Friday, January 2, 2009

Will We Ever Get Serious About Animal Cruelty?

Few things get our Legal Schnauzer team riled up quite like stories about animal abuse.

Unfortunately, such stories are all too common, even in the post-Michael Vick era.

Two stories came to our attention in recent days. One has a heart-warming quality to it; the other definitely does not. Both serve as reminders that we still have a long way to go when it comes to protecting "the least of these" among us.

The first story involves an Alabama "man" named Ralph Allen Fisk IV. It seems the 24-year-old Mr. Fisk got angry at a kitten belonging to his common-law wife after the small creature scratched him. So Fisk cut all four of the kitten's pads off to the bone and then burned its belly and genitalia.

The kitten, named Gizmo, was found alive in a closet while Fisk slept, but it died shortly afterward.

Fisk was convicted of animal torture in August and was sentenced to 18 months in state prison. The sentence was revised recently so that Fisk will be able to forgo prison and spend 18 months reporting to Mobile's Community Corrections Center.

No word on what "reporting" to the corrections center entails. Probably means Fisk will stick his head in the door, wave hello, and leave.

Thomas Harrison, Fisk's lawyer, argued that his client has an acute anger problem. Gee, you think so?

Harrison went on to argue that Fisk was blinded by his condition and proceeded to inflict harm that he did not intend. Believe it or not, Mobile County Circuit Judge James Wood bought that "argument."

If you would like to contact Judge Wood and let him know what you think of his ruling, you can do it via e-mail at or via phone at (251) 574-8474.

If you would like to let "Counselor" Harrison know what you think of his legal theories, you can do it via e-mail at or via phone at (251) 433-1819.

The second story involves Michael Vick himself--and it has a happier ending.

The cover story of the December 29, 2008, issue of Sports Illustrated is titled "What Happened to Michael Vick's Dogs?" It spotlights the efforts of a few special folks to save some of the abused pit pulls that were recovered from Vick's dog-fighting ring.

A surprising number of the dogs have been saved. The story is both encouraging and informative. And it brings attention to the different philosophies of various animal-welfare groups.

Both PETA and The Humane Society of the U.S., for example, take the position that dogs saved from fight rings are beyond rehabilitation and that trying to save them is a misappropriation of time and money. ASPCA and a group called BAD RAP disagreed and led the effort to save the Vick dogs.

The SI article is filled with valuable information. A few examples:

* Studies have shown that dogs--in fact, all mammals--suffer just from being around abuse. The sounds of fights and executions at the Vick facility undoubtedly affected dogs that were not directly mistreated. "The trauma isn't limited to the animal that is experiencing the pain," one expert said.

* Pit bulls are among the most people-friendly dogs on the planet. Ironically, that's partly because of their use as fighters. Organized dogfights usually involve three or four people in the ring who pull the dogs apart to rest before resuming combat. The handlers have to be sure the dogs will not turn on them, so over the years, dogfighters have either killed or not bred dogs that show signs of aggression toward humans. "Of all dogs," one expert says, "pit bulls possess the single greatest ability to bond with people."

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