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Judge Hudson’s pending decision on Michael Vick: Punishment AND counseling???

November 30, 2007

I’ve written before and will say it again, Michael Vick needs not only the maximum sentence of five years and no more NFL, but also five years of in-depth counseling on humane education. This position is supported by the American Humane Association, among others.

With apologies to Lerner & Loewe in Camelot, “I wonder what the Judge is thinking right now…”

American Humane Association Urges Severe Sentence for Michael Vick Appropriate to the Severity and Inhumanity of His Crimes (August 27, 2007)… and also recommends humane education:

Quotes president and CEO Marie Belew Wheatley: “Mr. Vick will be changing more than his uniform as he is held accountable for his crimes. In the public eye, he is also changing from role model to ‘example.’ We can only hope that he will quickly realize how inhumane his actions and attitudes toward animals have been. If he is willing to learn from his mistakes and chart a new, positive course going forward, he can still salvage his life.” [emphasis added]

American Humane’s Statement on Michael Vick (November 19, 2007):

Quotes president and CEO Marie Belew Wheatley: “We believe his crimes merit significant prison time, but we hope that the judge will also impose other appropriate requirements as part of the sentence. These could include constructive, rehabilitative activities such as meaningful community service, humane education and empathy counseling.” [emphasis added]

Humane Education Can Stop Dogs From Suffering (Richmond Times-Dispatch, Nov. 18, 2007):

Quotes Richmond SPCA CEO Robin Starr: “Whether someone who is well into adulthood and has reveled in brutality for years can have an extreme makeover of his personality is a question for psychiatric professionals or a higher power but not for me. One thing I do know, however, is that it will not happen on a football field but only, if at all, in serious counseling sessions.” [emphasis added]

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Virginia is for…

November 12, 2007

…you fill in the blanks. Now it’s puppy mills. But thanks to The HSUS and dozens of shelters up and down the east coast, the Hillsville bust is going to result in hundreds of young animals getting a fair shake at a decent, loving home and life.

As for my girls, my previous baby and my current one are both rescues and I wouldn’t have it any other way unless I adopted directly from a shelter. Poppy, part beagle, part Jack Russell (aka a beagle on speed!), came from FLAG, For the Love of Animals in Goochland, Virginia. Cori, all beagle (part couch potato, part manic bunny-chaser), came from the Animal Resource Foundation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Cori “wam”

Cori O’Holleran Bugle, 1/28/2001-

Poppy portrait

Poppy, 4/1/1990-6/3/2002

If you’re “in a family way,” in other words, you’re looking for a new furry family member, please-please-please visit your community shelter or contact a rescue group. You can find everything from just a dog to a purebred to cats, rabbits and other small mammals. You can befriend a stray, an owner give-up that’s very likely housetrained and socialized, a research animal that’s been saved, an injured or ill animal that needs attentive caregiving, a senior pet whose sole desire is to give and receive love — in short, an animal that’s just right for you and your family, whatever your lifestyle.

Don’t contribute to inhumane treatment of our fellow creatures. Don’t further the greed and profit motives of so-called “breeders” who do nothing more than make dogs reproduce far more often than they do in nature. Know your breeder or adopt from a shelter or rescue — do NOT, repeat, do NOT buy a pet at a retail store. Too many retail dogs likely came from puppy mills, and the easiest way to put those mills out of business is simply not to buy their animals.

Yes, they look cute and adorable and deserve a good life themselves, but when you buy one retail pup that started out at a mill, all you’re doing is allowing the mill to sell yet another animal. DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN!

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What’s next for Michael Vick?

October 31, 2007

In just a few weeks, Judge Henry Hudson will determine what’s next for the former Atlanta Falcons star who has been indicted on charges of allowing dogfighting at his Bad Newz Kennels.

As disgusted as I am at his role in this horrible blood sport, I can’t help but wonder if some of the same humane training approaches that are currently recognized best practices for animals might also be effective at re-shaping Vick’s behavior and life.

Might there be hope for a silver lining? Is it not conceivable he could un-learn negative attitudes and behaviors and replace them with positive actions?

PETA has publicized Vick’s “participation” in a one-day “course” it presented on humane treatment of animals, with Vick as the sole “student.” That’s hardly enough to bring about a genuine sense of contrition and reform. I argue for a far more comprehensive kind of training, to be shepherded every step of the way by an experienced and sensitive counselor.

Some may think I’m naive, but stop and think about it: Just how different is his situation from the very dogs who suffered abuse as a result of his actions? If some of the dogs can be re-trained by using positive methods, surely a human being is also capable of responding well to positive methods.
Michael Vick

Here is the body of a letter I sent to Judge Hudson in September (no response yet…and I suppose there probably won’t be one, although here in the blogosphere things might be different):

Note: The views expressed herein are solely my own.


Like most of us, I’ve been troubled and sickened by the whole Michael Vick brouhaha. But rather than focus only on the negative aspects, it occurs to me there’s a “third side” when it comes time for sentencing, one of a healing approach: Recast his life from arrogant sports superstar to sensitive humane educator, an ambassador on behalf of the very animals he and his co-defendants previously harmed.

Jail time and fines alone aren’t sufficient. That Vick permitted dogfighting and cruelty to take place on his property, regardless of the degree of his direct personal involvement, is crime enough to hold him fully responsible for his irresponsible behavior.

But… it’s still not too late in his life for him to learn empathy. “Third siders” seek “to transform conflict from destructive fighting into constructive change.” With proper guidance from a skilled counselor, Vick could yet turn from the callousness he grew up around to become a person who demonstrates responsibility in the sense of maturity.

While many people in the animal care world would love nothing more than for him to be barred forever from both a football future and from being near animals in any way whatsoever, that is a short-sighted approach. If we are ever to become a truly humane society, we must take steps to educate people at all stages of their lives about kindness to all living beings. The presumed excitement surrounding blood sports and violence – whether toward humankind or toward animals – just doesn’t cut it. It is our culture that needs reforming, in addition to particular individuals. In the words of Immanuel Kant, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

While I don’t feel much sympathy, if any, for what Vick did himself and/or allowed to happen, an eye for an eye doesn’t always serve justice well. Along with an appropriate stern punishment he so clearly does deserve, why not give him – in addition – a chance to begin transforming his life, while he is in prison, into one of integrity with a positive, life-affirming perspective?

Note that people who exhibit cruel behavior toward animals can be treated. The California Penal Code Section 597, for one, provides for mandatory counseling and treatment of people convicted of hurting animals, and is in addition to – not instead of – incarceration and fines.Successful correctional education addresses the whole person, complete with his or her human needs, emotions and attitudes. And for someone whom the media portray to be motivated by toughness, “winning,” greed and manipulation, the needs clearly are many.

The link between cruelty toward animals, especially intentional abuse, and violence toward humans is well-documented. According to some studies, as many as three-quarters of inmates convicted of violent crimes had an early history of cruelty toward animals. Family violence, including child abuse, is frequently preceded by physical abuse of animals.

Several correctional facilities also work with animal shelters and rescue groups both to help inmates reform and to prepare dogs for careers as service animals or companion animals to be placed in permanent loving homes. If hardened criminals convicted of rape and murder can overcome some of their failings, then why not Michael Vick? It appears that his upbringing failed to give him an inclusive sense of empathy toward animals. But a skilled counselor or supervisor could model closely the empathy Vick never internalized as a youngster and work with him to develop sensitivity to an animal’s experience of pain vs. comfort. Through introspection about his life ethic and religious values, it is conceivable he could change.

In time, perhaps, he could even become an ambassador for humane education with a new mission – showing respect for all life. He would need long-term therapy and a thorough grounding in humane principles to make up for gaps in his cultural upbringing. His time in jail even could be spent beginning to prepare for a new career, in humane education. Several prominent national organizations already offer distance learning courses, certificate study programs, and other resources Vick could tap into. Among these are The Humane Society of the United States through its “First Strike” program and its educational affiliate, Humane Society University; the American Humane Association; the Institute for Humane Education; the Latham Foundation for the Promotion of Humane Education; the National Humane Education Society; and the Association of Professional Humane Educators.

As disgusted as most of us are at Vick’s culpability in this ugly business, it’s nevertheless a significant opportunity for rehab. I vote for tempering justice with mercy. While I believe he should have no more future in football, this reprehensible episode still could provide an incentive for him to reform. Such an undertaking could give him a chance to put into practice what he absorbs from study, online or otherwise. And in atoning for his sordid past, he, society and the animal world all would benefit.

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See accompanying list of selected resources

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Disclosure:  I’ve recently become a staff member at the Montgomery County Humane Society.  My responsibilities include, among others, humane education, and I’ve written about empathy for an upcoming issue of the MCHS quarterly magazine, Animail.  The views expressed above are strictly my own and do not necessarily represent a position of MCHS.

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Humane education resources & training

October 31, 2007

Training in Humane Education

American Humane Association
The Link between animal abuse and child abuse

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
The Evolution of Humane Education
Julie Bank and Stephen Zawistowski, Ph.D.
Julie Bank is the director of ASPCA Humane Education. Stephen Zawistowski, Ph.D., is senior vice president of ASPCA Animal Sciences and science advisor.

Association of Professional Humane Educators

Institute for Humane Education – Zoe Weil

Latham Foundation for the Promotion of Humane Education

National Humane Education Society
List of films incl. One Last Fight: Exposing the Shame
Produced by Erik Friedl and the Chicago Anti-Cruelty Society

The Humane Society of the United States
Humane Society University
Courses and workshops in humane education

Other resources

Game Dogs (Fighting Dogs)
Julie Bank and Stephen Zawistowski, Ph.D.
Julie Bank is the director of ASPCA Humane Education. Stephen Zawistowski, Ph.D., is senior vice president of ASPCA Animal Sciences and science advisor.
ASPCA Animal Watch – Fall 1997

Humanizing Prisons with Animals: A Closer Look at “Cell Dogs” and Horse Programs in Correctional Institutions
Journal of Correctional Education, Mar 2005 by Deaton, Christiane

First Strike Animal Cruelty/Human Violence (pdf file)
First Strike/Client Communication (pdf file)
Is there any evidence of a connection between animal cruelty and human violence? Absolutely. During the last 25 years, many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has recognized the connection since the 1970s, when bureau analysis of the lives of serial killers suggested that most had killed or tortured animals as children. Other research has shown consistent patterns of animal cruelty among perpetrators of more common forms of violence, including child abuse, spouse abuse, and elder abuse.

Bibliography of the Link Between Animal Abuse, Child Abuse and Domestic Violence
Compiled by Phil Arkow Rev. 8/15/07
Chair, Animal Abuse & Family Violence Prevention Project, The Latham Foundation
& Interim Director — Human Animal Bond, American Humane Association
(856) 627-5118 – arkowpets@snip.net

Prison Pet Partnerships (HCAB) Prison Occupational training
Describes a program at Washington’s Purdy Women’s Prison in which dogs from humane societies are obedience trained, and placed in loving homes. Both inmates and program administrators candidly describe the benefits of the program of this Human Companion Animal Bond related program. (8th Grade through Adult; corrections, social studies) AVAILABLE IN VHS (ntsc/pal) OR DVD (ntsc)

California Law on treatment for people who hurt animals
California Penal code section 597, also known as the O’Connel bill provides for mandatory treatment of people convicted of hurting animals. This is in addition to and may not replace incarceration and fines.

And:

Just one among several titles on the nature of humankind’s relationships with the animal kingdom, ethics and stewardship:
The Animals Lawsuit Against Humanity
“A Muslim work translated by a rabbi for a 14th century Christian king”
“A true interfaith title” for middle-schoolers right on through adult readers

Histories of the humane movement

For the Prevention of Cruelty, by Diane L. Beers (Swallow Press, 2006)

Protecting All Animals: A Fifty-Year History of The Humane Society of the United States, by Bernard Unti (Humane Society Press, 2004)

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Woefully far behind

September 26, 2007

Barely time for a quickie update — I just started working on staff at the Montgomery County Humane Society, where I’ve been volunteering since January!  We are still figuring out what my title will be, but “Heinz 57″ should cover it for the time being — special events, membership, development, magazine writing, humane education, and so on.  Our 10th Annual Dances With Dogs Benefit Dinner and Auction is coming up very soon, on Nov. 2, so most of my time is directed to that event and not much else, including blog maintenance.

Sierra Club update:  Held our first True Cost of Food gathering last night in Takoma Park, with a baker’s dozen attendees.  Will probably arrange a pick-your-own visit to one of the farms in the Montgomery County Agricultural Preserve for late October or early November.  And for the Environmental Career Program next year, it looks like we are going to partner with the Montgomery County Public School System to add an extra field trip for high school students, in addition to the exhibits and networking we’ve organized to date.

To be continued…

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Long live Underdog!

August 7, 2007

underdog.jpg

It’s Underdog to the rescue, literally! The rescuedbeagles listserv has called our attention to this wonderful report on the BuddyHollywood.com website — “Walt Disney Pictures’ new film Underdog saves the day – literally – for lucky rescues.” Never mind that the beag in the pic appears to be red and white, not lemon as the article’s writer says. It’s just so gratifying that the film’s producers went to such lengths recruiting animal stars from shelters and then working so closely with the American Humane Association during filming.

And bravo-bones to the rescues that are tabling at theaters where Underdog is playing. What a great synergy for humane education and helping prospective adoptive families and individuals learn what it’s really like living with a beagle. It’s soooooo important to understand what these hounds can and can’t do and what their humans need to be prepared for.

Now I really can’t wait to see this flick! Arooooooo!

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A message to Melvin Thompson, Restaurant Association of Maryland

August 1, 2007

Menu Bill Would Order Nutritional Information
by Mariana Minaya, Washington Post, 8/1/07

restaurant-menu.jpgDear Mr. Thompson,

You’re quoted as follows: “The more space we have to devote to nutritional information, the less space we have to describe the ingredients — the kind of information that helps customers choose what they want to eat.”

Earth to Thompson! Earth to Thompson! The ingredients aren’t the only kind of information that helps us!!! There are a large number of customers at American restaurants who have heart conditions, diabetes, metabolic syndrome or other health concerns that govern what we can or can’t eat, in terms of calories, sodium and/or cholesterol. It’s critical to our health to know what we’re getting.

Ruby Tuesday’s menu used to provide this for all items. That used to be a chain I could love.  But sadly, they switched back to cheese, cheese and more cheese — and no more nutritional info because they knew they’d look bad with all the cheese on everything.

I, for one, am absolutely delighted Montgomery Council Member George Leventhal has introduced this proposal, requiring chain restaurants to publish or post basic nutritional information. I’ve got news for you, Mr. Thompson — it really doesn’t take up much space on the menu. Ask your graphic designers. It’s easy to tweak font size. If you don’t want to reprint the entire menu at additional cost, why not prepare a simple one-page, loose insert?

This isn’t rocket science. By taking a few very simple initiatives you’ll make the dining experience that much more enjoyable for those of us who really do care what we eat. And remember, a happy customer will come back. A dissatisfied customer will tell upwards of seven or more friends.

Now which kind of customer were you saying you and your members want?

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