On September 18, 2007, I spent eight hours with Michael Vick at PETA headquarters. He was there to participate in PETA’s “Developing Empathy for Animals” course as part of an education process that PETA hoped would ultimately lead Michael to speak out publicly against dogfighting.
In one segment of the course, Michael watched a police training video about the link between violence against animals and violence against humans. It contains graphic footage shot at a dogfight. I watched Michael grimace while watching this footage, in the way that any normal person would. At another point, the video shows a young person hanging a live cat from the ceiling and stabbing the animal to death with a knife. At this point, Michael closed his eyes and turned his head from the screen, seemingly disturbed by what he saw.
Michael also watched a slide-show of photos taken of neglected dogs. He was asked to describe what each animal must have felt in their situation. He aced this part of the course, pointing out that starving dogs living in garbage with heavy, rusty chains around their necks must be “lonely,” “sad,” and “terrified,” and pointed to such indicators as the dogs’ tails curled between their legs and their heads bowed in submission. You can see Michael’s hand-written responses to the empathy test questions here.
I came away from that meeting encouraged. Even though I felt uncomfortable to be in the same room with a man who had tortured and killed so many animals, Michael seemed like an intelligent and thoughtful person who had made horrible decisions in his life but who regretted the consequences, both for himself and others, and who was genuinely trying to change.
However, despite pledging to become an “ally” in the fight against dogfighting, Michael and his camp have done little more than mouth assurances that he’s learned his lesson. Since this meeting, they have only surfaced when Michael has been scheduled for court appearances—until now, when he is asking to get his old job back.
And there is more. Despite the hopes I had for Michael during our meeting, we now know that not only did he lie to the NFL in direct questioning about his activity, he also lied in his lie detector tests after his arrest—something that the recently released USDA report revealed for the first time. We need to know if Michael’s post-arrest contrition was part of a flawed human being’s genuine growth and development or just part of the machinations of a man with a clinically diagnosable anti-social personality disorder.
Until Michael agrees to submit to a brain scan and psychological evaluation, we have no way of knowing. And until then, PETA will refuse to be a part of a public service announcement that may simply be a public relations ploy from a convicted felon trying to manipulate his way back into the NFL. We hope that the NFL will take the same approach.
Written by Dan Shannon