In August 2007, NFL quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting charges. The 18-page indictment gave gruesome details of the operation, which shocked the nation.
On September 7, 2007, Vick made an arranged visit to PETA's headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, for a private meeting with PETA president Ingrid Newkirk. Newkirk told Vick that PETA advocates an end to all exploitation and needless violence based on prejudice, including the prejudice against other species, and that PETA believed that arming himself with information and materials would allow Vick to better live up to his responsibility to counsel children not to engage in cruelty to animals. Newkirk also explained that although PETA realizes that it is in his legal interests to take PETA's course in basic animal empathy, our position that he deserves jail time and a lifetime ban on animal contact remains firm. During their meeting, he expressed his willingness to learn and his belief that everything in life happens for a reason, and he offered an apology to PETA and to "everyone" for "what I have done to dogs."
Vick left PETA that day with some initial reading materials for empathy development, including Animals, Nature & Albert Schweitzer, edited by Ann Cottrell Free, which contains a particularly moving passage from the kind doctor:
I must interpret the life about me as I interpret the life that is my own. My life is full of meaning to me. The life around me must be full of significance to itself. If I am to expect others to respect my life, then I must respect the other life I see, however strange it may be to mind. And not only other human life, but all kinds of life: life above mine, if there be such life; life below mine, as I know it to exist. Ethics in our Western world has hitherto been largely limited to the relations of man to man. But that is a limited ethics. We need a boundless ethics which will include the animals also.
On September 18, 2007, Vick returned to PETA to take the "Developing Empathy for Animals" course, a one-day seminar including who animals are, alternatives to cruelty, animal protection philosophy, and humane lesson plans. PETA has now made the course available online, in the hope that it will be adopted by the NFL for all players to take and used as a means to teach children across the nation the values of empathy, compassion, and nonviolence.
Although the Vick story served as the first glimpse for many people into the gory details of dogfighting, the abuses detailed in Vick's indictment are as widespread as they are horrific. In the last year alone, PETA has responded to more than 14,000 calls and e-mails regarding other dogfighting and individual cruelty-to-animals cases. The crucial step now is to urge policymakers and law enforcement officers to treat all cases of dogfighting and cruelty to animals the same way that they prosecuted Vick's high-profile case. To that end, please join PETA and ask the NFL to require all its players, some of whom have been involved in a series of cruelty-to-animals cases, to attend PETA's "Developing Empathy for Animals" course.
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