Readers keep asking me what I think about Michael Vick, the disgraced Atlanta Falcons quarterback who this week agreed to plead guilty to a number of charges relating to his aspiration to be the Don King of dogfighting. They ask not because I'm a renowned sports lover, but because I'm such a dog lover.
And I do love dogs. They are, evolutionarily and otherwise, man's partners, our wingmen - winghounds if you prefer. Dogs are the only animal to choose to be our friends and comrades in the great struggle of muddling through our turn on this mortal coil. (Cats, I'm sorry to say, hold one paw in each camp so as to forever keep their options open, and all other domesticated animals had to be forced into the arrangement.)
What we see most clearly in dogs are precisely the things we as human beings wish to see in ourselves: loyalty, joy, love, home, family, commitment, humor and an utter disregard for the pieties and pretenses of fashionable life. ("If you take a dog which is starving and feed him and make him prosperous," Mark Twain observed, "that dog will not bite you. This is the primary difference between a dog and a man.") My dog cares not that he is beautiful, that he is rich, that he is prized. All he cares about is that he is loved and that he has someone to love back. And if that someone happens to have a piece of ham behind his back, well, he's no fool either.
Indeed, as many have noted, dogs look to us as we look to God. Even Ambrose Bierce, a great cynic, defined "reverence" as "the spiritual attitude of a man to a god and a dog to a man."
This helps us understand why finding joy in cruelty to animals is horrific. Torturing a dog or a cat for sport is not disgusting because animals have rights, it is repugnant because human beings have obligations. If animals look to us as gods, and we in turn torture them for our amusement, have we not willingly made ourselves into devils?
Dogfighting in particular is grotesque because in it we reject all that is lovable about dogs in favor of all that is animalistic. We exploit canine loyalty and trust, stripping away the joy like so much bark in order to make dogs more fearsome than even wild animals. No wolf or coyote could stand up to one of Michael Vick's pit bulls, nor do wolves and coyotes have anything like that kind of bloodlust.