Warning: This is a very graphic post about what goes into dogfighting. It is pretty graphic at certain points. So, be warn.
To me there exists nothing in this world which, given the right circumstances and given the appropriate amount and manner of retribution, can't be forgiven. The fallibility of our nature and the idea that -- at least here -- we have a measure of freedom to do and think as we please lends to that. People are going to make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes will be big ones. But somehow, someway, all of that can be erased under the right conditions, and given time.
In the retrospectives of Michael Vick's largest mistake, we often hear it referred to as the "Michael Vick dog fighting scandal". And that in and of itself is enough to concoct horrible depictions in some people's brains, of cheesy rap music blaring over a fortified dog ring where onlookers straddle over and watch canines fight one another. To some, that is enough.
But it isn't everything. The nature of dog fighting is that those who oversee it aren't necessarily interested in treating animals "humanely" and that inhumane treatment does not stop when the fight stops. Because, until yesterday, the team for which Michael Vick would play his 2013-14 NFL season was up in the air, there existed a lot of talk among a handful of Quarterback-thirsty teams as to whether or not his talents were worth the risk both from a football standpoint and from a standpoint of moral liability.
It is easy to forgive people, if you try, after all. It is easier still if that person has some measurable value to you as a business person, football team or fan.
With Michael Vick's new 1-year restructured contract in Philadelphia, he has the potential to make ten million dollars in 2013. Six years ago, he sat in a state jail facility, broke and unsure if he would ever play football again. Is it right? How do we measure rightness and wrongness of redemption, forgiveness? Did Vick pay his dues to society for his misgivings with the "Michael Vick dog fighting scandal"? Has he more yet to pay? And does the level of atrocity that he committed combined with a yet unfinished redemption process prohibit a person from making such money, from having such status? Should it?
When a dog loses a dog fight, they exit the ring with handling from their owner or ownership team. Limping, often with open wounds from their face and throat, they are led back to whatever facility in which they are housed. In this instance, Vick -- or more likely -- a paid handler and associate of Vick, directed the losing dog back to a particular part of the compound on which Michael Vick's Georgia mansion resided. I use the word compound intentionally, because the property was fortified with high cement walls, mesh fence that were at places reinforced with barbed wire and brick barriers to prevent easy entrance and designed specifically in many places to conceal vision of things. The property was fortified in such a way so that few could bare witness to what occurred there.
The dog, if it was lucky enough to survive the actual fight, gasps for air laboriously. If limping, it may be favoring its weight to one side of its body. But at least it is home. Through a thick plume of cigar smoke, the handlers and often times Vick himself lead the dog back to an area near its kennel. They take the cigars from their mouths, or, short those, use a lighter, and burn random spots on the rear of the dogs back. This process is an important first step in the torture of the creature. It is done by design. It is the process of immediate demoralization. The dog is to know, from the start, that this is no longer a safe place. This is no longer home.
The dog will tuck its tail in response to the burns and twitch its hind legs forward violently, yelping with pain. In response, a handler picks up the dog and carries it to a nearby clothesline where there exist several meat hooks. Adjusting the hooks forward, the handler pulls from the dog's back its skin -- near the thick parts of its hide to support the weight and prevent it from tearing down the animal's back -- and pierces the hooks through the animals skin, letting go as the dog's weight pulls itself down onto the hooks. In unlucky circumstances, the hooks will cut too deep and separate shoulder muscles and blades from the body completely. Again, the dog shrieks in horror. The gasping for air turns into a heavy wheezing as the dog's body kicks into emergency mode and its lungs struggle to keep up.
Each movement for the dog is more painful, its weight and gravity pulling it down on the hooks more and more, the awkward convulsing to free itself only entangling it more, driving the pain deeper. A handler approaches and grabs the dog's genitals in a firm fist. Twisting and with one or two violent whips, the dog is castrated by hand. If it is a female dog, a pocket knife or other shearing tool is used to simply wedge out the genitalia, and, because of the extra hassle to the torture, the knife is also occasionally used to make brief, shallow slits in the dog's stomach.
It is at this stage that blood begins to retain in the skull of the dog, swelling its face within a matter of minutes. The manner and measure of pain has become too much for the body to attack all at once, and its intention to defend itself subsides into a pure defensive mode. The animal's eyes swell and its vision blurs. Through its narrow line of view, the faces before it are now anonymous, dark, without detail, expression less. Often, then, those around take turns striking the dog in its ribs, cracking one then another, then another. The dog, though losing its faculties, still crying all the while, begging desperately in whatever form of communication it has for mercy, forgiveness, shakes.
If it hasn't already, the animal at this point loses control of its bladder and urinates on itself. Though this action is involuntary and though it is the result of what has happened, handlers too close to the animal may be urinated on, and this enrages them further. If the animal is lucky, by this point it is beginning to slip into an irreversible state of unconsciousness. The first stages of death. But these animals -- most of them -- bred and trained in the way they were, are finely tuned athletes, ironically in the same way that Michael Vick was. They're built to sustain the type of punishment that another domestic dog may not be able to sustain, and so there they hang, with fleeting hopes and faster fleeting life, desperate for something, anything to save them.
For whatever they have done, they are sorry. For however they did it, they will undo it. They were your friend. They are afraid. They. are. afraid.
The animal is drenched with water from a hose, the current of the hose spraying into the dogs face exactly to the point of drowning, then released. Just as the the dog begins to struggle again for air, the handlers take a wire with a live electricity current running through it and press it against the animal's drenched body. It convulses in pain, but the fearful and exhausted animal's cries are receding now. It whimpers still, but they are stifled and involuntary. It slips in and out of consciousness. At this point, the animal's vital organs began shutting down. First the liver, then the rest of the stomach, the lungs and heart truck on but their processes slow nearly to a halt. It's feet twitch as neurotransmitters in the brain send random, confused singles to the extremities. It is having a mild seizure. Michael Vick, if not directly involved, looks on and delegates.
This process of alternating simulated drowning and electrocution continues for several minutes until most dogs are have expired, their tongues limp out the side of their mouths and their deadened eyes, unblinking, looking into nothing. But there exists still a few animals whose spirit outpaces the practicality of the situation, a few inexhaustible souls whose fierce determination to cling to life keeps them alive, if only barely, even through this whole process.
And for those few, they very likely would wish to be dead by this point. The animals which are able to pull through, somehow, this series of torture are pulled from the hooks -- usually through the skin, not off the hooks -- and dropped limply to the ground. They can not stand and are incapable of reacting to any sensory material around them. They are in a virtual vegetative state, but their lungs breath and their heart beats faintly. So a handler picks them up and throws the dog, with both arms, over their shoulder like a sack of laundry. Grabbing the hind legs, the handler then whips the dog downward with all violent force into a cement slab. The side of the dog's snout, its face and its temple meet the slab with thundering fury. Crack. That was the dog's nose breaking. Thwomp. That was the dog's orbital bone. Frap. That was the side of the dog's skull caving in.
The dog is, at his point, making involuntary noises that sound quite literally like what death must sound like. They are not a cry for help, not a shriek of desperation. They are an untrained, bellowing gurdle.
The dog's head is thrown into the ground as the side of its face softens into a sinewy, unrecognizable mess.
And again. And again. And again. And again. And again.
Finally, the entire, horrible, ceaseless mess has concluded. The dog has expired.
Again, if it is lucky, it might be dragged by what remains of its bones out to a shallow grave -- 18 or 24 inches deep, covered haphazardly in rock salt and sparing amounts of lime, picked away at in days time by crows. More likely, what remains of it is thrown into a heap with the decomposing parts of other animals that suffered the same fate. Eventually, they will be burned or disposed of in some fashion so as to hide any evidence of their existence.
Then August would roll around, and Michael Vick would go play football.
I am a person who believes in redemption. For anyone and everyone. For Michael Vick or a murderer or rapist, even. Whether or not redemption means that already -- here and now -- Michael Vick should be able to be a free man, be out of jail, be able to play football and make millions of dollars and sell jerseys to kids.... Well, that's something to which I don't have the answer. I just don't know. We all come to terms with our feelings on redemption in time.
But I do know this: If I was an owner or general manager, coach or fan, I wouldn't want him on my team. Because, you know, we haven't really found out whether or not Michael Vick has yet earned his redemption. And every time I think about "The Michael Vick dog fighting scandal", I remember that I don't want to be the one to find out, either.
Matthew Stewart is a writer living in Austin, Texas. He is set to release the book, "Wide Right (And Other Tragedies)" in 2013. You can talk to him about this article on Twitter by tweeting @matthew1stewart