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.
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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?