PETA’s Response on Vick
An Animal Rights Article from


Ingrid E. Newkirk in the New York Times
March 2009

The recent post by “Rich in Atlanta” [see that article at the end of this one] regarding PETA and Michael Vick was about as unsportsmanlike and mean-spirited as it gets. How can anyone not recognize that there is a world of difference between painlessly euthanizing animals out of compassion — aged, injured, sick, and dying animals whose guardians can’t afford euthanasia, for instance — as PETA does, and forcing dogs to fight to the death, slamming them to the ground, hanging them by the neck from trees, drowning and electrocuting them in swimming pools, and tossing pet dogs into the ring with fighting dogs for “fun,” as Mr. Vick admits he did.

In my first year working at a grossly substandard animal shelter in Maryland, I forced myself to go in early to euthanize dogs by holding them in my arms and helping them gently escape an uncaring world without trauma or pain, so as to spare them from being stabbed haphazardly in the general vicinity of their hearts with blunt needles and left to thrash on the floor until they died by the callous people who would arrive later to do the job.

I also publicly blew the whistle on the cruel killings that were taking place there, resulting in the eventual replacement of the shelter workers and the implementation of humane policies, but “Rich in Atlanta” chose not to mention any of this context in his nasty post.

It’s easy to point the finger at those of us who are forced to do the “dirty work” caused by a throwaway society’s casual acquisition and breeding of dogs and cats who end up homeless and unwanted, but at PETA, we will never turn our backs on neglected, unloved, and homeless animals — even if the best we can offer them is a painless release from a world that doesn’t have enough heart or homes with room for them. It makes it easy for people to throw stones at us, but we are against all needless killing: for hamburgers, fur collars, dissection, sport hunting ― the works. We work very hard to persuade people to spay and neuter their animals and to commit to a lifetime of care and respect for them. If anyone has a good home, love, and respect to offer, we beg them: Go to a shelter and take one or two animals home. The problem is that few people do that, choosing instead to go to a breeder or a pet shop and not “fixing” their dogs and cats, which contributes to the high euthanasia rate that animal shelters face.

Every day, PETA’s fieldworkers help abused and neglected dogs — many of them pit bulls nowadays and many of them forced to live their lives on chains heavy enough to tow an 18-wheeler — by providing them with food; clean water; lightweight tie-outs; deworming medicine; flea, tick, and fly strike prevention; free veterinary care; and sturdy wooden doghouses stuffed with straw bedding. We have sterilized more than 50,000 dogs and cats at no or very low cost.

What we see is enough to make you lose faith in humanity. One pit bull we gained custody of, named Asia, looked like a skeleton covered with skin when PETA released her from the 15-pound chain she had been kept on for years. Asia suffered from three painful and deadly intestinal obstructions, which prevented her from keeping any food down. She faced an agonizing, lingering death, so our veterinarian recommended euthanasia to end her suffering. We pursued criminal charges against those responsible for her condition, leading to their conviction for cruelty to animals. That is just one of the many cases we see every week.

While the majority of adoptable dogs are never brought through our doors (we refer them to local adoption groups and walk-in animal shelters), I encourage readers to visit Helping  to see photographs of the miserable conditions of the dogs PETA has housed, rescued, found homes for, or put out of their misery and the cases that we have successfully taken to prosecution, which have ended up banning animal abusers from ever owning or abusing animals again.

Please, if you care about animals, help prevent more of them from being born only to end up chained and left to waste away in people’s back yards, euthanized in animal shelters for lack of a good home, or in the hands of animal abusers like Michael Vick by always having your animals spayed or neutered.

Picking Vick Over PETA

By Rich in Atlanta

Here’s a hypothetical. You have to give up your beloved family pet, a pit bull terrier, and you have the choice of entrusting it to Ingrid Newkirk, president and founder of PETA, or Michael Vick, trusting that whoever you pick will find the dog a good home. Who do you choose?

I’ll get back to that. I have dogs; I love my dogs. I was angered and disgusted by what Vick did. I’ll never be a fan. However, there is no indication that Vick is a sociopath. If he wanted to torture animals for his enjoyment, there were much simpler paths available to him. Vick was interested in dogfighting, a particularly reprehensible manifestation of machismo, but primarily machismo nonetheless. From the ASPCA Web site in regard to dogfighting: “The attraction lies in using the animals as an extension of themselves to fight their battles for them and demonstrate their strength and prowess.”

What he did to the dogs he did as a part of training them, because that’s the way those dogs are trained. He had a complete disregard for the well being or “feelings” of those animals, not a pathological desire to cause them pain. It doesn’t make the end result any more palatable, but it doesn’t make him a sociopath either.

If he had run a cockfighting ring, the reaction would not have been as extreme, because most of the general public has never developed a close personal bond with a chicken. It is the choice of animal that we regard as particularly reprehensible, because these are our friends and companions. We can’t imagine that anyone other than a sociopath could fail to feel empathy for them. And yet many ordinary people, both historically and geographically, do not feel that bond, and regard dogs as nothing more than useful property.

They still eat dogs in China (the government had to direct Beijing restaurants to remove dog from the menu for the Olympics), and presumably they are no more inclined to eat animals they love than we are; they just think of dogs differently. Dogfighting is still legal in Japan (alone among ‘first world’ countries) and widely practiced in the third world, if not always legal. It was legal in some states here as late as the early 80s and was not a felony in most until fairly recently.

Humans are not necessarily born with an innate emotional bond to dogs, and it is not a sign of abnormal pathology when some individual lacks that bond and the compassion that it implies. It still leaves Vick as a bad guy, but a different level of bad guy — one who can conceivably reform.

In the meantime we have PETA, protector of animal rights and their leader, Ingrid Newkirk, a strange bird to say the least. Newkirk got her start in the animal rights business while working at a shelter in DC. Revolted by the living conditions of the animals there, she decided to do something about it. That something was euthanizing them. When she couldn’t get the administrators of the shelter to go along with her plans, she just took matters into her own hands: “In the end, I would go to work early, before anyone got there, and I would just kill the animals myself. Because I couldn’t stand to let them go through that. I must have killed a thousand of them, sometimes dozens every day.”

This (killing as a means of rescue) continues as a common theme of PETA today. I have trouble sorting out exactly what it is that PETA and Newkirk regard as animal rights. I am clear that they don’t want animals used in any way that might be useful to humans, such as for food or research. Newkirk again:

“Even if animal research resulted in a cure for AIDS, we’d be against it.”

But the right to life does not seem to be an animal right that they put a lot of stock in. PETA as an organization euthanizes a higher percentage of the animals entrusted to them than just about any other animal “rescue” organization. As high as 90 percent in some years. Some breeds go higher than that.

Newkirk seems to have a particular problem with pit bulls, and recommends that all breeding of them should stop and that pit bulls be euthanized as a matter of course. She says this is because they are more likely to be abused than other breeds, but it is noteworthy that she has been attacked by a pit bull in the past.

Newkirk has a clause in her will that directs that “…her skin be turned into wallets, her feet into umbrella stands, and her flesh into ‘Newkirk Nuggets,’ then grilled on a barbecue,” presumably as some type of statement.

I find PETA’s insistence on a brain scan intrusive, illegal and without precedent, but I’d be willing to go along if Newkirk takes one first.

As to Vick, unless he is much dumber than I think, I believe he is unlikely to ever go anywhere near a dog fight again. It is even possible that he might have learned enough to feel genuine remorse for what he’s done (though we’ll never really know that). But he has paid his debt and by any definition of equity he deserves another chance. We don’t have to root for him or like him, but it is the only reasonable course.

As to my hypothetical question? If I delivered my pit bull to Newkirk, I would at least know his fate — he’d be headed out the back door in a plastic bag by the time I drove back home. I couldn’t be completely sure about Vick, but I think I’d have to take my chances with him.

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