Saturday, September 5, 2009

Queer (and not in a good way) Bedfellows: Michael Vick and the Humane Society

--the following is a guest blog i recently wrote for chloe jo berman, founder of girlie girl army--a blog and newsletter full of everything fun, fascinating, and sexy relative to animal rights, being green, veganism and then some. if you're not signed up for her newsletter, go and get it! it's fabulous.

i plan on expanding this further in the future, but this is it for now:

The subject of pit bulls is immensely important to me. I'm lucky enough to be the mother to the greatest rescued pit bulls on the planet. I also work at a large urban animal control facility which intakes animals daily and also kills animals regularly--and a hefty percentage of them are pit bulls and pit mixes. At work, the neglect, abuse, and inattention I've seen is heartbreaking. Personally, I've experienced the--no pun intended--pit falls of breed specific legislation; I've been denied housing because I have "aggressive" dogs; and I've watched moms with strollers cross the street when my dogs and I walk by. Most of all, I know from my encounters with hundreds of pit bulls that these so-called "vicious" dogs are so loyal, loving, and deeply sensitive that they are practically codependent. So I'm invested, both personally and professionally, in doing what I can to advocate for this most incredible--and incredibly maligned--breed.

There's practically no way to have a discussion of pit bulls currently without someone at least mentioning Michael Vick. He's like 9/11 in that regard. Just like contemporary mainstream talk of terrorism doesn't really exist without references to the collapse of the twin towers or Osama bin Laden, we cannot escape Michael Vick and pit bulls being in the rhetorical bed together.

Their tawdry relationship has been revived since Vick was signed by the Eagles. What I find supremely fascinating about much of the public reaction to their decision to sign Michael Vick is that many people want to blame the Eagles for giving Vick his lucrative career back. To some degree, this blame is expected, but it's basically like blaming your gynecologist for a cavity. The same way your dentist has nothing to do with your va jay jay, neither teams nor the NFL have animal welfare in their agenda, so they can't reasonably be expected to act as such.

It's another case entirely for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Oh, I'm sorry--it's more aptly acronymed as: H$U$.

Why's that, you ask? Why else would the Humane Society of the United States choose to endorse our nation's most notorious animal abuser, torturer, and killer? Puffy may have said it first, but it's true in this case as well--because it's all about the benjamins, baby.

While I definitely oppose the NFL's decision to reinstate Vick, the support of the H$U$, arguably the most well-known and respected animal rights organization in America, influenced--if not facilitated--this decision. The NFL and the Eagles will likely contend with lots less criticism from the public over this decision as they can now say "but the H$U$ supports him." (The implicit concluding query behind this statement is, of course, "So why shouldn't you?"). If signing Michael Vick brings money and buzz, then--especially with a prominent and respected animal rights organization's blessing--there's nothing to stop the NFL from reinstating him.

Of course, this isn't the first time the H$U$ has acted shady. There's their historical support of euthanizing bust dogs--even puppies!--without evaluation. There's the incongruous way they allocate their funds. And now this.

Vick not only had others do his murderous bidding against the pit bulls that wouldn't fight, he tortured and murdered many of these dogs himself. It would be another case entirely for the H$U$ to back him had he taken any modicum of responsibility for his actions. When publically addressing his brutal abuse, Vick has boldly stated it wasn't his fault! Despite this blatant lack of remorse and accountability, the H$U$ has still chosen to have him as a spokesperson. I find this action beyond reproach and can't help but think of all the people in America who will see Vick as a spokesperson for this reputable organization and assume that he is, in fact, reformed. These people will likely therefore will have few, if any, qualms about his future in the NFL or about the H$U$' decision to support him.

The H$U$ is the go-to organization for those regular folks who consider themselves animal lovers and who can afford to donate money to charitable causes; thus, their endorsement of Vick carries significant social weight. And if the H$U$ can proffer a redeemed Vick, they succeed as well and will likely see an increase in the charitable donations they receive as a result. Average animal loving Janes and Joes will think "the Humane Society saves pretty little adoptable fuzzy family pets and they helped Michael Vick see the error of his ways. I wanna support their good work. I think I'll send them a check." Everybody wins; no harm, no foul--except for those dogs.

All of this is to emphasize that we must hold accountable and make demands of those whose purpose is animal welfare--or any cause/movement we support. By placing criticism and blame where it is due and requiring amendments or change where necessary, we strengthen our movements and help ensure their principles and goals are concurrent.

To this end, I encourage everyone to contact the Eagles' sponsors and inform them that as a result of their decision to sign Vick, their products will be boycotted. A list of their corporate sponsors can be found here. I also encourage everyone to contact the H$U$ and voice your disappointment and disgust. Continue to educate yourself. And when it comes to exciting voices in animal welfare, please see Nathan Winograd, as well as the No Kill Nation.