Vick’s First Anti-Dogfighting Appearance: No Press

by Mary Haight on August 10, 2009

Photo credit: HSUS

Photo credit: HSUS

A Saturday night report from the AP announced that Michael Vick’s first anti-dogfighting appearance was held in Decatur GA that afternoon. A tight lid was kept on the appearance with no prior announcements made, said Wayne Pacelle, for “obvious reasons.” We have all seen how celebrity can overwhelm an intended message, and be misused to undermine or whitewash the real issue: if and how Vick can ever repay what he owes to the animals he so grievously harmed.

According to an agreement between HSUS and Vick, only 55 people and one media crew were allowed in the New Life Community Center in this Atlanta suburb. When word leaked out, people showed up with their dogs only to be turned away. Even if attendance were not so limited, Vick can’t be around dogs according to terms of his release.  He has stated this is the first of many appearances around the country to help vulnerable kids avoid getting involved with dogfighting. 

It was a very brief 12-minute discussion, described by 17-year-old Stanley Jones as having an impact: “He said he did wrong. Now he’s trying to come up with a smarter way to help the whole community, for young people like us, to make a change. It seemed like it came from the heart,” according to Jones. “I heard him saying something about how he came from the same [type of] neighborhood that we did. He said he had only one dream, and he messed up that whole dream.”

Based on Jones’ quote, jumping into what Vick will do in the future doesn’t go to the heart of the matter. Compassion and empathy can be experienced, understood, and learned by many who were never taught these traits. What is heard by youth in the audience, those without the talent to have dreams of fame and fortune, is at issue: it can’t just be about Vick losing his dream. It should be about never using the trust and love of an animal to inflict cruelty and pain, not even if desperate for money. 

The lone media crew allowed into the Center came from 60 Minutes, in preparation for what will be Vick’s first major public appearance. I guess you and I will get some answers on how Vick plans to be effective in redirecting neighborhood youth out of dogfighting when this airs. I hope Vick’s program will turn out to be a tiered approach that requires much more than a series of short speeches across US communities.

As said in another blogpost, if authenticity is evident, the public appearances will have value for many. It’s just not likely to be long-lived. If sheer celebrity blinds people for awhile to a message that is not sincere, that effect will not stand up over time. 

To make Vick’s penance significant and ongoing, there should be a long-term investment in several different programs that work together to make an impact on root causes of dogfighting. While there are the irredeemable who like torturing animals, there are other circumstances that lead down this path.  Lack of education, opportunity, and a pro-active sense of work possibilities come immediately to mind.

Watch the Atlanta Journal-Constitution video report here .  Related source material from an AP report at Kansas City Star.

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