Last week Julie met Dr. Bernard Unti, Senior Policy Adviser and Special Assistant to the CEO and President, for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) at some Human/Wildlife Conflict meetings in DC hosted by Defenders of Wildlife. Bernie started off the meeting by telling a story about his visit the day before to a Philadelphia school with Michael Vick. Acting as Snow’s agent Julie seized the opportunity to arrange an interview between Bernie and Snow. The transcript of that interview follows below. Thank you to Bernie for taking the time to talk to Miss Snow about this important issue!
Snow: Dr. Unti…
Bernie: Snow please call me Bernie.
Snow: Thanks Bernie, as you know many in the Pit Rescue and Advocacy world are skeptical about The HSUS working with Michael Vick. Can you tell us a little about your rationale for this program?
Bernie: I’d be happy to, Snowy. If it was just a case of an individual doing something isolated, committing terrible acts of cruelty and violence on his own, it might be right to say “Let’s punish him forever, let’s close out any prospect for him to make a return to football and make a living. He should suffer every possible social penalty in addition to the legal punishment.”
But as you well know Snow, animal fighting is an industry, a criminal network, and an activity pursued by tens of thousands of people across the country. And there’s a big upsurge of dogfighting in our urban communities. If we are to defeat it, to eliminate it, we must be open to mobilizing even the convicted offenders who are ready to speak out against it . Vick is in a distinctive position as the most publicly known person in modern history to be convicted for such heinous acts. Already he’s paid a heavy price for his criminal conduct. And he’s willing to make amends by speaking out. If he prevents some young people from getting into dog fighting that’s a 100% gain for Pit Bulls.
Snow: OK Bernie – what do you say to Pit Bulls and their humans who think Vick wasn’t punished enough and that he should never be forgiven?
Bernie: Well, it’s true that for all who love Pits, there is not enough social value assigned to non-human animals who are hurt or killed in these circumstances. The laws don’t impose a harsh enough penalty in the eyes of those folks. But the penalty for involvement in dog fighting is severe relative to many other acts of cruelty and Michael Vick has served the time meted out by the court. I don’t think it’s necessary to forgive him or to forget what he did, just to be open to what he can now do to make amends .
Snow: Yes Bernie – I can appreciate making an opportunity out of tragedy – it’s been the story of my life actually – but is Vick sincere?
Bernie: Well Snow he’s spoken to several audiences already, at a school and at our End Dog Fighting intervention programs in Atlanta and Chicago. I think time will show that he’s truly sorry for what he did to the individual animals, for all he did to harm Pit Bulls in general, and that he wants to play a part in stopping the violence.
Snow: Yes but what will you and HSUS do to make sure Vick delivers on his promise of speaking out against these atrocities?
Bernie: There’s a lot of pressure on him to do so. The NFL made his reinstatement conditional on a program of speaking out. The Eagles ownership has said there will be no on field time if there’s no action off the field. The HSUS is going to assist with the identification of suitable speaking opportunities for him.
Look, we were his toughest critics. We helped to secure the laws under which he was prosecuted. We argued to get him dropped by his team, the NFL, and his sponsors. And now we’re arguing that he has something more to give to this situation…that he can be an instrument of good, and do something to make it right to and for Pit Bulls. The burden’s on him, and if he falls short, we’ll be out there with everyone else pointing that out. Based on what I’ve observed I think he’s evolving as a person, and I believe he will deliver.
Snow: Bernie I’m happy to know someone as compassionate and smart as you are is involved with the Michael Vick situation. I hope he does continue to grow as a human (and humane) being who comes to terms with the terrible things he did, feels sorry about the harm and the deaths he’s caused, and dedicates himself to ending dogfighting altogether. And thank you for having the courage to be interviewed by a Pit Bull! Did we make HSUS history today?
Final thoughts from Snow: I’m trying to keep an open mind about this. If you’re a Pit, you’ve probably had your share of troubles and disappointments with the human race. But in the end, we are in it together, Pits and human beings, and we have to have some faith in one another, to turn tragedy into opportunity and then to bloom where you are planted. That’s what I’ve been trying to do each and every day since Donna saved my life and Julie took me home sweet home…If an ex fighter from the Memphis Ghetto like me can become a Pitty Ambassadress in Nashville than maybe Michael Vick can help make the world a better place too…
If any readers of my Blog would like to learn more about HSUS’s anti- dogfighting work please visit http://www.hsus.org/acf/.