A married couple found guilty of running a dogfighting ring from their home in Chester County, Pennsylvania, will be going to prison. The case sparked outrage in their home town, and in fact, all across America. Dog fighting is bloody and brutal, with no compassion.
A web site devoted to prosecuting the couple has over a thousand comments from folks who are similarly outraged.
You may also remember the case of football player Michael Vick. Found guilty of running an illegal dog fighting ring in 2007, he served nearly two years in prison, and was temporarily suspended from the NFL. Some game fans still boo him.
When released from prison, Vick humbly and repeatedly apologized. But at that exact same time, another shocking story of animal abuse was happening which passed without any notice at all.
Three animals were being forced through a narrow, single file passage with electric prods. Maybe they sensed what lay in store for them, because suddenly, they stopped. Additional electric shocks didn’t get them moving, so their handlers turned the electricity high enough to knock the three unconscious. They slumped where they stood. Then each was dragged by a heavy chain through the narrow restraining channel — over a floor flooded thickly in urine and feces dropped by the cattle who had gone before them.
Once through the chute, the three were treated in the same way all the others had been. They were hung upside down by the legs, and their throats were cut. When they were judged to have bled to death, their skin was removed and their muscles were cut into chunks that would be divided into smaller chunks and then wrapped in plastic, prepared so we would purchase them in grocery stores as steaks, chops and other cuts of meat.
First, let me reveal that I am a meat eater. I love a juicy steak or a nice pork roast, and I’m not going to stop eating meat. And I already knew about some of this stuff because I have a friend who’s an inspector in a meat plant. He told me stories about how he had to stop meat packers from dragging “3D” (Dead, Diseased, or Dying) animals to slaughter. Animals are supposed to be able to walk to their deaths. But there aren’t enough inspectors, so 3D meat is sometimes dragged to the cutters and sliced into our food chain.
But I didn’t really feel the connection between the meat packers and my T-bones until the Michael Vick dog fighting story broke. Public condemnation was immediate and total. Like most everyone, I was nauseated. His prison sentence seemed righteous—until I read about the three cattle at the Fresno meat plant. It only made the news because the cows, when pulled through the muck of the chute, got it on their hide, creating a risk of salmonella and contaminating other cattle. It was news because some 800,000 pounds of ground beef had to be recalled. But then I read something that radically changed the impact of even that brief bit of news.
An article in The Washington Post from April 10, 2001, had a haunting quote from a meat cutter. The animals are supposed to be dead by the time they get to him. But he said that too often, they’re not. “They blink. They make noises,” he said softly. “The head moves, the eyes are wide and looking around.” He has to cut over 300 animals an hour. There’s no time for mercy. He said they die “piece by piece,” many cut up while still actually alive.
I thought of Vick, and the Chester County couple, of comments and protests outside court buildings by people holding signs against animal abuse. People who are meat eaters. People whose actions may not be as direct, but are still, by omission, in the same league as other animal abusers. The only way those people can avoid facing the truth of that fact is by hypocritical rationalization: ‘It’s okay to treat cows that way, but not dogs.’
So I forgive the Chester County couple who will be sentenced next month. I hold no negative feeling for the woman who spent six weeks in jail for not taking her dog to the vet when he was sick because she didn’t have the money. I feel sorry for everyone who goes to prison because they are found guilty of animal abuse. Because they pay for their sins of animal cruelty, and they will go on paying for it with every heckler, every bit of gossip, every aspersion thrown at them for the rest of their lives.
They go to prison. But carnivores go to the store and buy a steak.