But What About That Hot Dog?

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But What About That Hot Dog?

By Gary L. Francione, Abolitionist Approach

"How am I ever going to watch an Eagles game and see that guy without thinking about those dogs?" My response: "How can you enjoy an Eagles game while you're eating a hamburger or a hot dog made from animals who had a life and death every bit as horrible and unnecessary as Vick's dogs."

The Michael Vick case rather dramatically demonstrates our "moral schizophrenia" about animals.

In August 2007, Michael Vick pleaded guilty to federal felony charges in connection with his involvement in a dog fighting ring. He was incarcerated for 18 months of a sentence of 23 months in federal prison and was indefinitely suspended from the NFL. He filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2008.

Vick was released from prison in May, and on July 27, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally reinstated Vick. The Philadelphia Eagles have given Vick a one-year deal with an option for a second year.

Judging from media reports and blog essays, people are outraged at the thought that someone who abused and killed dogs would be rewarded with a lucrative contract.

I am absolutely bewildered at this reaction.

Please, let me be very clear from the outset: I think that dogfighting is a terrible thing.

But I must say that the Vick case is rather dramatically demonstrating what I call our "moral schizophrenia" about animals. That is, if one thing is clear, it is that we do not think clearly about our moral obligations to animals.

The carnage

In this country alone, we kill more than 10 billion animals annually (not counting fish) for food. The animals we eat suffer as much as, if not more than, the dogs used in dogfighting. They are raised under horrendous conditions, mutilated in various ways without pain relief, transported long distances in cramped, filthy containers and finally slaughtered amid the stench, noise and squalor of the abattoir. Anyone who really believes that there is anything "humane" about the way that animals are raised or killed for food is living in a fantasy world.

There is no need for us to eat meat, dairy or eggs. Indeed, these foods are increasingly linked to various human diseases, and animal agriculture is an environmental disaster for the planet. We impose pain, suffering and death on these billions of sentient non-humans because we enjoy eating their flesh and the products that we make from them. We have no better justification.

There is something bizarre about condemning Michael Vick for using dogs in a hideous form of entertainment when 99 percent of us also use animals that are every bit as sentient as dogs in another hideous form of entertainment that is no more justifiable than fighting dogs: eating animals and animal products.

There is something bizarre about manufacturers of athletic shoes that contain leather canceling Vick's product endorsements. Why should they have a problem with a guy who tortures dogs endorsing products made from tortured cows?

Double standard

According to reports, the authorities removed from Vick's property a "rape stand" used to hold dogs for mating. But "rape racks" are used to hold dairy cows for impregnation. When a dog is involved, we are troubled; when a cow is involved, we ignore it.

Michael Vick may have enjoyed watching dogs fight; someone else may find that repulsive but see nothing wrong with eating an animal who has had a life as full of pain and suffering as the lives of the fighting dogs. It's strange that we regard the latter as morally different from, and superior to, the former. How removed from the screaming crowd around the dog pit is the laughing group around the summer steak barbecue?

In a conversation yesterday, someone said to me, "How am I ever going to watch an Eagles game and see that guy without thinking about those dogs?" My response: "How can you enjoy an Eagles game while you're eating a hamburger or a hot dog made from animals who had a life and death every bit as horrible and unnecessary as Vick's dogs.

He did not have an answer.

Perhaps it dawned on him that from the standpoint of the animals, Michael Vick is no different than the rest of us.


Gary L. Francione is distinguished professor of law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach scholar of law and philosophy at Rutgers University School of Law, Newark.

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