Michael Vick Discusses Anti Animal Fighting Bill

Robert Siegel speaks with Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles and Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, about a bill that will crack down on criminals who finance — and bring children to — dogfights and cockfights.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Washington today, an interesting team voiced its support for a bill in the House of Representatives. The bill is HR 2492. It cracks down on cockfights and dogfights.

There already is a federal Animal Welfare Act, which makes it illegal to knowingly sponsor or exhibit an animal in an animal-fighting venue. The new bill criminalizes attending or causing a minor to attend an animal fight.

The interesting team I spoke of consists of Wayne Pacelle, who is president of the Humane Society of the United States; and Michael Vick, the star quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles who served a federal prison term for organizing dogfights at his Virginia home.

And after holding a Washington news conference and calling on some members of Congress on Capitol Hill to support the tougher bill, Wayne Pacelle and Michael Vick came to our studio. And welcome to both of you.

NORRIS: Thank you.

NORRIS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And first, Wayne Pacelle, the bill that you're advocating significantly mentions minors among spectators at animal fights. How big a problem is dogfighting among young people?

NORRIS: Well, it's a broad problem in society. It's mainly adults who are involved in the enterprise, but some of them bring children to the fights, which I think just compounds the injury.

I mean, it's bad enough that the animals suffer, but then to expose children to this, and to numb their sensibilities, can't be a good thing. So that's why we're actively supporting HR 2492.

SIEGEL: Michael Vick, I've read that you got involved with this when you were 8 years old, dogfighting.

NORRIS: Yes, I was fairly young.

SIEGEL: When you were 8, were you old enough to know that this was - that it was illegal, that there were people who said you shouldn't do this?

NORRIS: Well, nobody ever told me that it was illegal, it was the wrong thing to do. I figured it wasn't right because it just didn't feel right but at the same time, everybody was involved. So I was just kind of playing a follow-the- leader game and following the older guys.

SIEGEL: You were following guys?

NORRIS: Yes.

SIEGEL: I'd like to ask both of you about this partnership of yours. Wayne Pacelle, you visited Michael Vick when he was in prison, where he - I guess he pitched you the idea of assisting the Humane Society's community-based programs that reach inner-city youth. You've talked about this before, on this program and elsewhere. You were skeptical at first.

NORRIS: Well, of course, you know, I was. Michael, of course, was involved in some stuff that the Humane Society detests. Our constituency was very, very angered by what went on. So many people told me not to do it. They said it was just too radioactive.

But I really felt that this was one of the ways that we were going to reach these young kids in urban communities, where dogfighting has been growing.

And we're a movement of sinners, frankly. There are so many people who have done the wrong thing with animals, and we want to get people moving in the right direction. I thought turning my back on that was the wrong thing.

SIEGEL: Michael Vick, what was your idea here when you were in prison? Why did you want to see Mr. Pacelle?

NORRIS: First, I just thought about the things that I could do to enlighten kids, and not have them end up in the situation that I ended up in. First and foremost was to come out and try to be the best ambassador in my community that I can be.

And I know what takes place in my hometown and where I grew up, and just started thinking about ways to try to be a difference-maker, be an instrument of change.

And I thought about things that I've done, and if I would've had the proper guidance and used it correctly, if I would have ever ended up in the situation that I was in. So I was thankful that Wayne took the meeting. It wasn't an easy meeting. You know, I think he understood that, you know, I wanted to be a part of the movement and helping in eradicating dogfighting as a whole.

SIEGEL: This was a meeting, as you say, in federal prison, when you were an inmate doing, I guess what turned out to be 19 months. You were there for organizing dogfights. You'd kill dogs that didn't perform well. In your - there's a moment when, according to Wayne Pacelle's book, you tell him look, I love dogs.

NORRIS: Yeah.

SIEGEL: And it seems a strange - a difference of what it means to love dogs.

NORRIS: That's absolutely correct, which is why I'm still confused now as to why my involvement was so detailed. But you know, it's all hindsight, and I can't do anything about it but be part of the solution and not the problem.

SIEGEL: But by loving dogs, you meant I love to be with dogs. I love the strongest, toughest, greatest gladiator among dogs. I love to watch dogs go and do combat with each other and be brave. It's a different kind of loving dogs.

NORRIS: Yes, it's a different kind of love. And you know, I've always cherished and loved animals and loved dogs. And my mom always allowed me to keep one in the house, and we always had a family pet. And to go down the path that I went down was really disheartening for my entire family because they knew the passion.

So you know, like I said, it's something that I have to live with and the demons and, you know, just trying to move forward from it.

NORRIS: You know, just going back to this issue of Michael telling me in - you know, when we first met that he loved animals, obviously people who are involved in dogfighting, cockfighting, they really do value the animals in certain ways.

I mean, they value the musculature, the toughness, the gameness of the animals. But as Michael and I have discussed, I mean, it's not complete. The empathy is missing. You've got to remember that these animals feel and they think and they suffer, and that to cause them pain and misery just for our amusement is deeply wrong.

SIEGEL: Michael Vick, you have achieved one of the greatest comebacks of all time. I don't just mean in football. I mean, it's hard to imagine other people who've done what you did. And I wonder what you say to a listener who questions your sincerity, who says: Michael Vick has to talk about this; he has to claim to have a change of heart in order to escape bankruptcy, to get back into football after people, you know, thought he was too old to get back into the game, to get endorsements once again. There's something in it for you. What do you say?

NORRIS: Well, I would have to say - and Wayne and I have talked about this before - I didn't have to do this, or I could have done it for a year. And every time Wayne calls me, or if there's something that I can do to help, I'm always there. And...

SIEGEL: You're saying not just in Congress but you've gone to schools, you've spoken to school groups.

NORRIS: I've spoken at numerous places, and we have no contract. It is based on how we both feel and what I feel is right because my thing is, I don't want this to go on. I don't want animals to continue to be hurt. I don't want kids to end up in prison behind pointless activity.

SIEGEL: Do you look forward to a day when people will say, once again: That's Michael Vick, the - you know - the great quarterback, first for the Falcons but then for the Eagles, as opposed to: That's Michael Vick, who did 19 months in federal prison for dogfighting?

NORRIS: Yes, hopefully one day they will say: That's Michael Vick, the great man, and the guy who believed in himself and turned his life around.

SIEGEL: Wayne Pacelle, the Congress right now, you know, has this deficit to deal with. They still have to have some reconciliation of what they're doing about financial institution regulations, and the Republicans want to change health care. Are they going to be able to find any time or energy to amend the laws on animal fighting?

NORRIS: Well, the Congress always has some urgent national circumstance to deal with. And it has many committees that are continuing to do work on many, many policy issues.

We're not saying that this rises to the level of the debt-ceiling question or health care, but we're saying it's important nonetheless, and animal cruelty is a significant matter for our country.

SIEGEL: Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States and author of "The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them"; and Michael Vick, of the Philadelphia Eagles. Thanks to both of you.

NORRIS: Thank you.

NORRIS: Thank you.

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