Victimized by dog violence?

Speaking of violence, Michael Vick's guilty plea seems to be giving rise to (or at least encouraging) new phraseology that I consider ominous:

Now that Michael Vick has agreed to plead guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges, animal advocates are hoping the NFL and others take action to continue working against dog violence.
Dog violence? (Yes, the term is in use!) What is being condemned here by this phrase? Michael Vick's acts of cruelty? Apparently not. The larger issue is dogfighting:
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says it is offering a reward for tips leading to the conviction of those involed in dog fighting. And other groups said they hoped the Vick case brought more attention to the practice.

PETA spokesman David Perle says that since the Vick case began, law enforcement and PETA are getting tips and leads on other cases across the country. Perle said "PETA is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in dogfighting."

Bear in mind that it is apparently still the position of this group that pit bulls (the animals which were so cruelly treated by Vick) should all be exterminated. So naturally, I worry that when the complaint is made of "dog violence," they're not just talking about acts of violence committed by humans against dogs, or dogs against humans, but they're judging (and in a rather strange manner) the "violent" acts of dogs!

If we place the cruelty of Vicks aside for the moment, I'm wondering philosophically whether it is possible for an animal of any sort to engage in what we normally call "violence." I mean, my yard is filled with birds who devour crickets and earthworms, and which are in turn preyed upon by a large hawk which has been raising fledglings in a neighbor's tree. Are these acts of "violence"? If two dogs in heat tie up, that cannot be called rape, any more than a man who sexually abuses a dog can be called a rapist.

HSUS's Wayne Pacelle, while not quite calling Vick a victim of dogfighting, certainly doesn't single him out as might be expected considering the horrendous underlying facts:

The president of the Humane Society expressed sympathy for the damage that may have been done to Vick's life.

"The resolution of this federal case is no cause for celebration -- many dogs suffered terribly and a gifted athlete and his bright career have been perhaps irreparably damaged," Wayne Pacelle said. "The only good that can come from this case is that the American people dedicate themselves to the task of rooting out dogfighting in every infected area where it thrives."

Today's Inquirer did a good job of reporting, and does not leave out details which show that what Vick did went well beyond dogfighting:

Three of Vick's original co-defendants already had pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against him. Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach signed statements saying Vick participated in executing at least eight underperforming dogs by various means, including drowning and hanging.

What's being obscured here by the talk of dogfighting and "dog violence" is that that there are degrees of cruelty -- and the cruelty to which Vick is apparently pleading guilty goes well beyond watching two dogs fight. While I don't mean to psychoanalyze animals, I want to look at this from the perspective of common sense. If two dogs go at it and neither one of them displays a desire to run away, it is cruel to sit there and watch, especially for purposes of entertainment, or to make money. But common sense suggests to me if one dog is clearly trying to escape, then it becomes even more cruel, because while it's tough to judge whether anything an animal does is voluntary in nature, trying to get away indicates that the animal does not want to fight. Thus, while it is cruel to allow two pit bulls that are raring to go to actually fight (because we humans are entrusted with their care and owe them better), it is more cruel to sit there and watch one of those same dogs chase down and tear into someone's lapdog which happened to be walking down the street. To not recognize this distinction is, IMO, to abandon logic.

Thus, if Vick singled out an animal for torture simply because that animal displayed an unwillingness to fight, he did something far worse than dogfighting. Yet instead of complaining about that, the animal rights activists are carrying on about "dog violence." This makes me suspect an agenda.

There is a problem in using logic with these things, though. If it is more cruel to sic a dog on a dog that wants to get away than to watch two dogs that desire to fight, then that makes coon hunting and fox hunting (which are both done to animals that want to get away) more cruel than dogfighting. This is something few people want to entertain as an idea, because society deems dogfighting inherently more cruel than coonhunting, foxhunting, boar hunting with dogs, or probably bullfighting. (When topics are driven by hysteria and popular prejudices and beliefs, applying logic is a good way to ask for trouble.)

I see very little logic being applied to Michael Vick. The focus should be on his cruelty to animals, not on "larger issues" which tend to minimize his culpability or even make him look like a victim.

You'd almost think this case involved the dog control movement.

MORE: Speaking of relative cruelty, Michael Silence links an interesting post reminding people that abortion is more cruel than dogfighting. (Via Glenn Reynolds, who won't go so far as to call it a defense of Michael Vick. It really isn't. And again, what Vick did was worse than dogfighting.)

posted by Eric on 08.21.07 at 10:12 AM


Vick copped a plea because he was threatened with RICO due to the gambling. The dog thing is just what people have glommed onto because it's juicy. No one cares if he is gambling, people care if he is killing dogs though.

And the dog violence thing--if you train dogs to kill each other, starve them and beat and prod them, that creates dog violence and it's loathsome. A bird eating a worm in your yard is very different.

Jesus H.W. Bush   ·  August 21, 2007 12:29 PM

You're certainly right that it is loathsome to train dogs to fight, or to starve them and beat them, but I've seen many dogs (especially pit bulls) which have simply wanted to fight without any training. I would never allow my dog to fight, and I have always prevented displays of aggression towards other dogs. Training them NOT to fight, if you will. But I'm not sure that a fight between dogs is "violence" -- at least not in the human sense. (Kennel fights to the death have been known to occur when no humans are around.)

As to cruelty, once again, there are matters of degree. Just as it is more cruel to train dogs to fight than to allow them to fight, it is more cruel to let a dog pursue and tear up an animal that wants to get away than to allow two dogs to fight.

Fox hunting is, IMO, a lot more cruel than dogfighting (absent a showing of additional cruelty to the dogs, of course).

BTW, I think you're right that most people are more concerned about cruelty to animals than gambling charges. I think they should be.

Eric Scheie   ·  August 21, 2007 1:08 PM

I favor cat control.

Do it for the birds.

M. Simon   ·  August 21, 2007 2:02 PM

Well, it may be for the birds, but at least you're not calling it cat violence!

(Of course, there was that Alfred Hitchcock movie about bird violence....)

Eric Scheie   ·  August 21, 2007 3:14 PM

I think the difference in your examples is that we expect there to be violence in the lives of wild animals, whereas we expect that domestication removes the violence from pets.

So in an sense, by making dogs fight, we are negating their domestication. But with a fox hunt, we are just playing the role of predator in a predator/prey relationship. Not that I support fox hunting, just that that is an important distinction (maybe not logically iomportant, but culturally important).

That statement by Wayne Pacelle suggesting Vick is one of the victims in this sad case is just sick. Who victimized Michael Vick? Us? Is Pacelle saying we the predators here because we seek to punish Vick for his actions? A phrase made famous by Michael Bloomberg that I have now used 3 times today: he must be joking or he must be fired.

tim maguire   ·  August 21, 2007 3:27 PM
I've seen many dogs (especially pit bulls) which have simply wanted to fight without any training.
this reportfrom Tacoma would seem to confirm your point. However, there is no evidence that the dogs were not trained to be aggressive or violent.
tom scott   ·  August 22, 2007 2:26 AM

Tom I saw that story, and I saw no indication of dog fighting. It appears that these were simply aggressive untrained animals who were allowed to roam the neighborhood by a very flaky owner, and one of the dogs was familiar with the woman they attacked (the latter, along with the whole neighborhood, knew they were vicious):

The victim (who has a dog of her own) left her patio door open, and not only did the two pit bulls go in, but so did another dog. Video here:

For this breed, attacks on people are an aberration. While it's not generally well-known, those who bred them for fighting traditionally wanted dogs that were people-friendly in the extreme -- otherwise they could not have been handled in the pit. A very well written piece in the New Yorker explains in more detail than you'd probably care to read, but here it is anyway:

Coonhounds were bred to go after coons, Bulldogs were once bred to go after bulls, Beagles to go after rabbits, Dobermans to be aggressive towards human intruders. These tendencies can be overcome -- or accentuated -- by training, and there are always aberrations and exceptions.

My worry with the pit bull is that it's amiable nature (which once went with the fighting genes) is being screwed with by psychopathic criminal breeders who do not seek the same characteristics as the original Victorian gamblers who bred them. I have seen very friendly pit bulls owned by young thugs who were angered to see their dogs wag their tails and lick me when I pet them. A lot of these kids would do better with a Rottweiller or a Dobie, but they want the muscle-bound look that the pit bull has. (Unfortunately, I suspect that what they want is a pit bull that acts like a Doberman, and I hope such an animal is never created.)

Sorry to ramble, but I am often concerned....

Eric Scheie   ·  August 22, 2007 8:47 AM

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