The Bloodstained Terrible Towel

FB_IMG_1441042554991I have to make an admission before I fully get started. I was terrified to screw this up. I have rarely written something so personal that was not just about me, but about so many who feel the same. I wanted to make sure that I properly conveyed what is going on here in Pittsburgh. This is such an important subject here to so many people and I don’t want to let any of them down. I want to give them a voice. I hope that I have done them justice. With that said, get comfortable. This is not a short story. And it shouldn’t be.

My world was rocked out of nowhere recently. Tuesday, August 25th started like any other Tuesday. There was no reason to suspect that soon the city of Pittsburgh would have the blood of murdered dogs stained upon the very fabric of who we are. Football season was just getting underway and I was looking forward to it. Steeler fans are a special breed of fans and renowned for our feverish devotion. I live close enough to Heinz field to hear the games without my TV. I have had Steeler clients in the past. Steeler football is a part of who so many Pittsburghers are. We are a proud city, having risen far above the smoky designation that was given to us so long ago during the industrial revolution. We have Google and CMU and Pitt and some of the countries best hospitals. And of course, we have the Steelers, the Penguins and the Pirates. Major league sports are big business here. We stand tall and swelled with our team support.

As stated on the Steelers' own website, nothing unites Steelers' fans more than The Terrible Towel, waved in unison at games, at home in front of the TV and out of car windows en route to games. It’s a huge symbol in support of the Steelers both here in Pittsburgh and around the2015-09-03 20.22.54 country. So there is no better symbol to use to show out disappointment in what this once great symbol now stands for.

And now we have Michael Vick, one of the most despised men on the planet to not only many dog lovers as a whole, but in particular to those who adore Pit Bulls. Pittsburgh is not only home to all that I have listed thus far. Pittsburgh is also home to several Humane Society of the United States employees. In addition to those beautiful people who give up parts of their souls to do the work that they do, Pittsburgh has a city shelter, the Animal Rescue League and Wildlife Center, that functions as a HSUS partner shelter. That means that this shelter willingly takes on some of the survivors of dog fighting that the HSUS rescues. The same can be said for the city’s first and longest existing Pit Bull rescue, Hello Bully. In addition to Hello Bully’s fine work, we are also home to Biggies Bullies, the Proper Pit Bull and Furkid Rescue, all focusing on Pit Bulls. Two of the other major shelters in the city of Pittsburgh have humane officers who rescue Pit Bulls from local dog fighting situations. This city loves our Pit Bulls.

It was then quite a shock to find out that the Steelers were meeting with Michael Vick. It was even worse when it became clear that this was not some sick joke being played on the city’s beloved Steeler fans. This kick right to the stomach was vividly felt among the city’s dog loving fans. I honestly don’t have the right words to fully describe the feeling that this news triggered in me. Nausea, disbelief, shock, grief, anger, sadness, frustration, betrayal. I asked my friends and followers what they felt when they heard the news. Many responses mirrored my own but some put their feelings into words that I had not yet fully brought to surface.

This was not the kind of behavior that our beloved Steeler organization would support. This is not the value system that we expect from the Rooney family. We felt stupid for the blind trust that we placed in the powers that be at the Steelers, that they would never tarnish the black and gold image with a decision like this. We were wrong. We were blindsided. We were and are horrified and sickened.

So a serious betrayal was foremost in my mind while my brain processed what this meant to me and so many Pit Bull advocates. Heck, these feelings are not limited to Pit Bulls advocates. I have never seen so many dog lovers put their differences aside to join together for a common goal. To change the minds of the decision makers in the Steelers organization.

Facebook pages were created, petitions were signed, polls were voted in, vigils were arranged and held. So much support from all over the country was given, that it brings a lump in my throat to talk about it. Gordon Shell, famed MMA fighter came to town to attend the vigil on his own dime. Steffan Baldwin, well known Ohio Pit Bull rescuer came as well. Local animal advocate, Laurie Manz brought her wonderful candlelight vigil idea to fruition with a vengeance. Hundreds of people attended in person. Many more circled the site waving signs from their cars, in lieu of finding adequate parking. Thousands more lit their candles from home, not only in this country, but all over the world. The support is heartwarming.

Yet among all of the support, there is so much venom. People with too much time on their hands and hate in their heart for anything that threatens their own personal enjoyment of Steelers football are deliberately seeking out Vick detractors to try and engage them in volatile exchanges. Words best left unsaid are  thrown around left and right, personal integrities are challenged, long held friendships are fractured.

I am not immune from the divide. I cannot honestly wrap my brain around the fact that so many good people, who I call friends, can overlook the facts of what this man did. For the “privilege” of watching a game that involves throwing a ball around a field? I have chosen to break off communication with so called animal lovers who have stated they are not giving up their team because of this development. That is my choice. Is cheering for football really more important than standing up for what you believe in? Has it really come to that? Does that make you a “real” Steeler fan and those of us who cannot even see the Steeler name now without being sickened are now fake fans?

Sorry, but my veins bled just as much black and gold as anyone still watching. I have so much game gear for both myself and my dogs, that it would take more than one burning to dispose of it all. I dressed my heart dog Merlin, up as Troy Polamolu one year for a Howloween event. I won’t be displaying that picture this year as my profile picture. And sadly, I won’t display it ever again most likely. Why? Because the only remedy is for the Steelers to cancel the one year contract and respect the fan base. Releasing Michael Vick after his one year contract is not good enough. We want our voices heard now. We want to know that those dog’s lives mattered. We want to know why the Rooneys chose the low road. We want to feel like our loyalty matters. We want our Steelers to not be solely about money like so much of the NFL.

The divide is not limited to friends and acquaintances. Two of the central animal shelters in this city have chosen to draw their lines and cut all ties with the Steelers. Both the Animal Rescue League and Wildlife Center and Animal Friends Shelter have both removed Steeler gear from their store and their donated raffle items. The ARL has gone a step further and opted to change the location of their Paw Prints Gala from Heinz Field to the home of the Penguins, the Consol Energy Center. They both took great risks alienating donors. I applaud their bravery. These shelters find themselves with a large portion of Pit Bulls in need of homes. It is a pleasure to see what they do for these dogs.

On the other hand, the Western PA Humane Society opted for a more tepid view on the decision. Charlie Batch is on their BOD. Enough said.

A very insightful friend of mine wondered if the very breed that these horrors were foisted upon is the deciding factor in whether to welcome Michael Vick to our town or not. We have a very biased television news station here that delights in using the term “Pit Bull” as a trigger for hate. Would the Michael Vick sympathizers be on his side if he had tortured and murdered Golden Retrievers? I truly doubt it. I cannot even express my sadness properly at such a realization.

This video is a tribute created by Daisy Balawejder, President and Founder of Hello Bully. It showcases just some of the dogs rescued from dog fighting who came to Pittsburgh. Many more came through the ARL. These dogs came to Hello Bully. This puts some faces to why we care whether Michael Vick is here.

I would like to address each of the arguments that Vick supporters throw at Vick detractors but I am not sure that I can do the facts more justice than they have already been given. I will however, personally address the forgiveness argument. Moving on would be far more possible if Michael Vick admitted his personally heinous actions AND expressed some real remorse and sadness. Forgetting is impossible but forgiving someone who is only sorry that he got caught and went to jail is an absurd expectation. Being forced to make financial amends is not the same thing as remorse. Being forced by the NFL and his personal agents to be a public spokesman against dog fighting is a PR game at best. An ESPN video captures him stating in his own words that he know what he did was morally wrong but he had no ides that he could go to jail for his actions. His only concern was being caught, not the terrible deeds he performed.

For the rest of the arguments thrown at us, I will provide two links that already address a lot of information very thoroughly. One link is a bit older, having been written in 2011, but very cohesive with the timeline. This article gives all of the legal known facts in great detail. I heartily recommend that anyone who is interested in exactly what Michael Vick was fully participating in, read this Chris Durant article.

Here is another article written by a local Pittsburgh sports writer on Vick’s addition to the Steelers. He covers very nicely mostly, the various arguments made by the Vick sympathizers. I will add to the legal time served argument. It does not appear that the general public understands what happened legally. Michael Vick spent 18 months in prison for racketeering. He admitted to bankrolling the dog fighting organization and nothing else. He did no time for either animal cruelty or dog fighting. His time served was federal only, which would be great had it actually been for dog fighting, etc. His sole conviction for dog fighting was by the state of Virginia and his sentence was suspended for time served for the federal charges. See the Chris Durant link for more details on that subject. For leverage, be aware that former Steeler Plaxico Burress spent more time in jail for shooting himself in the leg than Michael Vick spent for the cold blooded murder of so many dogs. How is that even possible?

I think that it needs mentioned that animal abuse of the sort that Michael Vick perpetrated is part of what behavior profilers consider a triad. If it were humans that we were talking about, then it would be called a homicidal triad. But sadly, so many humans think that dogs are of lesser importance. Why is that? Because they can’t speak the human language? Humans all over the world don’t speak the same language but it isn’t acceptable to kill them. We can learn from Mahatma Ghandi. “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

This article goes into the personality traits that make up an animal abuser and why understanding them is important to full realization of why this matters.2015-09-04 01.22.07

The last bit of information that I will provide for to make up your own mind is this passage from The Lost Dogs. This alone is enough for me to know that forgiveness is not possible. Jim Gorant’s The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption not only give you the legalities, it will give you details that you may not actually have the fortitude to make your way through. If this knowledge doesn’t help you see his actions for the psychopath that he is actually is, nothing will.

“And then there was one last body that stood out from the rest. It had signs of of bruising on all four ankles and all along its side. Brownie had said that all the dogs that didn't die from being hanged were drowned, except one.

As that dog lay on the ground fighting for air, Quanis Phillips grabbed its front legs and Michael Vick grabbed its hind legs. They swung the dog over their head like a jump rope then slammed it to the ground. The first impact didn't kill it. So [they] slammed it again. The two men kept at it, alternating back and forth, pounding the creature against the ground, until at last, the little red dog was dead.”

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Positively Expert: Debby McMullen

Debby is a certified behavior consultant and the author of the How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household. She also owns Pawsitive Reactions, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA.


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