On Sunday, August 24th at 10pm, Animal Planet will air Animal Witness: The Michael Vick case, a one hour, in-depth look at the Michael Vick dogfighting case (see teaser above). Animal Planet felt that Animal Inventory readers would be particularly interested in this show, so they sent me a screener copy and requested that I review it.
I’m thrilled that Animal Planet decided to do a comprehensive show about this case. It seems to have grabbed the attention of the general public in a way that few animal cases do. It is rare that animal issues become a nation-wide concern, so this particular case became an opportunity — not just to save the 50 odd dogs in Vick’s care, and not just to prevent this dogfighting ring from acquiring more dogs. This was an opportunity to educate our entire country — a nation captivated — about the prevalence and violence of dogfighting.
Animal Witness: The Michael Vick Case is a compelling, sensitive and brutal look at the lives that fighting dogs lead. The show pulls very few punches in depicting the extraordinarily graphic and upsetting nature of the ‘sport.’ (For this reason, the show has multiple disclaimers that content may not be suitable for children.) For context, the show gives a brief history of the pit bull in America, a wonderful reminder that, not too long ago, pit bulls were considered an all-American kind of dog. (They include footage of vintage TV shows to prove their point — Petey from The Little Rascals was a pit bull.) Now, pit bulls are often considered the most dangerous dogs in America, and pit bull bans are in effect in multiple cities around the U.S.
The show could almost be divided into two halves, with each half hour depicting the most astonishing aspects of this case. The first half of the show highlights the violence and horror of this barbaric ‘sport’ that Michael Vick participated in. The second half of the show highlights the ability of these abused, neglected, tortured dogs to forgive humans, and be rehabilitated as loving, joyful members of various households across the U.S. Animal Planet excels at telling rags-to-riches stories in which animals who come from hardship beat the odds and end up happier than anyone could have hoped, and this show is no exception. The fortitude of these dogs (and the commitment of those who rescue them) is nothing short of astounding.
Animal Planet has a lot of ground to cover in one short hour, and they do a great job of telling this story. The show is not perfect, and there are some noticeable parts of the tale that are left unspoken. There may be cultural reasons why people who are otherwise law-abiding citizens believe it is okay to torture and kill these dogs for sport, an important consideration when educating the public, and one which this show doesn’t really address. Aside from the many gruesome images in this show, one thing that haunted me was a shot of an activist holding a sign that read “Castrate Michael Vick.” This could not help but bring to mind America’s long and terrible history of lynchings and political violence against the African-American community, and the image highlighted the absence of a discussion of race. The mutually informing elements of racism and American anti-pit bull sentiment would have lent a more dynamic and deeper understanding of this particular case, why the media took such an interest, and how the well-being of people and animals are inextricably linked.
That being said, this show does a remarkable job of summarizing the events that led to Michael Vick’s arrest, the realities of dogfighting, and the unexpected rehabilitation of the dogs. One of the things that is wonderful about this show is that it now becomes a part of the dialogue about the case, an integrated element of America’s history with dogfighting and a great stride towards eliminating this ‘sport’ from our communities.
I highly recommend that you watch this show. It is an education. It is a vindication of justice. Quite simply, it is an essential contribution to the fight on behalf of fighting dogs.
For more information about Animal Witness: The Michael Vick Case, visit the show’s website or participate in the show’s chat forum.
For additional reviews and discussion of this show, visit:
For an informative representation of dogfighting and the culture surrounding it, I recommend the fictional film Amores Perros by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Photo: Michael Vick and a pit bull. Courtesy of Animal Planet.