particularly in puppies. These puppies turn into dogs, and when their owners allow this behavior to continue instead of attacking it head on with a trainer - can lead to terrible consequences.
A friend of mine had this happen years ago. Her families German Shepherd didn’t like strangers and was a very good “Intruder! Intruder!” dog. He would bark at strangers and scare them off, and he loved the family children, only allowing the family adults to take them away or approach them.
Well who doesn’t want a dog like that? You might wonder. A dog that will protect my kids from kidnappers, pervs and gangbangers? Sign me up!
Unfortunately, the family dog, while a magnificent guard, was never taught the difference between a ‘bad guy’ and a friendly stranger. As a result, while outside with “HIS” children, the mailman popped by to give the children their mail, and he was bitten for it.
The dog was euthanized after the family was threatened with a lawsuit.
This story shows our defective, two way street with our loving canine companions.
The family dog lost his life for thinking he was protecting “HIS” kids.
However, if the postman had been a child molester, a kidnapper or a thief, the dog would have been hailed a hero and had his photo printed on the local newspaper.
The same could be said for “Intruder!” bites. When was the last time you saw a news story about a dog chasing away some bad-guys in a Lassie-worthy show of loyalty? Probably less then six months ago.
But the news doesn’t report the other side, or when it does, it tells the story of the dog ‘viciously mauling’ an innocent girl-scout who just wanted to make her cookie quota. No one considers the fact that the dog simply acted on instinct and attacked what could have been a threat to “HIS” family.
At the end of the day, it’s time for society as a whole to accept responsibility for the creatures in our care. It’s time to stop blaming a being incapable of having a true grasp on the human notion of what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and instead learn how to live our lives with dogs responsibly.
Bringing our own dogs to training classes, learning enough about animal body language to know what off leash dog is and isn’t a threat, using common sense when entering dog-living households, and never, ever putting our children or our dogs in a position where they could be harmed by each other are simple, effective ways to avoid tragedies like this from happening again.
And as far as Onion being “Punished for what he did,” I will always find it amazing how easily a humans loyalty can be broken. For Onion has been punished. He’s lost the only family he ever knew. He lost his toys, his bed, his daily walks. He currently sits in a kennel at an Animal Control center waiting to die, maybe wondering when his family will come pick him up, maybe trying to figure out what he did wrong.
The case of Onion is a tragic one for everyone involved.
But it’s a story that repeats every year, in every country.
It’s a story that could we could never hear again.
If we just stopped blaming the dog, and gave a glance into the mirror.
After many days of discussion and many dogs considered, I have finally committed to a Project dog from one of my local shelters.
Sue Parker of the Little Rhody Bully Breed club introduced me to her today.
I needed a dog to participate in a demo the LRBBC will be performing down in North Carolina later this year.
Neither of my dogs are pit bulls, so they were out by default.
Then I was going to use a dog from the main shelter I volunteer with, but their adoption rate is very, very high. A good thing, no doubt, but whatever dog I would be working with would be long gone before the demo comes around.
Originally, Sue was bringing me to a shelter where dogs linger a bit longer to meet a separate dog, Tanner. But as we walked in we found ourselves involved in the general joy of him being adopted.
After meeting a few other dogs, I finally decided on Maya.
She’s a young female pit bull, with a sweet and calm personality. She needs a hell of a lot of work on her leash training, but she has great focus and she already know’s sit!
Hopefully, she won’t get adopted until after our demo, but until she does get adopted, I’ll be working with her every week until we’re both in tip top shape to perform!
EDIT:And you know what? Even if the dog DOES sway the jury, maybe thats what happens when you RAPE A LITTLE GIRL.
Temperance Brennan, “The Finger in the Nest” (via spookykitten
Two days ago around 2:30ish, I was at the shelter walking a lovable chocolate Lab named Coco:
Now, The shelter is literally a block away from many of the Johnson and Wales dorms. So I usually walk most of the dogs up there to help with their socialization and get their faces out around town.
Every few feet I was stopped by a group of college students who wanted to meet, pet and overly cuddle Coco.
Boys, Girls, Freshmen, Juniors, Seniors, Guys who looked like they belonged on the big bang theory, Guys waiting for their call backs for Jersey Shore.
Basically, everyone loved Coco.
But Coco has a bad leg and I cant walk her that far that often.
So Yesterday, at the same time, I took not one, but two Pit Bulls out for a walk on the same streets.
Both dogs had the same, if not a better temperament then Coco.
Blu (top) and Charlee ( Bottom) are truly two lovers.
But not one person stopped to meet either of them.
In fact, on the super busy sidewalks - only three people stayed on the same side of the road with them.
Side note: All three dogs are still currently looking for their forever homes in Rhode Island/Nearby Massachusetts. If you’re interested you can contact me and I’ll get you in contact with the right people :)
This might be the first time since his prison release that Vick’s PR team has allowed him to veer from the official script. His remarks are honest and unrehearsed. And they illustrate why redemption, for Vick as a man, is a long way off. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t come far on the football field. But an athletic comeback is not built on remorse or understanding — redemption is. And Vick shows neither.
First, he tells GQ that while the media won’t let all this pesky dog fighting stuff go, the general public has nothing but praise for him:
“They [media] are writing as if everyone feels that way and has the same opinions they do. But when I go out in public, it’s all positive, so that’s obviously not true.”
Oh really, Mr. Vick? I bet I could find a few non-media types with some less than positive thoughts for you. But if you don’t want to be scrutinized by the media, maybe you shouldn’t engage the media. Perhaps not make comments like this about dog fighting to GQ Magazine which the media can then respond to:
“It’s almost as if everyone wanted to hate me. But what have I done to anybody? It was something that happened, and it was people trying to make some money.”
Read full article here.
Seriously? Make some money? I guess that makes sense, seeing as you were giving Lincolns away to friends like beers, so it totally makes sense that you’d need mor- oh wait. I forgot. You’re obscenely rich.
Sure Vick, tons of people like you. But tons of people also hate you. And why don’t you see those people? Because your bodyguards shove them out of the way while you’re strutting your stuff.
What have you done to anyone? You became a murderer. You beat dogs to death with your bare hands. You electrocuted them. You tied them to tree branches several feet in the air and then let them go so that their necks snapped.
And worst of all, you told everyone that it was okay.
You made an example. You show every kid from a bad neighborhood that it doesn’t matter what you do. People will still pay you obscene amounts of money to throw a football, no matter how much blood is on your hands.
And that I think, is what’s truly tragic.
But for whatever reasons, pit bulls were the latest breed to get sucked into the self fulfilling cycle of fear, hype, substandard care and rising population. In the nineteenth century, a different breed of dog was considered so vicious and insidious that it inspired almost universal fear and loathing. That breed was the bloodhound.
Every time a bloodhound was involved in an incident, accounts of their aggression filled news columns. Why? For starters, the term bloodhound had come to include many different breeds, not just the classic floppy-eared specimen that accompanies the Scotland Yard detectives in TV Movies, but and dog prized for its tracking and guarding abilities. There were Irish bloodhounds, Siberian bloodhound, Cuban bloodhounds, and numerous others.
Many of those dogs were used to track escaped prisoners and slaves, guard stores, and protect homes, so they were encouraged to be aggressive and territorial. In the course of doing that work they often ended up in situations where they were pitted against people, and as one would expect, a fair share of those run ins ended violently.
The bloodhound got a reputation as a fearsome beast with a taste for blood. The reputation stocked anxiety in the general public, and as the same time caught the attention of people attracted to the idea of having a rough dog. The bloodhounds reputation increased, and the new owners were not raising the dogs to be family pets. Many of them wouldn’t have known how to properly train the dogs even if they’d wanted to. As a result many bloodhounds were ill-equipped to deal with people and new situations. This led to even more violent run ins and more fear.
What finally turned things around for the bloodhound? Was it a sudden change in social attitudes or the improved understanding of the forces that created the problem to start with? No, it was the emergence of the German Shepherd. These dogs arrived in the United States around 1910 and quickly gained the reputation as great guard dogs with an aggressive streak. Again, ironically, this reputation caused a popularity spike, particularly among the wrong type of dog owner. By 1925 there were so many German shepherds around causing so many problems that the borough of Queens, New York, proposed a ban on them. Australia banned them in 1929.
By the 1950s, the German shepherd - redeemed in the public’s mind by Rin Tin Tin gave way to the Doberman pinscher, which first earned its fearful rep as the Nazis dog of choice during World War II. SS Troops with Dobermans were a staple of war photography and the tales of what these dogs inflicted on concentration camp victims were well known.
In 1964 there were 4,815 new Doberman’s registrations filed with the American Kennel Club. By 1979 there were 80, 363 new Dobermans registered, making is the second most popular breed in the United States. Although there were a few notable, well publicized attacks, to the Dobermans credit, the population spike did not result in a proportionate spike in incidents.
Pit Bulls weren’t so lucky. In the mid-1970’s enterprising reporters began writing about the underground world of dogfighting, in hope of exposing and ending the practice. In the process they wrote about the tenacious and powerful dogs that were considered the ultimate fighters: Pit Bulls.
This had the effect of promoting pit bulls as the next in the line of tough guy dogs. By the early 1980’s, the pit bulls reputation made it popular among an emerging drug and hip hop culture. As with those before it, the breed’s popularity soared. Between 1983 and 1984 the United Kennel Club reported a 30 percent increase in registrations. And many pit bulls were not even being registered.
Between 1966 and 1975 there was one newspaper account of a fatality that resulted from a pit bull attack. In 1986, pit bulls appeared in 350 newspaper magazine and journal articles. Some of those reported legitimate pit bull attacks - the price of so many unsocialized, abused and aggressive trained dogs popping up around the country- but many were a result of pit bull hysteria, in which almost any incident involving a dog was falsely reported as pit bull attack. The breed, which had existed in some form for hundreds of years, did not simply lose control. The dogs simply fell into the hands of many more people who had no interest in control.
By 2000, pit bull fear and hype had reached such proportions that the breed was banned in more then two hundred cities and counties around the Unite States. Lost in all the legislation was the fact that for decades the pit bull had been considered one of the most loyal, loving and people-friendly dogs on the planet. -Jim Gorant. The Lost Dogs.
What do you think?
November 16th 2010
While Michael Vick was screaming toward the sky, a black pit bull named Mel was standing quietly by a door.
On this night, like many other nights, Mel was waiting for his owners to take him outside, but he couldn’t alert them with a bark. He doesn’t bark. He won’t bark. The bark has been beaten out of him.
While Michael Vick was running for glory, Mel was cowering toward a wall.
Every time the 4-year-old dog meets a stranger, he goes into convulsions. He staggers back into a wall for protection. He lowers his face and tries to hide. New faces are not new friends, but old terrors.
While Michael Vick was officially outracing his past Monday night, one of the dogs he abused cannot.
“Some people wonder, are we ever going to let Michael Vick get beyond all this?” said Richard Hunter, who owns Mel. “I tell them, let’s let Mel decide that. When he stops shaking, maybe then we can talk.”
I know, I know, this is a cheap and easy column, right? One day after the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback officially becomes an American hero again, just call the owner of one of the dogs who endured Vick’s unspeakable abuse and let the shaming begin.
Compare Vick’s 413 total yards, four touchdown passes and two rushing touchdowns against the Washington Redskins to the 47 pit bulls who were seized from Bad Newz Kennels, his interstate dogfighting ring. Contrast one of the best three hours by a quarterback ever to the 21 months he spent in prison.
Cheap and easy, right? Not so fast. Vick’s success is raising one of the most potentially costly and difficult perceptual questions in the history of American sports.
If he continues playing this well, he could end up as the league’s most valuable player. In six games, he has thrown for 11 touchdowns, run for four more touchdowns, committed zero turnovers and produced nearly 300 total yards per game. Heck, at this rate, with his Eagles inspired by his touch, he could even win a Super Bowl, one of the greatest achievements by an American sportsman.
And yet a large percentage of the population will still think Michael Vick is a sociopath. Many people will never get over Vick’s own admissions of unthinkable cruelty to his pit bulls — the strangling, the drowning, the electrocutions, the removal of all the teeth of female dogs who would fight back during mating.
Some believe that because Vick served his time in prison, he should be beyond reproach for his former actions. Many others believe that cruelty to animals isn’t something somebody does, it’s something somebody is.
Essentially, an ex-convict is dominating America’s most popular sport while victims of his previous crime continue to live with the brutality of that crime, and has that ever happened before?
Do you cheer the player and boo the man? Can you cheer the comeback while loathing the actions that necessitated the comeback? And how can you do any of this while not knowing if Vick has truly discovered morality or simply rediscovered the pocket?
If you are Richard Hunter, you just don’t watch football.
“When you look at Mel,” said Hunter, a radio personality from Dallas, “you just don’t think about how Michael Vick is a great football player.”
A couple of years ago, Hunter and his wife Sunny were watching a documentary on Best Friends Animal Society, the Utah sanctuary where the court sent 22 of Vick’s 44 seized dogs. It was after 1 a.m. when the show featured a Vick victim that had been so badly abused, it refused to move, behaving as if paralyzed.
“My wife said, ‘Get out of bed, get on the computer and e-mail those people, I want one of those dogs,’ ” Hunter recalled.
Nearly 18 months later, they became one of six people to adopt one of the dogs. The process included a home visit by caseworkers, an extended visit to the southwest Utah sanctuary, home monitoring by a dog trainer and a six-month probation period.
“These dogs were scarred in many ways both emotional and physical,” said John Polis, Best Friends spokesman. “It was something we had never really seen before.”
Hunter and his wife quickly saw Mel’s scars. The dog wouldn’t bark, wouldn’t show affection, and would spend nearly an hour shaking with each new person who tried to touch him.
It turns out that Mel had been a bait dog, thrown into the ring as a sort of sparring partner for the tougher dogs, sometimes even muzzled so he wouldn’t fight back, beaten daily to sap his will. Mel was under constant attack, and couldn’t fight back, and the deep cuts were visible on more than just his fur.
“You could see that Michael Vick went to a lot of trouble to make Mel this way,” Hunter said. “When people pet him, I tell them, pet him from under his chin, not over his head. He lives in fear of someone putting their hand over his head.”
On Monday night, no, Mel was not hanging out by the televised football game. He was hanging on his owner’s bed as they watched something on HBO.
“How can you support football when you know one of their stars did this to a dog?” Hunter said. “If more people saw Mel at the same time as they saw Michael Vick, he wouldn’t be so lauded.”
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the lessons learned from Vick’s crimes were on display in a postgame quote from Eagles star receiver DeSean Jackson.
“We were like pit bulls ready to get out of the cage,” he told reporters.
Cheap and easy, huh?