Can Michael Vick redeem himself?

A couple of days ago, a dear friend sent me an email about Michael Vick. This sweet, kind, gentle grandmother said that Vick should be hung up by his…well, let’s just say “toes.”

Columnists and talk show hosts have attacked Vick with adjectives like “repugnant,” “reprehensible,” and “despicable.” And an internet search for “Michael Vick” plus nearly any imaginable epithet produces many thousands of hits, including 178,000 for a mild one like “jerk.”

All this venom is well deserved. Vick now admits his involvement in dog fighting, a practice that easily justifies words like “despicable.” Nevertheless, some writers, including me, have expressed a twinge of discomfort over this vigorous attack on Vick when our civilization has depended upon the exploitation of animals for millennia, and for most of that time their welfare was only an afterthought.

In fact, we’ve hunted, killed, confined, castrated, fattened, branded, butchered, and eaten them. We’ve slit their throats to sacrifice them to our gods. We’ve bred them for our amusement, and we have a long tradition of fighting them or inducing them to fight each other for our entertainment. Many countries still do.

In our enlightened country, we’ve outlawed bullfights, cockfights, and dogfights, although illegal versions of the last two are still common.

We experiment on animals to find cures for our own diseases. We confine them in factory farms under miserable conditions and then eat them.

We take them into our homes as pets, often neglect and abandon them, then euthanize about 4 million every year. And we confine them in circuses and marine mammal exhibits under the pretense of “education,” when, really, the goal is amusement and profit.

If we’re uncertain about the safety of coalmines, we send in canaries; if space travel seems too dangerous, we send up a chimp.

In short, since we’ve built our culture by thoroughly exploiting the dominion over animals bequeathed to us in the Biblical story of creation, why are we suddenly coming down so hard on Vick?

There’s a poignant scene in “Jarhead,” the movie made from Anthony Swofford’s account of his experiences during the first Gulf War. In a break from the task of kicking Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, a group of Marines –typical American boys — stage a raucous battle between two enormous Arabian desert scorpions and then torment them until one stings the other to death. Money is exchanged over the outcome.

I suspect that the audience is supposed to have a complicated response to this scene, but it’s not hard to imagine that how someone like Michael Vick, bred in a culture that gives only lip service to the dignity and welfare of animals and raised in the macho violence of football, might see it.

Nevertheless, in the interest of preserving whatever progress we’ve made in animal welfare, he’s got to be punished. I was talking about this with my English-teaching colleague, Bill Pugh, who said that he knew the perfect punishment for Vick: Send him to prison for a couple of years and require him to participate — under very close supervision — in one of a growing number of programs that use prisoners to train dogs to provide assistance to the blind, deaf, and elderly.

At first I thought that this would be like sentencing a child predator to learn how to work in a childcare center. But everyone seems to benefit from programs like these, including the dogs that learn to do surprisingly beneficial tasks for the disabled, as well as provide companionship.

And it appears that the prisoners benefit, as well. Some of them became prisoners in the first place because they never had the good fortune to experience any sort of real connection with another living creature. Participants in programs like these have a good record of rehabilitation in prison and low recidivism once they get out.

Dogs, of course, are champions of a kind of loyalty, forgiveness, and devotion that may be more than Vick actually deserves. Nevertheless, I like to hope that nearly every human being has a core of decency worth salvaging.

If Vick has one, no creature is more likely to find it than a dog.

(John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. E-mail: jcrisp(at)


  1. Sandra Price

    Isn’t this abuse of animals justified somewhere in the old and new testaments? Don’t we see today in many Catholic nations the slaughtering of bulls in the arena where first the animals are driven to madness through torture? When one looks at the history of nations who have claimed to be under the authority of some God or another, that life is very cheap.

    We have seen entire civilizations destroyed through the blood lust of their leaders driven by some God who demands the sacrifice of animals including humans. Was there ever a doubt that Vicks was a Christian? Back in the deep reaches of his brain he understood he had a way out of his actions as all he had to do was ask for redemption and he would be saved.

    My world is a lot tougher on criminals than what has happened in America to continue to believe that God can forgive anything done by a human being.

  2. lexiedogmom

    Lexie Homewood
    Chronicling all of the horrors of this world committed upon animals in general and dogs in particular, does not change by one iota the fact that something of human empathy and conscience is missing in the psyche of a person who enjoys fighting dogs for sport, and who devises horrific ways to kill the ones who do not measure up. I doubt that redemption exists for such a person.

  3. scandals

    This one has got to be simple.
    The guy has had things handed to him on a platter since high school, because he can run really fast and throw a ball.
    He likes to enabel and watch domestic animals kill each other and he kills them himself. He also lies about everything he does.
    Goodbye Mr Vick.

  4. geyser

    Why are we discussing this? only one person might know, what and where Vick may be doing and where he will be doing it at, in his immeadiate future, that is the judge that proceeded at Vick’s Hearing. Until December 10, 2007, all of us plus Vick, will know the answers.
    Not every Prison has special programs dealing with Animals and Prisoner rehabilitation. Vick may not be in prison long enough to qualify for as special program. Vick could turn out to be a Bad prisoner, always getting into trouble or being set up to look bad by animal loving prisoners.
    Vick can redeem himself, what has to happen, he has to be honest, he has to be really sincere and show it. Finally, the public has to believe him. If he looks and sounds as he did during the last time he spoke, he will stay in everybody’s Dog House.

    Taking One Day at a Time

  5. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    Mr Crisp, I have been a vegan vegetarian for over 25 years; I started eating a vegan diet precisely because I read a detailed article about slaughterhouses.

    I didn’t become a vegetarian overnight, it took a period of two years to wean myself off of dairy products and animal flesh. Beyond not wanting to eat anything with a face on it, the health reasons for not eating dead animal flesh are numerous. Even if you don’t eat organic food, the amount of pesticide that is
    retained by plant crops is a much smaller fraction then
    pesticide residue in meat (from pesticide treated grain that cattle are fed).

    I am very happy with my vegan lifestyle because it
    does not support factory farming, it is also beneficial to the environment because it takes an enormous amount of resources to raise cattle. The environmental damage to waterways from run-off from cattle waste as well as other factory farm animals is also environment degrading.

    Being a vegan vegetarian is extremely environmentally beneficial because raising crops for food such as soybeans takes only a fraction of the amount of resources that it takes to raise cattle & farm animals.

    I certainly don’t ride in on my horse about this, what I eat is my choice and I encourage people to consider a vegan diet or partial vegan diet, and if they choose to eat meat only, that is their business.

    It is also a well proven fact that computer models on a very large percentage can be substituted for animal research and there are in fact educational institutes that employ this method routinely.

    Private research firms often get grants to do animal experiments not becaues they really need animals, but because they get grants for using animals when more often then not, they don’t need them at all.

    I agree with you that humans often are quite glib about animals, when they get tired of a pet, they either set it out to the wild or abuse it.

    Every Cat I’ve had has either been from the county animal services, or from friends, or was a stray.

    In california there was an attempt to pass a mandatory spaying & neutering bill which was temoporarily halted because of resistance from animal breeders, who they themselves are not offering any ideas to try to deal with all the unwanted animals that are routinely euthanized.

    I’m a pragmatist about animal experiments, they will always be done, but when they do, the maximum humane considerations should be employed.

    So I don’t accept any justification for Michael Vicks cruelty as you seem to advocate or excuse Vick for his sadism Mr Crisp.