Michael Vick’s True Message to Young People

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Michael Vick’s True Message to Young People

By Michael Mountain on Zoe: It's Our Nature
December 2010

“I got away with it and you can, too.”

Let the youngsters see a few of the photos of the way these dogs had been treated by Vick before they were rescued. And then let them meet the dogs, alive and thriving, with their tails wagging and their lives changed forever. With their story and their message, they’re the perfect ambassadors to young people.

Recently, Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) went on CNN to defend his association with Michael Vick and his support of Vick having a dog at home soon.

I have a lot of respect for Pacelle’s work for animals of all kinds. But on the issue of Michael Vick, he and the HSUS have been wrong from the start.

It began as soon as Vick was arrested. The HSUS argued to the authorities that the dogs who had been rescued from his Bad Newz Kennels should all be killed. (PETA wanted them all dead, too.) A number of other organizations including Best Friends (of which I was still president at that time) and the ASPCA filed a brief with the court that led to the judge rejecting the advice of the HSUS. Instead, 47 of the 48 rescued dogs were sent to rescue groups and sanctuaries (22 of them came to Best Friends) for a chance at a new life.

Pacelle acknowledged on CNN that there are people in his own organization who disagree with the HSUS’s association with Vick. He should have listened to them before, and he should listen to them now.

A few days ago, I noted that Vick has never to this day actually admitted in public the unspeakable acts of torture he personally inflicted on the dogs. The judge commented on this when sentencing him to prison.

“I’m not convinced you’ve fully accepted responsibility,” Judge Henry Hudson told Vick. But in response, Vick still wouldn’t talk. All he would admit to – doubtless on the advice of his attorneys and PR people – was using “poor judgment.”

No mention of what he’d actually done to the dogs. And no mention ever since.

Pacelle said that Vick has “served his time,” and he argued that having Vick go around schools is impacting young people in a positive way. But we actually have no idea what kind of effect Vick is really having now or will have in the longer term.

“These kids are listening,” Pacelle said. “He is a celebrity. He has a cautionary tale, and it’s an important message that they must hear.”

But what exactly is that message? Sure, Vick is warning kids not to get drawn into dogfighting. But beyond the scripted words, what message can someone who has yet to admit to anything beyond “poor judgment” really be delivering? I’d say it’s something like this:

Look at me, kids. And look what you can get away with. You can do the worst thing in the world, but as long as you’re a celebrity and you have a good PR company behind you, you can get away with it. You don’t even have to acknowledge what you did. You’ll spend a token amount of time in prison, and in no time at all you can get back to being a rich, famous star again. Just look at me.

Send the dogs!

Today, many of the dogs that Vick tortured are in new homes leading good new lives. Some have even qualified as therapy dogs. Others are still in sanctuary. Several have been on TV, where they have been true ambassadors, doted on and petted by young people at schools – the same kinds of young people that Vick is talking to.

So who’s the better ambassador: Michael Vick or the dogs he abused?

If you want to send a real message to young people about respect for animals, don’t send Michael Vick; SEND THE DOGS!

Who better to give these kids a message about getting a second chance, about recovering from abuse, about true resilience…and about forgiveness?

Let the youngsters see a few of the photos of the way these dogs had been treated by Vick before they were rescued. And then let them meet the dogs, alive and thriving, with their tails wagging and their lives changed forever. With their story and their message, they’re the perfect ambassadors to young people.

Let Michael Vick play football if people want to watch him, but get him off the stage and out of the lives of school children. As an ambassador for kindness to animals, he’s a non-starter.

And whether he can ever be a role model for anything worthwhile is a question that the jury is still out on.