Karen B. London
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Michael Vick Joins the NFL Again
Does he deserve this second chance?
Vick dog Jonny Justice got a second chance thanks to the folks at BAD RAP.

Michael Vick has returned to the NFL to play football after serving 18-months in prison following his conviction. Many people are upset that the Philadelphia Eagles have signed him, and are shocked that he has been reinstated in the league.

As a dog lover in my private life and a dog behaviorist in my professional life, I’m disgusted by what he did. I had trouble reading about the specifics of his case because it was so upsetting it led me to tears and nausea. Yet, I find myself in the minority in the dog world, including, I believe, here at The Bark) because I’m in favor of giving him the opportunity to play football again. Although his prison sentence was much shorter than I would have liked, that was not my call to make. He has paid his debt to society as determined by the justice system and I believe he deserves the chance to return to his former career.

Maybe this sort of compassion comes easily to me because over the years, I have worked with many dogs who have bite histories and serious aggression issues and whose owners came to me hoping to find some way other than euthanasia to keep their families and other people safe from their dog. Whenever I believe that it is possible for a dog to be safe with a combination of treatment and management, I want that dog to have a second chance, but with reasonable limits and expectation to insure the dog’s success. A lot of my career working to help animals with serious aggression issues is based on a fervent belief in second chances. Defining an individual of any species based solely on their mistakes isn’t in my nature. While the comparison should not be taken too far, the same sort of compassion that makes me believe that aggressive dogs deserve a second chance leads to me to extend that same courtesy to Michael Vick, as long as certain limits are in place. Yes, I think it’s right that he not ever be allowed to own another dog, but yes, I think it’s right that he be allowed to play football again.

He has a chance to be a role model for kids about how you can mess up big and go on to live your life. He may be uniquely able to reach people from the same upbringing he had in a culture of violence who are at risk of lawless behavior and show them that what he did was wrong and that he’s changed. Maybe his interest in humane societies and speaking to youth are just a way to improve his image so he can get some of what he lost back and he’s on the path to ruining his life for good, and my support of his second chance will be a waste. Not all second chances in this world prove worthwhile. Or maybe, he’s sincere enough to make a difference in the lives of both animals and people and he may prevent future cases of abuse and violence. The “maybes” just mean that we don’t know now. That’s how second chances are—the outcome varies case by case and there’s some unpredictability.

Some comments I’ve read on a previous blog suggest that Vick’s punishment should be to receive the sort of abuse that he inflicted on those innocent dogs. It seems many people’s anger fuels a desire to torture Vick. I don’t understand that perspective. The abuse that Vick inflicted on those dogs was so horrendous that it was a crime. I don’t see how committing additional crimes of abuse will improve anything. It won’t bring back the dogs he killed or erase the tremendous suffering he caused. It won’t make Vick more likely to become a kind and caring man who does some good in this world. It won’t increase the chance of him being an upstanding citizen from this point forward. Abuse begets more abuse, while compassion breeds more of the same.

I know a lot of dog professionals and dog lovers think otherwise, but I believe that Michael Vick deserves a second chance. What do you think?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Anonymous | August 17 2009 |

The American Humane Association has weighed in, "we hope he can become a positive role model for young people, and that, in light of the incredible second chance he has been given, he now proves himself truly worthy and humane.” Read statement here: http://www.americanhumane.org/about-us/newsroom/news-releases/09-vick-re...

Submitted by Anonymous | August 20 2009 |

Your topic caught my eye because I have been an Eagles fan for 30+ years but only recently have begun to work with a dog with aggression issues. A rescue dog, she spent the first five years of her life in an abusive situation. Most of her teeth were ground down from being chained, she was fearful of noise and she reacted aggressively to other dogs. Through 8 months of daily training walks in situations with people, noise, trucks and cars, and dogs, as well as learning to follow her "leader" and not be aggressive, she is doing very well. She has come so far in this, her second chance, despite many people feeling that she couldn't be helped. She will always need special attention and she deserves that.

But I cannot equate her second chance to Michael Vick's to play football. She didn't choose to be abused but he made a conscious choice over a period of many years to be an abuser. He never once said, in his press conference, that he wanted to see dog fighting stopped. What he said was he wanted to help "to raise awareness." I want him to address the people who fight dogs and tell them clearly that dog fighting is wrong and not just tell people it exists. I'll give him that second chance and fervently hope he takes it.

Submitted by Margaret | August 21 2009 |

I am still on the fence about whether I believe he deserves this second chance so soon or not, but I enjoyed your article and perspective. I am a positive reinforcement based professional dog trainer educated in animal learning theory; I am also a vegetarian and a self proclaimed pacifist. In other words, my life is based around compassion. I too have been quite disturbed to read/hear so many people speak to Vick being tortured as his dogs were and believe as the quote goes, "an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind"; violence begets violence.

I am also a huge believer in second chances, especially as a psych student- I think we all need to remember that many other factors led Vick to the path he chose and honestly I'm sure part of his actions, though certainly conscious, were largely due to ignorance. I liked what you said here: "He has a chance to be a role model for kids about how you can mess up big and go on to live your life." I think this is a point not often made, and is very poignant.

At any rate, I guess we will all just have to wait and see how things play out. We can only hope he truly does make the best of this opportunity.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 21 2011 |

I think there should be justice for the victims, MV only served only a short sentence and minimal fines. Those dogs are still dead and he can't bring them back...ditto for his reputation. I'd like to see him dressed in a meat suit and put on a football field with perhaps wolves. If you want to be humane at the very least a large donation shoul;d be pulled from his earnings every year for the rest of his career. Oh and no dogs near him or he gets convicted again.

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