Bigger than Michael Vick, it’s a community and a nation

Wayne Pacelle, HSUS chief executive

August 25, 2009

Yesterday Philadelphia Eagles president, Joe Banner, and senior vice president for public affairs, Pamela Browner Crawley, met with representatives from local and national animal welfare groups to discuss how the team could help combat animal cruelty in their local community. They stressed that the meeting was not about their new quarterback, Michael Vick (who’s negotiated his own role in the movement), but about how the Eagles as a whole could make a difference.

The fact is, however, that everyone associated with Vick–including the Eagles and the animal welfare groups willing to work with him–are on trial too. No matter how much talk there is that Vick’s horrible crimes can lead to something positive, the public will not be convinced until genuine advances are made.

And some, understandably, may never be convinced.

Pacelle and Abraham speak

Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), spoke publicly to reporters after the meeting yesterday at the NovaCare Complex.

“You want to take this terrible case and squeeze what good you can out of it,” said Pacelle, who’s met with mixed reactions for his decision to work with Vick on the issue.

And Pacelle himself is no stranger to controversy. Most notably, he supports Breed Specific Legislation (“eradicating or strictly regulating dogs based solely on their breed“) and has drawn fire from Pit Bull advocates who claim such legislation punishes the animal and not the humans responsible for perpetuating dogfighting. Pacelle’s handling of the Vick debacle, however, may well define his legacy.

Philadelphia district attorney, Lynne Abraham, also leveled with reporters as to why she was participating in the meetings. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Abraham said that guns, drugs, and gambling often go hand in hand with dogfighting, and that children who torture animals may go on to sexually abuse children.

Tackling the issue

I don’t disagree with either Pacelle or Abraham on their recent comments, but offer these reminders.

Mr. Pacelle: It’s no secret Vick’s receiving coaching, so as long as he’s being fed the message, please make it resonate. He needs to address why every animal deserves respect, and why harming someone less powerful than yourself doesn’t mean you’re tough–it means the opposite. (“Love your reptiles”–Vick’s oft-mocked quote played during his “60 Minutes” interview–sounds about as sincere and relevant as telling kids to wash their armpits.)

And Ms. Abraham: Let’s acknowledge that animal cruelty is deplorable and heinous in its own right, not just because it often leads to violence toward humans.

Vick, who will likely make an appearance in Thursday’s pre-season game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, did not attend yesterday’s meeting nor been spotted lately in any sort of advocacy role. But as many have pointed out, Vick is a newly freed, newly signed man. The guy has a full-time job now and it’s still very early in this new phase of his life.

Yes, it’s early. Or maybe it’s too late.

What do you think? Add your reaction below.