Animal Cruelty Isn't Judged on a Level Playing Field

By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, August 22, 2007

While eating a porterhouse the other night, I began to see the steak for what it was: a hunk of meat, blood and bone. I managed to disgust myself even more by imagining that a charbroiled piece of pit bull would not have looked much different from the gristle of beef on my fork.

Then I came back to my senses and continued to enjoy my meal.

Too bad for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick that people like me love dogs more than cows. Or, to put it another way, I prefer the taste of Angus and Hereford to Rottweiler and pit bull. Otherwise, the federal agents who recently charged Vick with dogfighting would have to arrest nearly all of us for participating in far worse acts of animal cruelty.

Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney is credited with having said: "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian." Well, they don't -- and most of us are carnivores. We'll kill a duck, deer, turkey -- name any meat -- for the sheer entertainment of our palates or for the fun of the hunt.

And yet, Vick, 27, must take the fall. On Monday, the star athlete agreed to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy. The admission could put him behind bars for more than year and all but end his football career.

Make no mistake: I have no particular affinity for Vick. You just can't defend a guy who apparently gets his kicks watching dogs mangle each other and risks losing a hundred million dollars in NFL earnings and endorsements to boot. It's just that all the hullabaloo about dogfighting seems a bit hypocritical.

For the most part, we revel in a culture of blood sports in which people and animals are pitted against each another. The knockout in boxing, the knockdown in football, the crashes at Daytona and Indianapolis -- those are the draw. Without the video images of tigers ripping the hides from zebras, cobras fighting mongooses and other bloody contests played out in the wild kingdom, the Discovery and National Geographic channels might as well go off the air.

Even our equestrian friends are not exempt from the cruelty of contest. Consider Barbaro, the horse that broke his leg during the Preakness Stakes last year.

"Caution: Tears will flow from watching 'Barbaro,' the HBO Sports documentary," TV critic Richard Sandomir wrote in the New York Times on June 6. Crocodile tears, maybe.

"Barbaro became a tragic hero whose injury reports were given like presidential health updates," Sandomir wrote. But wait. Sandomir goes on to say that the documentary's producers "do not delve into why so few horses get Barbaro-level care when they break down."

Anybody care about that?

"Like the other innocent animals we love, horses 'trust us, live alongside us, honoring our many commands,' the narrator, Liev Schreiber says," Sandomir reported. " 'And when we ask them to -- they run.' "

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