Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What's the fuss over Dog Fighting?

Clinton Portis can’t figure out why everybody’s up in arms over Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring. The way Portis sees is the dogs belong to Vick, the house belongs to Vick so who cares? When advised that dog fighting is a felony Portis seemed surprised.

The big deal about dog fighting is that it is decidedly cruel. We’re not talking about a tussle between a couple of puppies in the front yard. Dog fighting is a brutal death sport where the losing dog is mortally wounded if not killed. Often the winning dog sustains severe injuries and it is not uncommon for both animals to be left for dead in some abandoned pole barn.

The dogs are bred to be killing machines. When they get loose they attack. A fighting dog running free will savage family pets, children and even full grown adults. These are dogs that have been mistreated to the point of murderous rage. They are raised and trained to be bigger, stronger and faster than normal members of the same breed.

Training methods include treadmills, heavy chains, tires, and regular beatings. Dogs are shocked, burned, and cut in order to deaden nerves and encourage growth of scar tissue. Perhaps the sickest training method is the practice of rendering a passive dog, often a stolen family pet, defenseless and allowing the killer in training to hone its skills. The hell holes where fighting dogs are trained often include the mauled bodies of mild mannered breeds such as retrievers, boxers, German shepherds and huskies, many with their mouths taped shut to ensure the valuable fighting dog wouldn’t fall victim to a lucky desperate chomp.

This is not some misunderstood vocation. These are not happy dogs. Certain breeds enjoy performing the tasks for which they were bred. Border collies love to herd. Anything. Sheep are great because sheep love to be herded but border collies can be seen at any dog park trying in vain to round up the other dogs. They don’t much like to play fetch but they will give chase to establish order. How dare that other dog leave the imaginary corral? It’s not cruel to put a border collie to work at a golf course to run geese off the greens. Border collies must be trained…not to herd but to stop herding on command.

Huskies like to pull. The Iditarod comes under fire from animal rights groups every year because of the risks posed to the dogs. Of the hundreds of dogs who race each year some will get hurt and on occasion one or two might die but great lengths are taken to ensure veterinary care is available along the way. The huskies, however, love every grueling mile. Huskies live to run and pulling a sled makes all of that running worthwhile. Anybody who has owned a husky or a husky mix will tell you that there isn’t much you can do to engage them…they don’t fetch or play catch…but once they have something to pull they don’t want to stop running. Huskies will run themselves to death and die happy. And on the rare occasion a husky doesn’t want to run, nobody will make him. Huskies are stubborn dogs.

Various breeds, including those used in fighting, make excellent guard dogs. These animals require more training because they aren’t inclined to play with strangers. Strangers are a threat to the pack and these dogs are committed to protecting their pack. Even though they can be trained to attack, the idea isn’t to kill but to subdue. Dogs will kill food but when they fight they fight to submission. Generally a guard dog will handle everything with a curled lip and a low growl. Often that’s enough to get the job done.

Retrievers come by their name honestly. They are working dogs too and they love to fetch things. A Retriever will work himself into a frenzied lather on a sweltering day chasing a Frisbee for hours. They’ll swim hundreds of yards to bring that stick back to the person who threw it and literally beg for it to be thrown right back in. Guide dogs, though not generally of a particular breed, enjoy their vocation and while it’s not nearly as fun as chasing a tennis a ball across a soccer field, the pack mindset makes the work enjoyable. They love feeling needed.

And that’s the problem. Dogs aren’t really made for fighting. Dogs are socially oriented. Since dogs are direct descendants from wolves they do indeed possess formidable killing skills and in certain instances they can fight quite well but fighting is reserved for protection. In the wild wolves fight with rival packs for territory and within the pack dynamic they challenge each other for dominance but it is rare for these skirmishes to be deadly. Moreover, domestic dogs have had that instinct suppressed in order to protect man from the politics of the pack. People who raise wolves have experienced the occasional challenge for dominance, an inconvenience traditional dog owners don’t endure thanks to thousands of years of breeding and training. .

Dogs aren’t murderers. It goes against their design. To instill that compulsion in a dog the trainer must utilize exceptionally cruel tactics. In many cases these tactics are counter productive. For every dog that becomes a worthy fighter, three become chronically timid. They’ll bite when approached but they won’t go on the offensive. These dogs are often sold to novice fight breeders and subsequently abandoned because they simply aren’t competitive. So most of the dogs entering this world fail to meet the standards of market value; they are expendable.

People who are drawn to the dog fighting culture are not good people. This is not a vice like high stakes poker or midnight lap dances. These are people who simply have no respect for life. People who can’t respect animals generally can’t respect other people either. Dog fighting is a sick criminal act and the people who promote it, watch it or even defend it are dangerous.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Pope misses the point

The Catholic Church represents religious corruption at its worst although the current incarnation pales in comparison to the totalitarian religion that plagued Europe during what history refers to as the Dark Ages. Crusades, inquisitions and assassinations were the tools employed by the Vatican to destroy rivals and oppress the masses. Back then the Catholic Church rejected remarkable advancements achieved by the cultures that preceded the Holy Roman Empire. Concepts like sewage containment, medicine and personal hygiene were cast aside along with philosophy, art and science. People who sought enlightenment were tortured and killed.

Today the Catholic Church has stopped murdering people…at least in large numbers. Now the Catholic Church is run by impotent, beet-faced old men who scream their stifling rhetoric from ornate thrones. Although the Pope claims to speak the word of God, he and the rest of the Vatican power elite lack the faith to appear in public without armor and a highly trained security detail. Apparently God can’t be trusted to protect the Pope from those who might wish him harm. That’s your first clue that the Church believes more in power than it does in divinity. The Pope is worshipped as a demigod but he still needs to cruise the streets in an armored car. Ironic, eh?

Recently Pope Benedict dropped by to visit Brazil. South and Central America are Catholic strongholds, a holdover from the brutal manner in which Spanish and Portuguese missionaries imposed Catholicism on the indigenous people. Worship or die was the gist of the Church’s message back then. It hasn’t changed much. The church just can’t follow though on exterminating heretics anymore. They are trying to get back to that place, though. That’s why Benedict, a man with ties to the NAZI party, is there. He knows a thing or two about extermination.

Latin America struggles with overpopulation, under-education, disease, poverty and economic exploitation. Rain forests are being consumed at an alarming rate but the people are not seeing any of the financial gain. Typically American corporations like Cargil purchase huge blocks of land, slash and burn it through some local shell company and farm it until the soil is depleted. American get cheap stuff while Brazilians get the shaft.

Latin America needs protection from exploitation; they need birth control and help in educating the people to improve the quality of life. Did the Pope offer any assistance? Nope. He denounced abortion and encouraged people to devote more time to their faith. Never mind the AIDS epidemic spreading through South America; forget about the alarming number of babies born into poverty. Don’t worry about the literacy rate. Go to church and don’t forget to tithe. In order to bolster support for the Catholic Church, the Vatican opted to throw Latin America a bone and offer up a Latin American Saint. Amen. How about a clinic?

Elsewhere, particularly in places where people can read, the Catholic Church is struggling. In the U.S. the religiots flock toward evangelical denominations because they like an aggressive religion. Conservative Catholicism has all the teeth of Presbyterianism in this country. Our Bible thumpers need people to hate. The Catholic Church avoids hating people and focuses on issues. That’s why South and Central America are so important. The Catholic Church has an endless supply of ignorant people who can be molded into reliable Catholics. It’s not India, but if the church can stamp out birth control it might be soon.

However when it comes to those issues the Catholic Church is as blustery and misguided as Pat Robertson. The Vatican’s opposition to abortion is one thing. There are reasonable people who make solid arguments against abortion. It’s a genuinely debatable subject. But the Church also frowns on the use of birth control. Catholic leaders have taken foreign aid organizations to task for distributing condoms and showing people how to use them in African countries devastated by AIDS. The Catholic Church supports an abstinence only message and feels condoms are simply immoral. There’s no logical reason to oppose condoms. Perhaps the Church should think about making sex without a rubber a more severe sin than sex with one. Seven Hail Mary’s instead of five.

The Catholic Church acknowledges that people will make mistakes and sin, which would seem to provide a reason to support the use of condoms. To Catholics, sex outside of marriage is a sin but so is killing yourself. There are places in the world where sex is practically suicide, so why not deliver condoms to people with a stern message about morality? We have Catholic Priests who can’t keep it in their pants…how can we expect some 17 year-old Brazilian boy to resist temptation? Especially in Brazil!!! Have you seen the women there?

The Catholic Church limped toward progress under Pope John Paul II. He tried to fashion himself into a bit of a humanitarian. He recognized the real problems in the world and tried to create enough flexibility in the Church to address them. Mother Theresa was often criticized by Bishops and Cardinals for not promoting Catholicism aggressively enough but John Paul encouraged her to continue helping people. She might not have put butts in the seats on Sunday but she was doing a lot of good. Bishop Deamond Tutu ruffled a lot of feathers for getting caught up in political skirmishes but John Paul, although Tutu was not Catholic, went out of his way to support and praise Tutu for his efforts.

John Paul II still held to conservative views on sexuality and contraception but not to the forceful extent that Benedict does. It seemed that John Paul II wanted the Vatican to focus on the bigger picture and unify the world to promote peace. Perhaps the grandiose platform ignored the smaller issues the regular parishioner could relate to. Benedict is clearly thinking small.

It’s a dangerous time for that. The gap between the rich and the poor is expanding. The world is a hectic place and people need all the help they can get. An organization as powerful as the Catholic Church should be focused on real problems not rhetorical issues. Fire and Brimstone might sell tickets but what good is that if the audience isn’t there to buy them?