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By now, I’m sure that you’re probably tired of hearing and reading about Mike Vick and his not-so-merry band of dogfighting cohorts. I am too, but I have noticed a recurring hypocrisy throughout the whole sordid affair that I need to point out. While almost all of the reporting on the subject has revolved solely around Mike Vick himself, very little is ever said of the dogs. Some, like LA Daily News columnist Bridget Johnson, have expressed concern about the dogs in a roundabout way, by taking the opportunity to wax eloquent on the light sentences that many convicted animal abusers receive and wonder aloud what further pathology might be simmering beneath the surface. Most others have simply viewed the dogs as the “victims” in this case and have said very little beyond that. I would like to suggest that there is a very good reason for this and it cuts right to the heart of the oft-quoted, but seldom defined concept of consent.
It all came clear a few nights ago as I watched the fourth quarter of a Monday Night Football preseason game. The announcers were discussing the Vick fiasco and that he was preparing to enter a guilty plea the next day. As they went round and round about the ramifications of what this might mean for all those involved they came upon the inevitable commercial break. During the break, an ad for a pay-per-view showing of Ultimate Fighting Championship was aired. As I watched this visual montage of toothless and shoeless men beating, scratching and pounding each other in front of thousands of screaming bloodthirsty fans, I marveled at the juxtaposition. On one hand, you’ve got the Monday Night Football announcers decrying Vick and the violent nature of dogfighting in general, followed by an Ultimate Fighting ad where men are doing much the same thing to each other. The irony was hard to miss.
Most would be quick to point out that the Ultimate Fighting men are doing this by consent, not by compulsion. The argument goes that since the dogs are forced into this lifestyle and are raised to be killers from birth without their consent, they are “innocent” of the violent life in which they find themselves. But what of seeing-eye dogs, or police dogs, or drug dogs? Did they have a choice in their present state of vocation? Why is it acceptable to force a dog into the profession of police or security dog, but not trained fighter? Is the fight promoter of Ultimate Fighting really any different from Michael Vick? What makes us so naïve to think that the men who are fighting for their lives in front of the live and pay-per-view crowds are any different from the dogs that Vick trained? Do not social and financial pressures force men to make decisions that they normally wouldn’t? The trained attack dogs of Ultimate Fighting are no less victims than are the real dogs of Michael Vick. They find themselves possessing skills that are considered of little use outside of the military or martial arts schools, so they must do what they can to survive. And what fate awaits the surviving dogs of the Vick compound?
Since they are fighting dogs, bred to destroy other animals, their chances of making it are slim. Even PETA and the Humane Society of the United States have suggested that the best option is probably euthanasia. So the pit bulls wait, in 4-by-6 kennels. They’re fed, watered and cared for, likely awaiting their ultimate death sentences.
In other words, these trained canine killers will ultimately fare no better than the dogs that were destroyed early on for lacking what it takes to succeed in the world of dogfighting. Trained killers can’t assimilate to “normal” life very easily. They are not unlike a John Rambo or a Jason Bourne. Once these fictional men left their arenas of expertise—the jungles of Vietnam for Rambo and the international espionage world for Bourne—they quickly became liabilities to the outside world. Their skills and training were only useful for a particular time and place, not the world at large. Forget for the moment that Bourne has eschewed his previous life and wants to walk away. The cutthroat world of “consent” only goes so far. Like Bourne, the dogs can’t walk away from their previous life as assassins. And, like Bourne, the decision-makers realize that a renegade “former killer” is still a killer and is not safe for the rest of the world. The popular view of consent does not allow for escape clauses.