Malcolm Gladwell, one of my favourite writers/speakers has just recently published an article in The New Yorker, one of my favourite magazines, called Offensive Play - How different are dogfighting and football? in which he uses the Michael Vick case as a foundation for laying out his premise that football players and dogs used for dogfighting are very similar in that they are valued for their gameness - their ability to fight on even at great expense to their own personal well-being. No, he's not suggesting that pro football players get electrocuted or a bullet in the head if they lose - nothing like that - but instead he questions the ethics of football, which most Americans take such pride in versus dogfighting which most Americans look down upon with great disdain - and rightfully so. You'll have to read the article for yourself to get the breadth of it because I can't simplify it all here without basically rewriting it.
Anyway, the reason I bring up this article is because of the parts of it relating to dogs. Gladwell's got a heart for dogs. He was one of the first mainstream writers to write about Cesar Milan. He also wrote an excellent piece on anti-Pit Bull laws and racism.
In this newest article, the paragraphs dealing with dogs are few but brilliant. He gets right to the crux of why the dogs fight the way they do and why it is so abhorrent that dogfighters exploit these animals.
Here he is describing Meryl, a Vick dog rescued by Best Friends:
The court-ordered evaluation of the Vick dogs labelled Meryl, a medium-sized brown-and-white pit-bull mix, “human aggressive,” meaning that she is never allowed to be taken out of the Best Friends facility. “She had a hard time meeting people — she would preëmpt anyone coming by charging and snapping at them,” Ann Allums, one of the Best Friends dog trainers, said, as she walked around Meryl’s octagon, on a recent fall day.
She opened the gate to Meryl’s dog run and crouched down on the ground next to her. She hugged the dog, and began playfully wrestling with her, as Meryl’s tail thumped happily. “She really doesn’t mind new people,” Allums said. “She’s very happy and loving. I feel totally comfortable with her. I can grab and kiss her.” She gave Meryl another hug. “I am building a relationship,” she said. “She needed to see that when people were around bad things would not happen.”
What happens at Best Friends represents, by any measure, an extravagant gesture. These are dogs that will never live a normal life. But the kind of crime embodied by dogfighting is so morally repellent that it demands an extravagant gesture in response. In a fighting dog, the quality that is prized above all others is the willingness to persevere, even in the face of injury and pain. A dog that will not do that is labelled a “cur,” and abandoned. A dog that keeps charging at its opponent is said to possess “gameness,” and game dogs are revered.
In one way or another, plenty of organizations select for gameness. The Marine Corps does so, and so does medicine, when it puts young doctors through the exhausting rigors of residency. But those who select for gameness have a responsibility not to abuse that trust: if you have men in your charge who would jump off a cliff for you, you cannot march them to the edge of the cliff — and dogfighting fails this test. Gameness, Carl Semencic argues, in “The World of Fighting Dogs” (1984), is no more than a dog’s “desire to please an owner at any expense to itself.” The owners, Semencic goes on, understand this desire to please on the part of the dog and capitalize on it. At any organized pit fight in which two dogs are really going at each other wholeheartedly, one can observe the owner of each dog changing his position at pit-side in order to be in sight of his dog at all times. The owner knows that seeing his master rooting him on will make a dog work all the harder to please its master.
This is why Michael Vick’s dogs weren’t euthanized. The betrayal of loyalty requires an act of social reparation.
I love the use of language and reason here. "...the kind of crime embodied by dogfighting is so morally repellent that it demands an extravagant gesture in response." Gladwell understands very well why it was so important for us humans to rescue the Vick dogs. We needed to save the dogs but just as important, we needed to redeem ourselves.
"... those who select for gameness have a responsibility not to abuse that trust: if you have men in your charge who would jump off a cliff for you, you cannot march them to the edge of the cliff — and dogfighting fails this test." And that's really it, right on the button. That's why dogfighting is so detestable to most civilized people - because it's an ultimate abuse of trust. The crime not only results in the torture and violent death of a dog but it also displays an utterly inhumane desire and ability in some people to exploit the best traits in other living beings, to twist those traits around to the point where the animals destroy themselves for a moment of entertainment.