I’ve never been one of those fawning pet owners, the kind who dress up their animals in funny clothes and won’t let them be dogs. I guess I can understand some of the extremes when they substitute for children and human companionship, and I have rarely found many humans as loyal as a dog once it decides to latch on to you.
I must confess one of the worst days in my life was when I took Bridget to the veterinarian, knowing she would not return. For 18 years the combination poodle and cocker spaniel had been a beloved member of the family, a sister and companion to all four children. There was a time when the middle kid, Sean, wouldn’t kiss anyone but Bridget.
She hated cars and despite her near-blindness, incontinence and the mental impairment of advanced age, that fear still gripped her. But I held her trembling on my lap, driving with one hand to the vet’s office, tears streaming down my face. The veterinarian concurred that what was left of her life would only be painful and that it was time for a dignified ending. She was, after all, ancient in dog years.
As I waited to take her home for burial on the hillside in the yard she loved to roam, I thought of all the fun times we had with her — smuggling her into a hotel that prohibited pets by tying Lisa’s little bonnet on her head and wrapping her in a doll blanket with the oldest, Scot, cradling her in his arms as we bustled by the front desk to the elevators.
I remembered her sitting patiently every day in front of the mail slot, having been advised by some inner clock that it was time for the postman. She never was more than a few minutes off. She would spring into action the second the slot was opened, yanking the mail and slinging it about all the while growling ferociously. On the other side of the door, the mail deliverer would die laughing. He loved the game as much as she. For years every piece of mail had bite marks in it.
While all this took place years ago, the memories came flooding back with the news that Michael Vick, the very rich and talented quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, had agreed to plead guilty to charges in connection with a dog fighting enterprise in Virginia. It was not just the fact that dogs were encouraged to rip up each other in sick and sadistic high stakes events but also that animals that failed to perform were drowned, shot and even hanged that made me furious. We are now being told that these violations of every humane instinct occur rather regularly, particularly in the South. Vick’s arrest has brought a public awareness of this tragic behavior that may help curtail it.
One can only hope that this is true, but it will not change the fact that a young man with athletic abilities only a relatively few people possess also apparently is utterly devoid of the qualities that separate the civilized from the uncivilized. More frightening is the fact that he certainly is not alone in his disregard for the laws of man and nature.
Vick is expected to pay with a loss of freedom and privileges and a great deal of money. The National Football League is taking its time deciding whether he has any future with it. That should be a simple decision. The NFL needs to send a message to every current and aspiring player that it considers this transgression or anything similar to it an automatic disqualification forever — that the very repugnance of the act has been made more so by the fact that it was carried out without apparent remorse.
What may never be answered clearly in this case is why someone who has signed a multi-year contract for more than $100 million, plus a bonus of more than $20 million for agreeing to do so, would imperil that with an endeavor so clearly abhorrent. The only answer would seem to be a combination of arrogance and a stunning lack of morality.
But then as one who cried while digging a hole to bury the furry, little body of a longtime friend, I guess my opinion is prejudiced.
(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)