Personalamente, the difficulty of the Mike Vick case is isn’t as simple as my love for animals. The reason is agency, which is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.
Dogs do not possess agency in the same way that humans do. A dog doesn’t get a choice of his or her master. A dog doesn’t have or even truly understand the choices it makes. It simply makes them. Often out of conditioned loyalty to its master. A fighting dog is still a pet. It still depends on its master, its owner, for every single thing in its life.
Human beings have a separate moral responsibility to the so-called lesser life forms of this world. To be good stewards of our environs. To guarantee the intrinsic dignity of animals and to ensure whenever possible that we do not inflict excessive torture on them.
Read this account of what Vick did to those dogs from Donna Reynolds, the co-founder of Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls (BAD RAP), an East Bay organization with a national reputation for rescuing and rehabilitating pit bulls:
“I wear some pretty thick skin during our work with dogs, but I can’t shake my minds-eye image of a little black dog splashing frantically in bloody water … screaming in pain and terror … brown eyes saucer wide and tiny black white-toed feet clawing at anything, desperate to get a hold. This death did not come quickly. The rescuer in me keeps trying to think of a way to go back in time and somehow stop this torture and pull the little dog to safety. I think I’ll be looking for ways to pull that dog out for the rest of my life.”
Animal abuse isn’t somehow greater or worse than human abuse. It is qualitatively different.
Do not think for one second that I am assigning culpability or blame to human abuse victims. The qualitative difference lies in the human capacity to ultimately rise up and out of the darkness, of their own accord. To look straight into the mouth of the beast, to comprehend that evil and still come out on top. To be their own hero.
An animal is often a living embodiment of pure emotion. An animal can never comprehend or contemplate its emotions and its reactions to those emotions. An abused animal can never plan or comprehend or even envision a way back. It exists in this wasteland, reduced to one solitary instinct – to survive. Which is far different from thriving.
I’m on record saying that Mike Vick shouldn’t be prohibited from plying his trade in the NFL if a team deems him physically and mentally capable of handling the load. By and large, he has proven to be a capable quarterback in the NFL since his release from prison so from a football standpoint, he should make for a good backup to Ben Roethlisberger. Off-the-field, Vick has worked with the Humane Society of the US to speak out against animal abuse and dog-fighting. Who better to speak out against such a barbaric practice than a former dog-fighter. According to the HSUS, Vick has apologized and expressed remorse for what he did.
I don’t know if Mike Vick has really been punished enough. Whether he truly believes he did wrong, I cannot say. I can’t judge what’s in his heart. I can only judge his actions. And Vick’s actions on and off the field say that he has earned a second chance.
Yet, I pray that Vick’s heart has truly changed. That in his private moments he grieves for what he did. I can’t know that. What’s more, his victims have no voice. They had no choice. They can’t say that they believe he has changed. They can’t forgive him. They had no agency. And so, yes, his case bugs me.