A crime that shocked the nation

A crime that shocked the nation

I'm thrilled to see a high-profile dogfighting case draw the public's wrath.
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Oct 01, 2007


Dr. Patty Khuly
When I was 15, an overzealous boyfriend showed up at my door with a pit bull puppy—an offer this future veterinarian couldn't refuse. This was the late '80s, when the breed was regarded more as an edgy version of a Labrador retriever than the emblem of urban rebellion it is today.

So as a veterinarian, unapologetic pit-bull lover, and animal health blogger ( http://Dolittler.com/), I've been following the Michael Vick story closely. Sure, I've had my say ... and my fun, too. It's hard to resist the temptation to demonize someone so out of touch with American culture that he would kill dogs for fun—and think it's no big deal.

More recently, though, I've started thinking about the more sober aspects of this case—as if a yard full of dead dogs weren't sobering enough. Why would this talented, hardworking NFL quarterback throw it all away for a betting blood sport?

My take? He knew it was illegal; he just didn't bet on our outrage. How could he? Even I didn't. As a veterinarian, maybe I'm jaded to the injustices committed against animals. Whether it's a pit bull flayed by his opponent's fangs or severe owner neglect, I'm used to cruel treatment of animals. But I'll confess I was pleasantly surprised by the outcry over Vick's offenses. I blogged about it, trash-talked about it with my clients, and commented on it indiscriminately online. So did everyone else, it seems. The story had legs that grew longer with each outraged remark and angry anti-Vick video on YouTube. That's when Vick's punishment became a hot topic of graphic debate—and when Atlanta-area shelters allegedly began to receive Vick football jerseys as donations to wipe down their kennels.

In fact, the uproar has been so loud and unrelenting that critics have condemned the volume as too high for the crime. They decry his public censure for animal abuse as inexplicably more caustic than for a drug charge. Then they argue there are worse criminals still playing ball—murderers, rapists, multiple drug offenders, and child abusers. Why so hard on Vick?

Because the bulk of the public's fury in this case isn't about Michael Vick. It's about the brutality of the crime—one whose sordid details most Americans did not know about before Vick's debacle. While we may have become desensitized to drugs and violence, high-profile animal cruelty is a barbarous novelty. As a result, the pent-up rage on behalf of abused animals everywhere has been granted a rare forum. And it's clearly proved its muscle in the pit of public opinion.

To be sure, Vick's story is a tragic train wreck—you can't look away or fail to deride the engineer for driving drunk. But it's more than just another cautionary tale for overprivileged celebrity—it's an extraordinary demonstration of the maturing cultural drive to defend animals. To the uninitiated, pit bulls may not seem likely poster children for animal welfare issues, but some of us still think of them fondly as beloved family members more worthy of protection than one criminal's football career.

Dr. Patty Khuly is an associate at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami, Fla. Send questions or comments to

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