There has been an enormous amount of coverage of the alleged dog fighting operation sponsored by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Vick and three other men were indicted on federal felony charges claiming that Vick had sponsored illegal dog fighting, gambled on dog fights and permitted acts of cruelty against animals on his property. The talk shows are filled with talking heads from the “humane community” condemning dog fighting and calling for Vick to be punished if he is, indeed, guilty. Nike and Reebok have suspended products endorsed by Vick.
Please let me be very clear: I think that dog fighting is a terrible thing.
But I must say that the Vick case is rather dramatically demonstrating what I call our “moral schizophrenia” about animals. That is, if one thing is clear, it is that we do not think clearly about our moral obligations to animals.
In this country alone, we kill over ten billion land animals annually for food. The animals we eat—even those supposedly raised “humanely”—suffer as much as the dogs that are used in dog fighting. There is no “need” for us to eat meat, dairy, or eggs. Indeed, these foods are increasingly linked to various human diseases and animal agriculture is an environmental disaster for the planet. We impose pain, suffering, and death on these billions of sentient nonhumans because we enjoy eating their flesh and the products that we make from them.
There is something positively bizarre about condemning Michael Vick for using dogs in a hideous form of entertainment when 99% of us also use animals that are every bit as sentient as dogs in another hideous form of entertainment that is no more justifiable than fighting dogs: eating animals and animal products.
There is something positively bizarre that many “animal lovers” sit around eating meat that has the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label endorsed by The Humane Society of the United States while HSUS tells us what a bad guy Michael Vick is.
There is something bizarre about Reebok and Nike, which use leather in their shoes, suspending products endorsed by Vick. They’re not going to allow a guy who allegedly tortures dogs to endorse products that contain tortured cows.
In Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?, I introduced Simon the Sadist, who derived pleasure from blowtorching dogs. We would all regard such conduct as monstrous because we all agree that it is wrong to inflict “unnecessary” suffering on animals and pleasure, amusement, and convenience cannot count as satisfying the “necessity” requirement. But then I asked the further question—how are those of us who eat animal flesh and animal products any different from Simon? He enjoys blowtorching dogs; we enjoy the taste of flesh and animal products. But we and Simon both kill sentient beings (we may pay others to do the dirty work) because we derive enjoyment from it.
According to reports, the authorities removed from Vick’s property a “rape stand” used to hold dogs for mating. And “rape racks” are used to hold cows for impregnation. When a dog is involved, we are troubled; when a cow is involved, we ignore it.
Michael Vick may enjoy watching dogs fight; someone else may find that repulsive but see nothing wrong with eating an animal who has had a life as full of pain and suffering as the lives of the fighting dogs. It’s strange that we regard the latter as morally different from, and superior to, the former. How removed from the screaming crowd around the dog pit is the laughing group around the summer steak barbecue?
We are all Simon. We are all Michael Vick.
Gary L. Francione
© 2007 Gary L. Francione