Riding on Vick’s Bloodstained Coattails

Where’s the Quid Pro Quo?

Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, says the American people—like HSUS itself—should not only forgive Michael Vick, we should embrace him. And as part of HSUS’ campaign to make that happen, Wayne Pacelle recently accompanied Michael Vick in a limousine to an Atlanta neighborhood where Vick spoke to some children.

But HSUS did not publicize the event, the media was barred by police from entering, windows were blocked so no one could look in, no one was allowed to ask questions, and the community was locked out. The whole purpose was to capture footage for an upcoming interview of Vick on 60 Minutes. As a result, the Associated Press noted that the “plan laid out by Vick’s handlers : meant missing the chance to make a real impact” with kids.

It reminds me of the fake town hall meetings that started under the Bush Administration where the questions were written by the Administration and the people turned out to be actors (and in some cases, lobbyists). It was never about making a “real impact.” It wasn’t about the kids. It wasn’t about the message of stopping dog fighting. It was a propaganda event to reform Michael Vick’s image. It was about carefully orchestrated sound-bites.

We were told Michael Vick was coming on as an HSUS spokesman—with a goal of stopping dog fighting—but it appears to be the other way around; that, in fact, Pacelle is coming on as a Vick spokesman. The whole enterprise, according to the Associated Press, is driven by “Vick’s handlers” with a goal that has nothing to do with dogs and everything to do with creating an image of Michael Vick as “reformed,” so he will be signed by an NFL team. Vick’s public relations team is setting the agenda and telling Wayne Pacelle when and where to show up to help sell the “new” Michael Vick. And Pacelle is obliging. As his new spokesman and on cue, Pacelle tells an Atlanta newspaper that Vick “now wants to be part of the solution.”

There is a difference between sincere remorse and being used. If Michael Vick was sincere, this wouldn’t be about getting back into the NFL. This wouldn’t be about barring the public, keeping the media out, and blocking the windows. This wouldn’t be about meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or hiring “handlers” and public relations consultants. Michael Vick would be talking to anyone who would listen that he is truly sorry and will make it right. But, most importantly, he would be talking to federal investigators. And while the victims of his crimes—the dogs he tortured and killed—can never be brought back; while they can no longer think and feel and run and play and eat and sleep and bark and love and be loved; while their only life has been taken from them; while it is over, because they are gone, forever; there are dogs being killed and torn apart to this very day and Michael Vick has the power to stop it.

Michael Vick has the information which can deal a crushing blow to dog fighters and dog fighting in the United States. He can make a profound impact on the lives of dogs being abused and tortured today. In fact, there could be a dozen arrests and closures of dog fighting rings by now thanks to the information he could potentially provide to HSUS and federal investigators. He knows who the dog fighters are. He knows where the dog fights are held. He knows where they are getting the dogs. He knows where they are getting the animals used as “bait.” He knows where they live. He knows where they keep the dogs. He knows where they buy and keep the instruments of torture. He can stop it. A person as deeply involved in the U.S. dog fighting racket as Vick could implicate many other dog fighters and provide valuable information that could shut them down.

This is the commitment Wayne Pacelle should have extracted from Michael Vick. Once the investigations were complete, once the arrests were made, once Michael Vick testified against them in court, once they were convicted, once the dogs being tortured were rescued, once the whole bloody enterprise was shut down, then and only then, should anyone listen to talk of remorse.

At the same time, HSUS would have been getting ready to do its part by using the money it raised and raises off its association with Michael Vick to build kennels across the country specifically for victims of dog fighting and all the dogs to be rescued from their campaign of dog fighting eradication, as is their job and so that local shelters aren’t left to do it alone. Those kennels would be staffed with HSUS employees whose jobs would not only be care, feeding, socialization and, for those dogs who need it, rehabilitation, but ultimately, it would include rescue transfer, adoption, and, if necessary, lifetime sanctuary care.

That is what I hope is happening behind the scenes. And that is what I hope they will announce on 60 Minutes: the simultaneous arrests of dog fighters all over the country thanks to information supplied by Michael Vick and an announcement by HSUS of the kennels they have been constructing to get ready in response, so none of the rescued dogs will be killed, as HSUS recommended for all of Vick’s victims.

But without any evidence of this—and given HSUS’ history of killing victims of dog fighting and defending poorly performing and abusive animal shelters; and given Vick’s sadistic history and history of lying to federal investigators—it would be naïve and irresponsible to believe that is what is going on. Instead, we are left with what the facts show so far. And what they show, instead, is this:

That instead of demonstrating true remorse by trying to make things right, Vick is doing the time-honored tradition of the scoundrel: hire a P.R. team to reform his image, issue a “mea culpa,” speak softly about his “remorse” to a national media, do some carefully orchestrated appearances with kids, and then get his old life back. And HSUS is undermining an important precedent by helping him do it.

Right now, not a single NFL team is willing to sign Vick because of the public’s anger and condemnation. But that may change. It may change after the Vick P.R. campaign achieves its goals; after the spectacle that is likely to be 60 minutes where we will be treated to a soft-spoken, softly dressed Michael Vick saying things like “mistake,” “reformed,” “sorry,” “forgiveness,” and claims of “making peace with god;” Of Pacelle talking about Vick “being part of the solution,” and “turning at-risk kids around.” But most of all, we will be told that Vick “paid his dues” and “received his punishment,” and therefore deserves a “second chance.” And the viewers who are not aware of HSUS’ own untoward history and who erroneously think they speak for the movement will say, “If HSUS believes in him, I guess I should too.” And the anger will dissipate. And the punishment will be removed. And despite the fact that none of it is true, we will be greeted with the obscene spectacle of a sadistic animal torturer playing in the NFL before a cheering crowd courtesy of HSUS; of Michael Vick getting everything back, while the dogs got—and get—nothing of substance in return.

And so without the arrests, without the convictions, without the information that Pacelle could have extracted from Michael Vick as a condition of helping him get back into the NFL, why should we give Vick the “second chance” he refused to give dogs? In one case, a dog Vick tried to hang “by placing a nylon cord over a 2 x 4 that was nailed to two trees located next to the big shed” refused to die. Wearing a pair of overalls he donned so he would not get blood from the dogs on his expensive tailored suits, did Vick give that dog a second chance? No. According to the Special Investigator, the dog “was taken down and drowned in a 5 gallon bucket of water.”

Vick had another opportunity to give a dog a second chance when that dog “would not die from hanging.” Did he? No. According to the Investigator, “Vick took down one of the dogs that would not die from hanging and tossed the dog to the side. He later hung the same dog until it died.”

Vick had yet another opportunity to give dogs a second chance when they were “rolled” or “tested” to see if they would fight. Did he? No. Even when some of his co-conspirators wanted to give away dogs who would not fight rather than kill them, the Special Investigator says “Vick stated ‘they got to go,’ meaning they needed to be killed.”

Vick may have been convicted and served prison time, but he walked away after less than two years. Those dogs are still dead. Moreover, the fact that he served time in prison does not magically absolve him of what he did and, more importantly, who he really is. Not only did he savagely abuse and kill those dogs, he took great enjoyment in it, finding it funny to watch family pets being torn apart.

And after the depths of Vick’s depravity were fully revealed, the punishment was swift and severe, as it should have been. He was banned from the NFL. He was convicted by the federal courts. He was sent to prison. He was bankrupted. He was despised by the American public. Now, Pacelle is helping “Vick’s handlers” to undermine that precedent. Ultimately, the lesson Pacelle’s embrace of Vick imparts is that the brutal abuse, torture, and killing of dogs is forgivable. That they are only dogs. That the public’s response to the Vick horror was misplaced and overblown. And for what? So Pacelle can ride Vick’s bloodstained coattails to the New York Times and 60 Minutes?

That is what Pacelle gains. But what does the movement gain? Are we really that gullible that we believe Vick can actually influence people not to fight dogs? Are we really going to believe that a PSA or neighborhood talk is going to make people who enjoy watching dogs tear each other apart suddenly have a change of heart?

I keep waiting for the announcement of the substantive quid pro quo: of the mass arrests and mass rescues thanks to information and evidence supplied by Vick as a condition of his embrace by HSUS. Without that, how has he proven he is reformed? Because he conveniently said so? Without more than a few P.R. events where children are nothing more than props in “Vick’s handlers” image reform campaign, we cannot believe that Michael Vick now cares about the dogs. Without an end to the whole bloody enterprise Vick has the power to help federal agents achieve, he isn’t part of the solution. And unless that announcement comes on 60 Minutes, we are left with one, and only one conclusion, that Vick is now what he always was: a brutal sadist. Nothing more, nothing less. And instead of greeting him in his limousine and at public relations events, Pacelle and HSUS should organize protests to greet this criminal with the condemnation he deserves and with the intent of preventing him from ever being signed by an NFL team.

On July 28, as Wayne Pacelle was doing the media circuit arguing for a “second chance” for Vick and I was condemning it, I received a twitter post from Sarah, HSUS’ marketing spokesperson, asking me whether it wasn’t our role to give people second chances, to prop them up when they are down. Sadly, I had to remind her that that was not the mission of an animal protection organization. The mission of an animal protection organization is (drum roll please) to “protect animals.” To protect animals, Sarah. Not to help reform the image of sadistic animal abusers.

I hope HSUS and Michael Vick prove me wrong. I hope they make the startling announcement on 60 Minutes. I hope we get to watch videos of federal agents busting operations thanks to information supplied by Vick. I hope they show the kennels HSUS has constructed to save those dogs. I promise this if they do: if they commit to saving all the rescued dogs, if things turn out to be what they should be, it won’t “erase” what Vick did, but no one will cheer louder than me.

For Further Reading:

In Bed with Monsters

No Kill Advocacy Center letter to the NFL