Animal lovers across America have been all but crippled with loathing this week. The rage has been boiling over everywhere I turn on the internet: in chat rooms, on Facebook, on bulletin boards.
You would have to have something deeply wrong with you not to be thoroughly disgusted at the prospect of Michael Vick taking in a pet dog. Decent people feel that this man -- who did not merely run a dogfighting ring, but personally hanged dogs, drowned them and beat them to death -- should be prevented from getting anywhere near an innocent creature. If I had my way, I'd keep him away from human beings.
And yet, thanks to the diplomatic intervention of Wayne Pacelle, the slick and coiffed CEO of the HSUS (that would be the Humane Society of the United States), Michael Vick has been rehabilitated. In name, anyway: he's gone from being a man who tortures animals to a man who helps this saintly organization keep them safe. The HSUS is decent, you see, and they have spread their umbrella of decency over Michael Vick.
And now Michael has a puppy to call his own.
I do not mean to suggest that there is something deeply wrong with Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the HSUS. The man who, for a mere six figures per year, runs the most powerful lobby in America devoted to ending animal cruelty. He did not, after all, procure a puppy for Vick. He simply explained that Michael "would make a good pet owner and thus should be given the opportunity." All he did was make Michael Vick respectable enough, somehow, that even reputable sportscasters are calling for tolerance here: Let's see how the new Michael deals with his new puppy.
I can't imagine that Wayne Pacelle, deep down, had fond sentiments towards Michael Vick when he sat down with the felon to negotiate the man's rehabilitation. I am sure that hyper-civilized Wayne simply managed to quell his very real disgust. Somehow.
He did it well, too. It sure wasn't evident when our Wayne sat, sympathetically, inches away from the most famous animal abuser of our day. Most people, who are paid far less to protect animals -- who do it out of, you know, the goodness of their hearts and all -- wouldn't set foot in the same room as this sadist, who buried dogs alive. But Wayne Pacelle, the deep soul burdened with the personal responsibility for America's abused animals, sat shoulder to shoulder with this celebrity, and didn't even flinch.
It is in fact Wayne's personal responsibility. When your salary to protect animals from abuse is among the highest in the nation, then yes, it is your responsibility to care about them. Wayne Pacelle bags approximately $250,000 a year to care. Hence we should expect him to. And yet -- despite his very real, heavily-funded caring -- he has no problem taking up the cause of Michael Vick.
I do not mean to imply any ulterior motive. As Wayne Pacelle points out in that touching document -- "Michael Vick and The HSUS's work to end dogfighting" -- no money is changing hands. Nor is it. $50,000 is not money, per se. It is a "grant."
And I quote:
The HSUS has not received any contributions from Vick, the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles or anyone else in exchange for appearances and his participation in our community-based anti-dogfighting program.
And they have not. Surely a $50,000 grant is not a contribution, per se. Or perhaps I have that wrong. It's a contribution, but not towards this particular thing: it's not in exchange for anything.
And I quote further:
In October 2009, the Philadelphia Eagles launched "Treating Animals With Kindness" (TAWK), which provides grants to animal welfare organizations to protect animals. The HSUS was selected as one of the grant recipients and received a $50,000 grant, which we used to launch our anti-dogfighting and community intervention programs in Philadelphia.
Just so that you know that no money changed hands. Or that it changed hands, I guess, but not for the reasons you might think. Or something. Or perhaps no one actually touched the money, so hands were not involved.
Anyway, everyone's hands are clean.
Also, it's possible that mere animal lovers, not burdened by Pacelle's wisdom, caring and salary, don't see as profoundly into the heart of a man like Michael Vick. Wayne Pacelle -- something of a celebrity himself -- sees a fellow traveler. Even a fellow -- yes -- animal lover.
Michael in fact expressed this to Wayne: "Look, I love dogs."
And Wayne understood: "You know, just going back to this issue of Michael telling me in -- you know, when we first met that he loved animals, obviously people who are involved in dogfighting, cockfighting, they really do value the animals in certain ways."
Absolutely. They do, Wayne. Your new friend Michael has characterized this as a "different kind of love." Which it is. The kind of love that causes you to maim, drown and torture your loved one to death.
It's so good to know that the man entrusted with a $131-million budget to defend the nation's animals has the liberality of soul to comprehend this different way of loving.
Now, I do not mean to suggest that Wayne Pacelle has anything in common with Michael Vick. Even if Wayne himself suggested it: "We're a movement of sinners, frankly. There are so many people who have done the wrong thing with animals, and we want to get people moving in the right direction. I thought turning my back on that was the wrong thing."
No, this is simply compassion, of the saintly sort. Not really identification as such.
It's chilling to note how Wayne Pacelle's corrupt moral reasoning has tainted the minds of his followers. One woman -- an HSUS supporter and a vegetarian -- wrote here on the Huffington Post: "We are all Michael Vick."
Excuse me? Speak for yourself. I am not Michael Vick. Nor am I Ted Bundy or Bashar al-Assad. This is tantamount to a Christian saying, "We are all Judas." It's utterly grotesque.
And the truth is that Wayne and Michael are not the same. Vick tortured some of his pit bulls to death, but he wanted to keep some of them alive. Whereas the HSUS -- by contrast -- wanted to kill all of them. That's right: When Vick's pit bulls were rescued, the HSUS argued for their slaughter. Every last one of them. Pacelle spoke for his team of experts:
Officials from our organization have examined some of these dogs and, generally speaking, they are some of the most aggressively trained pit bulls in the country.... We have recommended to [the government], and believe, they will be eventually put down. It is lose-lose for the dogs. They either die a gruesome death as a dogfighter in action, or they will be killed because they are not adoptable.
Perhaps Michael Vick should refuse to share a room with Wayne Pacelle.
Forty-seven out of 51 of these irredeemably aggressive dogs were rescued and rehabilitated, most of them by Best Friends, an organization that is essentially the opposite of the HSUS: a sanctuary. Some of them were so very mean and vicious and unhappy that they became therapy dogs. One of them, Leo, became famous for his work with cancer patients.
Yes, Wayne's world would have been more complete if these dogs had been executed, for the crime of having being abused.
Perhaps Wayne Pacelle should be forced to share a room with Michael Vick. For eternity.
I urge you to read that document. The one whose title begins, unironically, with "Michael Vick and the HSUS...." As if those two words should naturally sit side by side in a sentence, the way Michael and Wayne sit side by side for the cameras. No, really. Read it.
In particular, try to parse the sophistry in response to: "Do you think Michael Vick got a slap on the wrist for his crimes?"
We don't get a "yes." Or a "no." We get an... understanding, of how these things play out in society. Culminating in: "He served his time in prison, he admitted his wrongdoing, and his regret, and he determined to make amends. His work in reaching out to important audiences now buttresses that of the leading anti-dogfighting group in the nation in its broad efforts to attack the problem."
In short, this man who tortured animals, who hauled out their teeth without anesthetic, who hanged them and mutilated them -- this man has paid his dues, and now has a seat at the table with the "leading anti-dogfighting group in the nation."
Why precisely is the Humane Society of the United States this "leading" group? More Americans are asking themselves that question this week than ever have in the past. Only now is the average guy on the street wondering, philosophically: just who are these self-anointed "leaders," and why do we send them money?
If you'd like to stare hard into the brutality of Michael Vick's very different kind of caring, I suggest you read Nathan Winograd's article, "The Indictment of Wayne Pacelle." Winograd, a Stanford-trained lawyer -- once a Deputy District Attorney -- has tried Wayne Pacelle in a virtual court, and found him horribly, grievously wanting. In a particularly harrowing passage, Winograd quotes a woman who was involved in the investigation after Vick's arrest:
The details that got to me then and stay with me today involve the swimming pool that was used to kill some of the dogs. Jumper cables were clipped onto the ears of underperforming dogs, then, just like with a car, the cables were connected to the terminals of car batteries before lifting and tossing the shamed dogs into the water. Most of Vick's dogs were small -- 40lbs or so -- so tossing them in would've been fast and easy work for thick athlete arms. We don't know how many suffered this premeditated murder, but the damage to the pool walls tells a story. It seems that while they were scrambling to escape, they scratched and clawed at the pool liner and bit at the dented aluminum sides like a hungry dog on a tin can.
This is the man who has now been taken into the generous fold of the Humane Society of the United States, as their -- what? -- spokesman? Colleague?
The HSUS has had a long, cushy ride in the public imagination, as an altruistic organization somehow benevolent and helpful to the nation's dogs and cats and horses. It can take a long time for an immaculate lie to disintegrate. You simply have to retain faith that truth will triumph, finally, over propaganda. History is not entirely promising here; but some diseased narratives -- McCarthyism, for instance -- die swiftly when the sickness can no longer be concealed. Thanks to Michael Vick, Wayne Pacelle has perhaps arrived, finally, at his "have you no decency?" moment.
You've done enough, Wayne. Have you no sense of decency, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?
Clarification: The assertion that Michael Vick "would make a good pet owner and thus should be given the opportunity" is a paraphrase of Wayne Pacelle by Nathan Winograd (as linked). Pacelle's precise words in December 2010 were: "I have been around him a lot, and feel confident that he would do a good job as a pet owner."