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Michael Vick paid his debt, but should NFL let him play?

Legally, there seems no question the disgraced quarterback's reinstatement is justified. Morally, many animal lovers will have misgivings.

July 28, 2009|Diane Pucin

KANAB, UTAH — Your head says Michael Vick has served his time, has suffered some punishment for his horrific involvement in a dogfighting ring and that people who have committed more serious crimes are allowed to leave prison and go back to work.

Your heart, though, remembers a May day in a large and airy kennel here at Best Friends Animal Society, and Georgia, one of the unlucky members of Vick's Bad Newz Kennels, where she was taught to fight and then, because she was so good at that, had all her teeth pulled -- by a veterinarian. That way she could serve her time as a breeding bitch, whether she wanted to or not.

Your head says from a legal standpoint it is wrong to keep Vick from playing football this season for an NFL team if a team wants him. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Monday that Vick is immediately eligible to practice with an NFL team and can play in the final two exhibition games, with the idea that he may be fully eligible to play in the NFL by mid-October. Otherwise, your head says, what's the point of thinking our justice system works?

Your heart, though, remembers listening to John Garcia, Georgia's main trainer at Best Friends, talk about the worst parts of life for Georgia and her Bad Newz Kennel mates. About how some of the dogs were swung around by the neck and killed for not fighting or not fighting well enough. About how they were beaten and forcibly bred on something called the "rape stand."

Think about that.

Your head says, these are animals after all, not humans, and pro athletes and others in our society have killed humans -- by accident or with malice -- were imprisoned for their crime, served sentences and came back to society.

My heart, though, is at home with a dog named Dillon, who has cancer, who is undergoing experimental chemotherapy and whose spirit and happiness and daily anticipation of the good things in life put a lot of humans to shame, even as he suddenly loses a little hair around the ears.

That's what the sweet pit bull named Georgia teaches people who come to see her.

Georgia, with her toothless grin and her wiggly butt and her desire to kiss anyone and everyone, has become a goodwill ambassador. She puts on a bejeweled pink collar, is hooked on to her pink leash, and Garcia takes her around the country to show how even the fiercest fighting dog can be taught something else.

All Georgia wants is to please people. When her people wanted her to fight, she did. Now when her people want her to make kids giggle and to have adults marvel at her capacity to enjoy life, she does.

Outspoken Buffalo Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens has the right to his opinion given to reporters in Buffalo over the weekend.

"I think the way the commissioner is handling it is unfair to Michael Vick," Owens said. "I think he's done the time for what he's done. I don't think it's really fair for him to be suspended four more games. It's almost like kicking a dead horse in the ground."

Did anyone else's stomach turn at that phrase?

At Best Friends, Garcia sat on the ground in Georgia's kennel and spoke eloquently about Vick's dogs.

"How they were treated," Garcia said, "humans shouldn't be capable of that."

Garcia said his head told him Vick should one day be able to have a job.

"But is it his right to make millions of dollars?" Garcia asked. "I guess it is."

While he spoke, Georgia had run to the far end of her kennel, under a shady tree. She shook her head as if to signal John and a visitor that they should come to the cool place. So we did and she settled down for some petting time.

Should Vick play in the NFL again?

This heart says no, which makes it much less forgiving than Georgia's. She most certainly would give Vick a second chance. She's given all of us humans one. In that way, I guess, she's better than many of us.

--

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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