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Volume 15, Issue 32 ~ August 9 - August 15, 2007

Our Inhumane Society

Cruelty to animals isn’t such a long step from cruelty to fellow humans

We are cruel enough without meaning to be.

–John Updike: Rabbit Is Rich, 1981

Cruelty among humankind is the utmost of appalling traits according to this old man’s way of thinking. One can rob, cheat, lie, swindle, worship idols, dishonor parents, commit adultery, give false testimony or covet another’s property or spouse, even kill in a moment of passion. But intentionally to be cruel, well, that beats all.

Methinks there are no circumstances whatsoever that justify deliberate cruelty on another living creature, man or beast. If a fly is in the soup, don’t pull off its wings and watch it suffer an agonizing end to satisfy your displeasure. Remove it, squash it and order another bowl of soup.

As Updike said, we are cruel enough without meaning to be. When we intend to be, there is no place for us in our society. Intended cruelty is evidence of the most vile of all characteristics within humans. Criminologists tell us that cruelty to animals isn’t such a long step from cruelty to fellow humans. It’s a warning sign of what could lie ahead.

A Crueler World?

Possibly I’m wrong, but it appears in recent years there has been an increase in statistics involving cruelty in Maryland: blatant acts such as relatives who lock the aged, youngsters and physically or mentally impaired in cellars, closets and rooms; a man torching his wife; a car-jacking in which the victim was intentionally run over after his vehicle was taken.

Cases involving cruelty to animals also seem to be on the rise: the Harford County lawyer, angered by his wife’s divorce suit, who shoved her kitten into a microwave, then turned it on; a health officer who let his sick and weakened horses starve; two men in Salisbury who bungled the shooting of a cat that dared leave footprints on their freshly washed car.

Among the worst of all — as reported to me by railroader Francis Connor, who worked near Penn Station in Baltimore — was teenagers setting their pit bull on stray cats in an alley. To reach the depths of depravity, a mother with her child followed along, laughingly cheering the dogs on. Where will that kid end up?

A couple of weeks ago, one of the biggest of all incidents concerning cruelty to animals broke in Georgia, where Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was charged with training dogs to fight in the ring — and killing those not sufficiently fierce.

Buried canine carcasses were found all around the rural land owned and frequented by Vick and his associates, and there is evidence of a dog fight ring. One of those charged has turned state’s evidence. Falcons’ management has told Vick not to suit up for the team this year. Already he has lost endorsements running into the millions.

A quarterback is supposed to be the brains of a team. If Vick is implicated to any degree in the dog fighting ring, one would wonder if he had any brains at all. Dog fighting is disgusting, on a level with cock fighting and bull fighting, and those who are involved in it are equally reprehensible, the dregs of society.

Death in the Ring

I’ve never attended a dog fight in a ring, but I’ve seen more than a few impromptu scraps in my lifetime, and some were bad. But to deliberately force dogs to fight sometimes to the death is indeed sick; no other way of putting it.

When I first joined the Sun back in the 1950s, cock fights were not uncommon in Baltimore County. A fellow sportswriter told me of the fights and those who attended, among them prominent businessmen and politicians. I couldn’t believe it. So I asked to attend one with him to tie it in with a planned series on a budding controversy about bringing bull fights to Anne Arundel County. (The plan was nipped in the bud.)

Sure enough, there were well known spectators shuffling betting money around with others who they wouldn’t nod to on the streets, a do-it-yourself pari-mutual, you might say. Then the roosters were put in the ring. I won’t describe the brutal fight in respect for readers’ stomachs, and I found it hard to keep my stomach in place. I planned to leave soon as the first bout was over — but that wasn’t soon enough.

The big shed on a rural farm was busted by police. Being young at the time, I was able to scamper through a window and into nearby woods. Before I knew it, I was among others fleeing as police tried to round us up. I didn’t know where I was. I spent that moonless night in the woods until early morning light, when I reached a back road and hitched a ride to a telephone.

I hadn’t driven there, so I wasn’t among those who got summons when police ran vehicle checks.

That was enough blood fighting for me. I can only visualize what a pit bull fight could be like. Even worse.

In my younger days I read Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, which glorified matadors and the bulls. I had to see one, and in Mexico City I did, a sight of utmost depravity. There was no courage in the stadium other than possibly in the bloodied bulls who fought to the end. Their only compensation: If they fought a good fight they would be retired to a farm — if they lived.

I quickly lost any interest in Hemingway (with whom I have fished) and never read another word he wrote. I’ll not return to Mexico until it bans bull fights. No more fishing tournaments for me at Matzalan, Acapulco or Cancun, great as the billfishing is.

Vick’s Dead Career

With regards to quarterback Vick, a jury will decide his fate. Regardless of the verdict, chances are slight that he will regain any of his stature in the world of sports. Can you imagine the protesters at stadiums where he is scheduled to play, if he ever does, in the NFL? The stigma won’t go away.

The Vick incident has brought cruelty to animals to the forefront in the U.S. and beyond. The citizenry is awakened to the curse of treating animals as disposable commodities. Judges may get the message and respond with stiffer sentences, which presently are lenient. It’s better all around if judicial and public compassion targets the victim of cruelty rather then the one who inflicts it.

Enough said.

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