Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Kill Vick

I was glad to read somebody else commenting on the hypocrisy of Vick's treatment by the media/society at large, relative to how we treat those who raise hogs and other farm animals.

Regarding the history of blood sport and animals, cockfighting was outlawed in my state just this last year. There are those who are suing saying this is a violation of the Treaty of Hidalgo. While I'm not sure about that, there is a definite difference in how blood sport is treated in hispanic culture vs. the US culture (e.g., bull fighting). There is still one state where cockfighting is legal. Is a chicken somehow less worthy of "humane" treatment than a dog?

My family is considering getting a market goat. I will likely butcher it myself if we do. The standard method of dispatch for a goat or pig: shooting it in the head with a gun. If I did that to my dog, I would be in violation of local laws. Ridiculous. When my dog got injured and the vet quotes were outrageous for making him better, local vets quoted me nearly $100 to put him down. The pound will do it for free, but then I can't adopt for several years. It shouldn't be this complicated to kill a sick/injured animal.

I won't go into too much detail regarding animal rights, mostly because I'm still learning and working through what I think about all this. It just seems to me that society is replete with hypocrisy regarding the treatment of animals. It should be clear to anybody that dogs and cats get treated far better than market animals. As a society, we do things every day to market animals that are illegal to do to pets. When I say we do them, I don't necessarily mean that any given individual interacts with animals. If we had to raise and butcher our own meat, societal attitudes would drastically change regarding animal treatment. However, nearly everybody buys meat at the supermarket that is grown on a farm somewhere where these illegal-if-it-were-a-pet actions take place.



Kevin said...


I haven't thought much about this issue or investigated it, but I assumed that animal cruelty was largely about sadistic intent or prolonging suffering. So I'm surprised that it would be illegal for you to kill your sick dog. Is it the "pet" qualifier? Can you not have a pet goat? Would this include rodents, snakes, etc.? Insects?

Bullfighting is an interesting comparison as it may be representative of man hunting animals. I don't know much about it, but perhaps it is intended to be a dangerous test of prowess and not sadism?

However, I can't think of any similar qualification for animal fights in general. It may be fascinating or instructive to see animals fighting in nature, but once we take greater control we also take greater responsibility.

I think you're right that our distance from the raising and butchering of meat has impacted our attitudes. For some, it may even act as a sort of dissociation from reality.

Perhaps such dissociation also correlates with other moral shifts in our society, including, for example, our Constitutional sense of "cruel and unusual" punishment and torture?


MamasBoy said...


I'm unsure about the pet qualifier. I just know that the authorities where I live actively prosecute people who shoot dogs in the head as a form of euthanasia. There was a case where some dogs were dumped after being shot in t he head and the county was looking for the former owners so they could prosecute them for animal cruelty. It was featured prominently in the local paper. My own thoughts were that, so the people take their pit bulls to the pound. A) What are the chances that they are going to get adopted period. About zilch for a full-grown pit bull. Besides, the shelter is full of them. I saw because I went last week. B) What if the dogs were aggressive? if that's the case, I'm not sure the pound will even consider adopting them out. I'm all for prosecuting people for dumping dead bodies, be they animal or human as a matter of public health. However, I'm uncomfortable with prosecuting people for euthanizing their pets.

I've also never once heard of somebody being prosecuted for shooting their goat in the head or shooting a coyote, which I know happens regularly among people in the area. My suspicion is that at one point in time there was a high profile animal abuse case and a blanket law was made with no exceptions that defies (what I consider to be) common sense on animal treatment.

"It may be fascinating or instructive to see animals fighting in nature, but once we take greater control we also take greater responsibility."

Agreed. I honestly don't think that making animals fight is a good thing. Suffering for the sake of entertainment doesn't make sense to me. It doesn't seem like a good enough utilitarian justification for killing a living creature and strikes me as cruel. At the same time, I'm not sure how much more an animal suffers at a dog fight than a bull fight and I'm not ready to outlaw those. Perhaps as you say, bull fighting is different because it is a test of human prowess. I'm not sure and I wonder if my own gut reaction to dog fighting and bull fighting is itself hypocritical? I'm rather conflicted on some aspects of the whole animal cruelty topic.


purple_kangaroo said...

The other day I was telling DH that I really wished we could hunt for our own food. Since we are overrun with squirrels, I suggested that I could get a beebee gun and shoot a few in our back yard to stew for dinner.

My husband said, "I don't know the exact laws, but I'm pretty sure it would be somehow illegal to shoot at the squirrels in our back yard."

He's probably right. I think it's ridiculous. Although, I do think it's probably somewhat reasonable to require licenses and limits for most types of hunting and fishing.

MB, maybe the problem with the dog-shooting was the body dumping? Would it have been such an issue if they buried the dogs in their backyard?

I do think, as you pointed out, that it's ironic that animals can be treated so cruelly in feedlots and butchering factories, but humanely euthanizing a pet at home would be illegal.

steviepinhead said...

I think we've got the "usual suspects" here--a spectrum of human behavior and motivations which the law (and moral thinkers, not to mention moralizers), with inevitable awkwardness and disjunction, attempts to divide into bright-line categories.

Hunting meat (or fishing) for survival, for dietary supplementation, for sport but making use of the meat and other animal products, for sport without making use of the products. These are all defensible (assuming the activity is carried out in a safe and responsible manner, and with strict awareness of any environmental issues.

I've never personally hunted, but I've shot hunting weapons. And I've certainly enjoyed eating fish caught by fellow backpackers. Most of my friends who are fly-fishers and the like are "catch and release." In the past, I've had some close native acquaintances who were highly invested into the economic, cultural, and ceremonial aspects of traditional fisheries. I've also represented "commercial" salmon fishermen in disputes of various kinds...

While I can understand the arguments of the more "militant" vegetarians on any number of levels, I draw my personal lines on the more traditional side of consuming animals and animal products.

If there's anything unsafe or unnecessarily cruel about the way domesticated poultry and meat animals are raised or harvested, then we need to address it. Or do something in response to it (I don't, for example, eat veal--the circumstances in which the young cows are raised and housed just bothers me too much). I don't think that any incidental "cruelties" in the industrial process compare, in terms of the kind of criminal intent envisioned by animal cruelty laws, with the kind of behavior that Vick and his cohorts have been charged with (and which Vick is apparently in the process of pleading guilty too).

Whatever might be the case as to very particular institutions (cock-fighting or bull-fighting in Iberian-descended cultures) in other countries (or even in the Anglo past, as with baiting bulls with dogs...), that's pretty far from our cultural norm in this country today. There isn't any easy way to conceive that Vick didn't know he was breaking the law. And it's pretty hard to conceive that the kinds of things that have been reported didn't involve cruelties to the animals that went well beyond anything that was required in the circumstances...

(But what would you expect "Daddy Ducky" to say...?)

Animals that fall under our care place us in that same kind of power dynamic that arises from parent-child, guardian-ward, relatively powerfully-relatively helpless relationships of many kinds: avoid harm; place the welfare of the helpless before your own, where practically possible; if harm cannot be avoided (at harvest-time, for example, in the case of domesticated food animals), then there is an obligation to minimize it, rather than derive sadistic pleasure from it.

Squirrels aren't endangered and, assuming there's a legitimate intent to harvest them for the stew-pot, it doesn't seem like a moral issue to me. It would quickly become one if deliberate cruelty were involved, though. I suspect that anti-squirrel hunting ordinances will, in most localities, turn out to be generalized safety ordinances (no discharging weapons inside the city limits, etc.).

In sum, I think moral and practical distinctions can easily be made and comfortably defended in this area, however awkwardly or overbroadly-drawn some particular pieces of legislation may be.

And, from that perspective and regardless of whatever inflated rhetoric may have found itself nucleating around the episode, Vick just doesn't come out looking like any kind of "victim" of looney, over-zealous animal-rights activists--to me.

Kevin said...

Daddy Ducky! Good times. :)

I agree about Vick. But a related curiosity this provokes in me is how much culture affects morality or whether it is more objective? Would it be wrong even in an accepting culture?

steviepinhead said...

Your question is a large one, Kevin, and I'm not sure a mere duck is quacked up to furnish an authoritative answer!

I would say that certain core values concerning how to treat your conspecifics are widely shared among most human cultures over most periods that we have reliable information about (and, to a degree, that observation arguably extends beyond humans into animal "societies").

Values about many other matters are shared more loosely, if at all. And, as to how to treat nonhuman animals, values clearly have varied a good deal over time and from culture to culture (and within subcultures within an otherwise well-defined cultural entitiy).

For example, it's been speculated that bull-fighting in the Mediterranean world may even have roots in religious rites...rather than as what we now think of as a "blood sport."

So, in that sense, at least the sorts of values that we're talking about here are indeed culturally relative.

In Vick's case, however (and this is a groundbreaking young athlete who my sons have admired, so I'm not pleased at all that he's the one who has gone off the rails here), the norms for our culture are pretty darn clear. So "cultural relativity" does not, in my mind, serve as any kind of excuse for his behavior.

I think the collective history, study, experience, thought, and contemplation of humankind (including both secular and religious endeavors, and the scrutiny of behavior "at the edge," in the case of atrocities ancient and recent) in this globalizing world may be achieving some sort of gradual unanimity, exerting pressure on more "aberrant" cultures to toe the line.

(For instance, those "aberrant" cultures who until recently extended the death sentence to juveniles, heh heh...)

That's not to say that morality is always (or ever, for those of us who believe it comes to us from outside of nature and culture) determined by a consensus of the current beliefs and actual behavioral norms in a society (even an increasingly global society). But I think it is a phenomenon that is occurring, and bears watching...

MamasBoy said...

"MB, maybe the problem with the dog-shooting was the body dumping? Would it have been such an issue if they buried the dogs in their backyard?"

I've read in the paper and been told by the pound/vets that it is illegal for a pet owner to euthanize their own pet dog. Regarding the dog dumping, that was just one more charge they planned on nailing the dorks who dumped the dogs with. I wonder though if that is more of a function of where I live. The two largest cities in New Mexico have leash laws for cats. Talk about asinine stupidity!

I doubt it is illegal to kill a squirrel, though. In Oregon, at least, they are considered to be a predatory animal: there is no season or bag limit, provided the species isn't endangered or protected. The tough part would be finding a gun that is legal to discharge in the city limits. Decent pellet rifles are illegal to discharge in many locales. However, if you trapped it first, I'm sure you could figure out a way to put it down. The dept. of fish and game used to loan traps to homeowners for free ~10 years ago. All they required was a fully refundable deposit, in case you didn't bring it back. I borrowed one a couple times to try my hand at catching opossums and rabbits.

My advisor in grad school was quite well versed in squirrel hunting. He knew what time of year and what squirrel diet made for the best tasting, most tender meat. He grew up in Kentucky and no PhD or accolade could remove those hills from his system.


Anonymous said...

What all of the species-ists here dont get is this:
WE too, are animals.
There are places, RIGHT NOW, where 'human' life is as cheap, if not cheaper, than say, a cow raised for food.
Either you love another creature, or you eat it. Doesnt make anyone a hypocrite.

Responsible food suppliers kill animals quickly and hopefully painlessly.
Thats a WAY different thing than wanton torture- or do you really believe a dog cannot feel fear? or pain?

If you think that, you are dumber than any animal, and Im sad for you.

Mr Vick should be treated just like any other evil slime who tortures the defensless.

I have returned my season tickets, as the NFL feels gambling is more serious than putting a living being through hell.

A society can be judged by how it treats its animals.

Kevin said...


I agree with your inclination, if not your specific post, but to whom are you responding and, more specifically, which comment?

Also, "species-ists" is new to me. Perhaps that harkens back to Stevie's "conspecific" remark (a word which I had to look up to catch the derivation, btw :)).


Kevin said...


I agree that Vick has no justification within our own culture, I was primarily just curious if it could be defended based upon its acceptance in other cultures. My own opinion is that it cannot, which implies an objective morality.

Your passing reference to the death sentence is related to my initial curiosity about the culturally relative meaning of "cruel and unusual", which I think was the basis for SCOTUS' continued refinement.

Becoming more and more sensitive has its issues, but I think the primary concern with such relativity is if the cultural tide ever ebbs and reverses itself, given the Court's apparent power to take the pulse of our culture and rule accordingly.

Sorry, I'm going off onto tangents :)... I don't mean to hijack the thread.


MamasBoy said...


I enjoy your hijacking, if that's what it's considered. Please, carry on!


Kevin said...

I think you're right that one post does not a hijack make. In any case, I sure appreciate your vote of confidence, MB. :)

MarkC said...

I read a very insightful post about this situation on ESPN today, specifically the TrueHoop blog. It's a bit long, but it's worth the read.

A few things I agreed with from the article:

* Was the fact that Vick killed underperforming dogs a problem? If so, why? We kill dogs routinely in this country because they are inconvenient to us.

* Was the way that Vick killed dogs the problem (drowning, etc.)? If so, would Vick's crime have been significantly less significant if he had given underperforming dogs lethal injections?

* Was it that Vick took morbid pleasure in the vicious fighting of the dogs that was the problem? If so, how is this different than boxing or ultimate fighting or the WWE (for those that think it's real)?

* Was it that Vick took pleasure in watching dogs fight to the death? If so, how is that different than, say, watching a nature show about a predator in the wild capturing and killing prey?

* Why is it so utterly wrong for Vick to take pleasure in watching dogs kill each other, while it is perfectly fine for us to watch movies such as the recent "Captivity" which present humans torturing and killing each other for pleasure?

I understand, of course, that the dogs Vick was dealing with were real... but killing dogs is not in itself an intrinsic evil (as is shown by our culture's willingness to euthanize dogs routinely for pure convenience). I have generally heard that it was the barbaric nature of Vick's activity that was the core of the problem, the depravity.

But there is nothing less barbaric or depraved about the movie "Captivity" (or its many cousins).

When the people who are righteously indignant about dog-fighting become equally righteously indignant about either (a) routine authanization of unwanted dogs, or (b) movies like "Captivity"... then I'll be more able to take them seriously.

As it is... I think movies like "Captivity", and other portrayals of torture and murder purely for morbid fascination, should be societally condemned in language as strong as that used about Vick's activities; but I think that neither should be illegal.

As the TrueHoop post puts it: To me it's clear that a huge part of what we're talking about here is not an objective measure of what's cruel and what isn't. It's a measure of who is conditioned to what.

I think both dog-fighting and torture porn are despicable... but I don't think the government's job is to dictate the answers to moral questions, even on that level. It tends to do an inconsistent and clumsy job of it.


Kevin said...


Interesting read, thanks. First I'll address Abbott's article. He makes some good points, but others I don't quite get.

I agree that this is not the worst thing ever. The article brings to mind some fringe issues that bother me, such as accidental "cruelty" or even being punished for not following proper hunting rules (I didn't know that).

I also agree that I don't know the charms of dog fighting. I'm willing to be convinced, but I haven't been able to justify them in my imagination and I haven't actually read any justification for it (though I also haven't sought it out either).

Abbott wrote: "My point is that dog fighting is one more bit of cruelty in a big messy soup of similar things, and where do we get off saying dog fighting is the only one of the bunch that must be immediately banished from the planet, while we drag our feet on, oh, say, the old nuclear weapons dropped on cities issue?"

I didn't entirely understand this.

Abbott wrote: "To me it's clear that a huge part of what we're talking about here is not an objective measure of what's cruel and what isn't. It's a measure of who is conditioned to what."

That's a very good point. I think we should strive to factor out such discomfort from our moral reasoning.

Abbott wrote: "And here's the craziest part of all. The worst accusations about these dog fighters are that they executed the dogs they did not want. The state thought that was atrocious, and seized the dogs ... which will now likely be killed by the state"

That is funny the way he puts it, but I think the distinction lies in the greater sadistic intent and control to that end.

Abbott wrote: "So, take a picture in your mind of all of us idiots lined up to watch that tiger hunt. That's me, the bald guy in the front row. Are we all demented? (You sure your dad wouldn't go?) Do we all need to be locked up? Are we all clearly barbarians?

It's a little complicated, right?

I agree that it is complicated, though a tiger killing food seems different to me than inculcating viciousness for sadistic purposes.

Abbott wrote: "Instead of vilifying him, let's respectfully disagree, and see if we can't make some real progress, instead of ripping him to shreds to score a cheap, short-term political victory."

That sounds reasonable.


Mark wrote: "* Was it that Vick took morbid pleasure in the vicious fighting of the dogs that was the problem? If so, how is this different than boxing or ultimate fighting or the WWE (for those that think it's real)?"

I think all of your points are probably correct individually, but this is the one that comes closest to addressing the combination of sadism and control, which I think is significant.

One difference in your comparison is that the dogs don't really have a choice, whereas fighters do. This control combined with a sadistic intent is what creates the dilemma for me. i.e. the significance of his "morbid pleasure" is relative to what he is willing to do to satisfy it.

Mark wrote: "I think both dog-fighting and torture porn are despicable... but I don't think the government's job is to dictate the answers to moral questions, even on that level."

Perhaps; I'm unsure about that. Do you think that any treatment of or cruelty to animals should be illegal?

Mark wrote: "It tends to do an inconsistent and clumsy job of it."

Well, you've got me there. :)


MarkC said...


Thanks for your response. I'll respond to just the one question you asked me directly:

Do you think that any treatment of or cruelty to animals should be illegal?

If there are laws about mistreatment of animals, then they should apply equally to vets and vagabonds. We should not make "sadism" illegal, which appears to be generally the approach in this case. If drowning a dog is illegal, then make that specifically illegal, no matter what inner motive drives the action. If killing a dog for convenience is illegal, then make that apply as much to the family dog as it does to a fighting dog.

I can see potential justifications for laws of that kind, and I'd certainly be willing to consider them. But the law should not be based on "cruelty", if "cruelty" is defined not by the action itself but by the "sadistic intent" behind the action. I believe government gets on very dangerous ground when it makes motives illegal.

It is the sadism that is at the heart of our repulsion as a society to what Vick did. And that's healthy. We should be repulsed by that sadistic tendency. We just shouldn't try to make it illegal. Actions, not motives, have to be the target of our laws.

Now, if only we could be equally repulsed by the glorified sadism that is increasingly showing up in our theaters and on our TV screens...


Kevin said...


Mark wrote: "But the law should not be based on "cruelty", if "cruelty" is defined not by the action itself but by the "sadistic intent" behind the action. I believe government gets on very dangerous ground when it makes motives illegal."

You are right. I see that I've strayed on that point and I've been imprecise with the distinction between motivation and intent (and even the action). Sorry about that and thanks for correcting me.

I'm reminded of your Hate Crime thread, where I think this detail also arose.

Consider the case of a man who closes a car door, catching his dog's leash in it, and later drives off, eventually killing the dog by dragging. Morally, it is central whether he intended to kill the dog that way or whether the leash caught accidentally and he otherwise forgot the dog.

Motivation can be presented to suggest intent, but I agree that the motivation should not be illegal or additionally punished.

"Cruel" qualifies an act, whereas "sadistic" signifies a motivation.

Regarding the Vick vs. Boxing comparison, I still think the context is materially different, given the differences in training and the ability to choose to escape.

Of course, I see that your focus in that example was primarily on judging his "morbid pleasure", and I agree that that is a red herring and should not be our focus in determining legality or punishment.

Has your opinion changed on whether the details of dog fights should be illegal?

Also, would you make a similar argument regarding Child Custody Criteria, where the judgements are often more nuanced for the child's welfare? If you have thoughts on that subject, you can post on that thread.

"Captivity" sounds pretty bad. Is there no moral to the story? In terms of our repulsion of glorified sadism, I guess our best recourse is simply to avoid it. Thanks for the warning.


MarkC said...


Thanks for your reply. I'm quite interested in your thoughts on this topic.

You're right that there are significant differences between dog-fighting and boxing. I'll happily grant you that.

You asked: Has your opinion changed on whether the details of dog fights should be illegal?

No, not at this point, but I'm open to having it changed.

In order for my opinion to change, I'll need to see a justification for making dogfighting illegal that does not rely on the purported motivations (sadism, etc.) of the perpetrators, and also does not outlaw standard treatment of unwanted dogs in our society.

My list of questions was an attempt to narrow down the issue to find such a justification... but I'm having a hard time doing it.

In a more general sense, I have a hard time understanding the justification (or at least a morally consistent justification) for animal cruelty laws of any kind. Why should the law prevent me from horribly mistreating my dog, but not prevent the pound from killing dogs simply because the dog is unwanted? Is injuring a dog worse than killing it? If so, why?

Those are the types of questions I grapple with.


Kevin said...


The difference, I think, lies in intent. Part of the problem (at least for me) in separating intent from motivation is that they can both be probed with the question of "why"?

Currently, I think of intent as one's primary goal, in order to distinguish it from the motivation to that goal. I'll try to walk that line and see where it leads me.

It is more permissible for the pound to kill a dog than for you to mistreat your dog because their actual intent is to prevent the dog from harming others (in various ways) given limited resources, while "mistreating" your dog implies that you have no other intent or an evil intent.

Kicking your dog for no reason is different from kicking your dog to move him away from danger or protect a little girl. Your intent is not primarily to kick the dog, but some other positive effect for which kicking the dog was a reasonable option.

Similarly, to kill a man in self-defense is to first pursue self-protection and not primarily to kill him.

In this sense, could sadism also be considered intent, since the primary goal is to feel pleasure?

Does this make sense? How do you view my examples which hinge on the intent of dragging a dog, kicking a dog, and killing a man?


MamasBoy said...

I found this quote fascinating.

"Most rescued fighting dogs have been selectively bred for such extreme aggression to other dogs that -- even while they are loving toward people -- they cannot be safely adopted into the community. Sadly, humane euthanasia is their only option."

So, the reason these dogs must be euthenized is in the breeding and not the treatment/training. I have a hard time imagining that the aggression is bred into these dogs so deeply that they must be killed. When the only choice of master is between Dr. Kevorkian and Al Capone, I'm not sure the decision is an easy one.


Josh said...

You're not a man - you're a pathetic coward. Oh how I would love to meet you in person you cowardice sack of s-it ...

Josh said...

btw ... Any of you who support shooting your dog in the head, I will be more than happy to put a bullet in your head or any of your family next time you are sick or injured. I wouldn't give it a 2nd thought.

Kevin said...

Wow, that is disturbing, Josh. I think you owe whoever it is you are talking to an apology.

It's also disturbing that, re-reading it this many years later, I don't fully understand my own last comment. My examples make sense to me, but I lost myself with the whole "intent vs. motivation" thing.

Ah, well, maybe my future self will figure it out. :)

Anonymous said...

I say if you like to cut up animals no matter the reason that you are a lowly piece of shit and should be set on fire.

Douglas said...

Ha, Anonymous. Your timing is impeccable. While you were writing that comment, I was given a lesson to my friend in how to butcher his goats... something I hadn't done in over a year. Feel free to come try and set me on fire anytime you feel brave enough. Given that you don't even have the balls to leave anything other than an anonymous comment, I won't hold my breath.

You've gotta love the consistent morality of people who decry violence against animals and then praise violence against humans.