Readers sound off on PETA, hunting and Michael Vick
Posted: Tuesday August 28, 2007 2:18PM; Updated: Tuesday August 28, 2007 6:57PM
Last week's column about PETA asking the NFL to include cruelty to animals among the violations in its Code of Personal Conduct drew passionate response, much of it from hunters such as Dave Winkworth of Pittsburgh, PA, who wrote:
I, nor any reputable person who calls himself a 'hunter,' wouldn't have any problems with anyone's opinions regarding the pastime of hunting. Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion. However, what I cannot understand as a reader, as a hunter, and as someone who was in agreement with the overall gist of your article is why people who hold a public forum have to bash one group or another to make a point. The real kicker is that by bringing hunters and hunting into your argument, you actually downplayed the overall power and impact of the article and obviously upset a large number of decent people.
The word "hunter" should not be synonymous with "killer." I spent all of last season in the woods and killed NOTHING but time. I had ample opportunities to kill many, many deer (my own game commission has even asked us hunters to assist in lowering the number in our state for various reasons), but all of the deer I saw were the wrong sex, too risky a shot, or just too young. A killer would've taken any of those shots, but I am not a killer. I am an ethical hunter. I will never take a shot unless I know 100 percent in my heart that I am going to put that animal down, and put it down quick. I will never take a shot at a young animal still with its mother. I will never take a shot at an animal out of season. I've heard horror stories about slaughterhouses, yet hunters always seem to get a bad rap.
I want to make it clear that I regret the unintended equation and offense it caused. I choose not to hunt or fish out of my own discomfort at harming animals unless I absolutely have to, but I do not believe that ethical hunters like Mr. Winkworth belong in the same vile box as those who engage in criminal dogfighting enterprises or that anyone who hunts should be banned from the NFL. I should have presented my argument with more care and tact. I also want to point out that the condemnation of dogfighting I've received from the ethical hunting community has been harsh.
I brought up hunting and fishing because they are widely accepted and enjoyed, particularly by athletes, and the stark bottom line is that animals die, just as they do in other activities. How one feels about that is a matter of personal conscience, but I do believe it's a short hop from attitude to action when it comes to either caring about or harming animals. My asking readers to ponder the reasons and ways in which animals are treated and used by humans was born of my own point of view (this is an opinion column, after all), which makes me tend to see things from the animal's end of such deals and feel squirrely (no pun intended) about the admittedly hypocritical fact that I eat meat (an admission that moved some readers to serve me hot scorn on the cob.) All I can say is that my behavior is a work in progress.
Issues of animal rights and welfare can be polarizing because they challenge, threaten or merely inconvenience economic interests, livelihoods, necessity, cultural traditions, religious beliefs and the well-ingrained mindset that the reluctance to kill animals is a sign of weakness. They also challenge our priorities. More than one reader lamented that the people who are so up in arms about the killing of a few dogs are less concerned about the ongoing slaughter of thousands of black children in Sudan. A tough, but valid point although the assumption of no concern is faulty if you apply it to everyone based on appearance -- and I know a thing or two about the pitfalls of blanket statements, even unintended ones.
PETA has become in the minds of many people the Lord Voldemort of animal advocacy groups -- that which must not be named -- because of its belief that all animals have a right not be used for food, clothing, entertainment and other activities. It's members have become, rightly or not, instantly synonymous with zealotry and even criminality. I'm not a member, but I see nothing wrong with asking people to at least think about ways to eliminate the unnecessary suffering of animals and to act on them whenever reasonably possible. How much action you take will depend on your attitude.
As I see it, there's lots of merit in the NFL expressly making players aware that cruelty to animals is a serious violation, besides the obvious benefit to critters. More than a few wealthy young athletes (I'm not singling anyone out by race here) do not seem particularly likely to ponder the nuances of a statement in the code such as: Conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs or NFL players. If the NFL wants to restore its image, and because so many people are upset about the heinous treatment of the dogs in the Vick case, it will do the league no good to have more players in the headlines for simply beating or neglecting an animal.
And because many players enjoy hunting and fishing, it can't hurt to make them aware of the need to adhere to the highest legal and ethical standards of those activities. I have to believe that the sportsmen and sportswomen I've heard from would get on board with an effort to discourage the temptation to participate in something they find abhorrent, such as a "canned hunt" -- shooting animals that are basically trapped in corrals -- or harming endangered species.
There are positive signs. The NFL is already working with ASPCA to develop an education program for players. In the wake of Vick's plea and public acknowledgement of the evils of dogfighing, team owner Arthur Blank said the Falcons have been consulting the ASPCA about ways to help. Promoting kindness to animals in a highly visible way will be a fine addition to the NFL's already considerable charity efforts. If NFL players need extra incentive to participate, perhaps they'll consider what Sarah from Chapel Hill, NC wrote:
Nice to see that some "manly" men aren't too chicken$#i+ to speak out against animal cruelty. To all you men who are: get over yourselves and realize that women, including this one, think men are hotter when they're genuinely tough.
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