Thursday, August 27, 2015

Mike Vick has earned our support while he works to end dogfighting

Like most people, I don't readily admit when I'm wrong.  When the news broke about Michael Vick heading to Pittsburgh for an interview, I reacted as many animal lovers, particularly animal loving Steelers fans, did.  I gave away my Terrible Towel, made plans to throw my lunch box away at the end of the day, and invited people to the bonfire scheduled for as soon as the burn ban is lifted.  I've taken some time to think on it, and although I don't know how broad of an audience I'll really reach, here it is.  I was wrong.

The wounds caused by what Michael Vick did will never fully heal.  We'll never forget those that died, even if we never met them. We'll never forget the horrors that the survivors had to endure, although we did not witness them.  As we begin to deal with the mortality of those who made it out, we'll always remember the obstacles they overcame to make their way into new homes to experience a soft bed, a gentle touch, and an enduring love for the first time.  And we'll always be grateful for the incredible people that took them in and gave them these things.  We'll always have love and respect for those who worked to turn the horror house that was Bad Newz and turn it into the Good Newz Rehab Center. (Full Disclosure: I'm a former local rep for Dogs Deserve Better, and I consider Tami Thayne a very close friend)

None of those things will change if Michael Vick never plays another football game.  No amount of protests or petitions will ever bring the lost dogs back to life. There is no way to ever make those horrible things not so horrible.

(Note: You will not hear "he did his time so leave him alone" from me. That's not how I feel, but that's immaterial to the topic at hand.)

If Michael Vick were to just go away, people would slowly think less and less about what happened.  Our walking example would lose it's effectiveness; Vick's name evokes incredibly strong emotion, and it wouldn't have that effect if nobody knew who he was.  He is, for better or worse, the face of dogfighting.  So what do we do with that?  One option is to gang up on him, drive him away, and nothing will change except that you won't have to hear his name or see his face or think about him making money anymore.  For some people, that's the only goal - to punish Vick again, and again, and again.  To apparently give up the positive work they were doing and try to destroy one person.

Me?  I have higher hopes.  No matter how much we want to believe that someone able to commit such heinous acts is irredeemable, reality hasn't matched that expectation.  While the very thought of patting Mike Vick on the back or thanking him for something is enough to make many people physically ill, he has undeniably done some great things.  Though it's a hard number to quantify, Vick's work with HSUS and with children has absolutely changed lives and saved lives.  Mike Vick is no longer our enemy.  There are many active battles that need to be fought, and we need all hands on board.  If that means you're standing side by side with someone you despise, what will you do?

In just a few years, Vick went from committing the most despicable acts to speaking to thousands of children to ensure none of them would follow in his footsteps.  He's continued to do this work, even as he faces a constant barrage of attacks from all angles.  We won't ever forget, many won't ever forgive, but what it's critical we do is move forward.  We begin each day zeroed out on animal deeds.  If we want to make that number black and not red, we need all hands on board.  Michael Vick of 10 years ago was our worst enemy; however, Michael Vick of today is an ally, and could be an even greater one.  We owe it to the dogs that died to not have their deaths be in vain. We owe it to them, to ourselves, and to Mike Vick that we take the energy surrounding this and channel it into positivity.  We do that by working with him, not fighting against him.

When Patrick was thrown down the garbage chute in NJ, that was something horrible without chance for redemption and advancement.  We couldn't expect that woman to suddenly become an animal advocate.  When I found Vedder with chemical burns, I knew I'd never be able to get anything positive out of the person who did it to her.  I realize that the sheer magnitude of what Vick did was worse, and again, we can't change the past - but goddammit, we can't throw away opportunities to change the present and the future.

If you're convinced that there's no way you're ever willing to work on the same side as Mike Vick, well... you might need to take a long, hard look at what your motivation is for being involved in animal rescue.  Is your goal to save and improve as many lives as possible?  Reduce and eventually effectively eliminate animal cruelty?  Those are honest, commendable goals.  But if you refuse to use every possible advantage to make these things happen, you're throwing away opportunity, and opportunity means lives.

Upon his release from prison, when he first started working with HSUS, I didn't feel that his work was sincere.  I saw it as a PR move, and nothing more - I figured he'd stop doing it once he threw a bunch of touchdowns, or made a pre-set number of speeches to schoolchildren, or whatever arbitrary target had been set.  Yet here we are, 5 years later, and he's still at it.  He's either pulling a REALLY long con, or he's truly sincere.

When you come across someone that's done harm to animals, you want to stop it immediately.  But let me ask this - what's next?  Is your goal to take their dog/cat/horse away and never let them own animals again?  That's not my goal. I worked with DDB because I enjoy changing minds. I knocked on doors in "rough" parts of town because I wanted to have a discussion and make allies. I believe I was successful, and I believe that HSUS working with Vick had the same result.

If I were to ever meet Vick, I'd likely be very upset, thinking about the lost lives.  And then I'd thank him for the work he's done, ask him what he has planned, and see if I could help.  I'd encourage him to keep working.  I can walk around a neighborhood and reach a dozen people in a day.  Mike Vick can type 140 characters and have millions of people see it.  I'm proud of my accomplishments, but I'm fully aware that he's capable of accomplishing much more from his position in life than I am from mine.

Now I need to implore everyone to help us maximize output from Michael Vick.  We need to provide a supportive environment and encourage him to continue working and reaching children.  We need rescue groups to focus on the good he's done and focus energy on expanding that, rather than pulling away from Steelers associated events.  I believe Mike has a very strong resume over the last 5 years - lets help make him proud of the good he's done, and figure out how we can ampilfy it.

Am I saying he's a good guy? No.  I can't make that judgement.  He might be.  It really doesn't matter, though.  We must separate the awful things he did from the great things he's doing.  We must focus on reinforcing the positive, and not re-hashing the negative.  I don't feel any pity for him, and we shouldn't ever forget what happened - but, we are compounding one horrible crime with another if we actively work to stop progress and outreach.  Forget the destructive petitions, and start petitioning the Steelers to develop and publicize efforts in Pittsburgh that will save lives.  This is an enormous opportunity.  Let's not blow it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this - feel free to reach out to me via e-mail at, or on twitter @amoran2, or Facebook (just search for my name and pick the one with the picture of a dog, most likely)  If you're willing, please share this wherever you can.  I'd really like to get a discussion going that's more than the current "dog murderer!" vs "shutup he did his time!" mentality.

Adam Moran