An Open Letter To Animal Lovers: Vick Is Not The (Only) Bad Guy
There’s a lot of high emotion running around on the internet regarding BET’s selection of Michael Vick as Sportsman of the Year. While I personally believe that he may deserve the honor based on his exceptional athletic ability and performance, it is impossible for me to separate his past actions (as someone who tortured and killed dogs for profit) from his present mastery on the football field. Regardless of how strongly you believe in redemption or forgiveness – both of which are valid and noble ideals – the damage cannot ever be undone.
I support the ongoing boycotts of companies that hire Michael Vick to promote their products, primarily because I think they keep the horror of animal abuse in the public eye. I know that many people defending Vick have never seen the unforgettable pics of the mutilated dogs and heard the horrific and traumatic stories of their lives, both before, (when they were severely abused) and after they were rescued (from the residual trauma). But – and this is a crucial caveat – as animal lovers and rescuers, we run the risk of turning public sentiment against us and the passion we have for our eminently worthy cause when we persist in demonizing Vick over and over again.
Yes, it’s true that he never served a day in jail for animal abuse; he was convicted and served 23 months on racketeering charges. However, the fault here is in our legal system, not in Michael Vick’s understandable attempts to continue living his life. The imperative part that really needs attention here is the fact that Michael Vick is only one of many people who have profited – or who continue to profit – from the abuse of animals. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Vick is aligned with the Humane Society of the United States. (Note: I am referring to the HSUS; I do not have information regarding their affiliation – if any – with the many state and local Humane Societies.)
According to Humane Watch, the HSUS only donates less than 1% of the money they collect from donations directly to animal shelters, and they have a $160 million net worth. What’s worse is that they blatantly use images of animals in shelters in their advertising campaigns, directly implying that HSUS helps aid or save shelter animals. To add further insult to injury, they also have non-profit status, even thought most of the money they collect is hoarded or paid to their top executives in the millions.
HSUS collects multi-millions of dollars each year in donations, yet their miniscule offerings to shelters do almost nothing to stop the euthanizing of 10 million shelter dogs and cats each year. Worse still, they use public awareness of tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina, the Vick dogs and abuses in puppy mills as fundraising tactics, collecting money which most likely will never actually reach the purported beneficiaries of the donations made to HSUS. As someone who donated my last $100 in savings to them after receiving a solicitation in an email – one of many – about Prop B in Missouri (regulation of puppy mills), I feel very embarrassed to have been so easily manipulated, and deeply saddened that my donation likely did absolutely nothing to help animals.
HSUS could use their vast wealth to sponsor spay/neuter clinics all over the country; this would drastically reduce the overpopulation in shelters. However, the heightened public awareness of millions of animals getting euthanized each year is crucial to their fund raising strategy. Without mass euthanasia, HSUS would not be able to manipulate animal lovers into thinking their donations are helping to save shelter animals from certain death.
I think that people who truly love and care about animals would do well to do more than just incessantly demonizing Vick (who, while seemingly unrepentant, is no longer actively abusing animals). Those interested should definitely pursue his possible ties to active dog fighting rings, if in fact he still has them.
But more importantly, let’s broaden our scope to include questioning and investigating large groups like HSUS and PETA, who collect huge sums in donations and yet help unwanted shelter animals very little, if at all. Let’s explore and expose how these groups use their chicanery and subterfuge in skillful advertising campaigns to coerce donations from people who truly (if mistakenly) believe they are helping animals. I doubt that I’m the only one who’s ever wondered why the advertising of these two groups is either self-promotion or solicitation. (I have heard similar concerns about the ASPCA but have not seen enough evidence to draw a conclusion.)
To be clear, there’s a lot of back and forth reputation smearing between HSUS devotees and people who believe that the Humane Watch is telling the truth about HSUS. The bottom line, though, is that large organizations – be they nonprofits or corporations – are almost impossible to hold accountable for how they allocate their funds. So ultimately – even if it turns out that Humane Watch is wrong about HSUS – to me, it still makes much more sense to donate to local shelters and animal rescue groups.
As animal lovers, we need to re-educate others of like mind and heart to donate their money directly to their LOCAL shelters, where the money is used explicitly to help or save animals, instead of being devoured by huge bureaucracies and multi-million-dollar executive salaries/bonuses. Michael Vick is definitely not the only bad guy when it comes to taking advantage of helpless animals.
If you agree with me, I encourage you to share this message. Peace and love to the furry ones (and their human companions)!