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Aug. 22, 2007

JOE HAWK: Vick deserves harshest sentence


Back in May 2006, standing in a cold, clinical veterinarian's examination room with my 19-year-old Shetland sheepdog, Bart Simpson, lying on a counter, a tube inserted into his tiny body to inject a chemical that would send him to eternal rest -- a decision I knew I had to make when he wouldn't eat even a nibble of cooked hot dog or lap up a drop of water -- I cried. Uncontrollably.

And I do every time I think of him, although I'm trying my best to hold back welling tears as I write this.

People who know me well know that I love dogs and tolerate people. I acknowledge the latter doesn't say much about me as a member of the human race, but I certainly give St. Roch, the patron saint of dogs, a greyhound's run for his kibble when it comes to our four-legged friends.

Even the much-maligned pit bull.

"Dog people," as we frequently are called, come in breeds as different as the animals themselves. Some prefer pound hounds; others spend more than $1,000 for a pedigreed pooch. Some are partial only to beagles or terriers or German shepherds; others mix it up. Some are one-dog owners; then there's people such as myself who push various ordinances to, well ... let's just not go there.

Late Sunday afternoon, while sitting on my back patio and using my Chuckit ball launcher to effortlessly flick tennis balls across the yard and into the swimming pool where my two golden retrievers, Bailey and Alex, would sprint, hit the decking and then leap into the sun-warmed water to fetch them back to me, I kept thinking about the inevitable trouble Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick faced for his then-alleged participation in a dogfighting operation in Virginia.

As heinous as the dogfighting aspect was -- and the practice continues in pockets of our country, from stories I've read -- what made me want to retch was the accusation Friday by one of Vick's co-defendants that the suspended quarterback actually took part in the killing of "underperforming" dogs.

Yes, if a dog didn't fight to his opponent's death, then he often got the sentence, with Vick alleged to have taken part in hanging a number of them. And if they didn't die from that, Vick allegedly helped put their heads in five-gallon buckets of water to drown them.

Thinking of those suffering dogs while playing with two of my pups -- happily sprinting back and forth, sopping wet with tennis balls in mouth -- I again started to get teary-eyed.

Pit bulls have never been my breed of choice, mind you. But I've read enough about them -- and know enough about dogs in general -- to understand they are not as mean as portrayed. In fact, like all dogs, they are gentle souls unless beaten into becoming vicious. They are faithful friends, always ready to please while asking for nothing more than food, water, a toy to play with and your legs to lie against when you sleep at night.

Dogs are God's gift to mankind, I believe -- although I'm sure the counterculture "cat people" will disagree. And I'm OK with that. To tweak an old saying, "Different pet strokes for different pet folks."

But the "different strokes" mind-set of accepting dogfighting as sport cannot and must not be accepted in a civilized world. It is incomprehensibly sadistic. To that end, I implore the judge who takes Vick's official plea on federal dogfighting charges Monday not to go by the recommended 12- to 18-month prison sentence reportedly pleaded out. Rather, I beg him to give this heartless individual -- who once was quoted as saying that, next to football, "I love animals, I love fishing and I'm a mama's boy" -- the maximum of five years behind bars.

Take away Michael Vick's life, if only for half a decade, as he took away the lives of creatures born to bring joy, not bred to do harm. Make him pay, if not by electrocution, if not by drowning, then with a seemingly interminable amount of time to think about what he did wrong.

Make him cry, your honor. Make him cry, just like those of us who have lost a dog have cried.


Miss you, Bart. Every day.

Joe Hawk is the Review-Journal's sports editor. He can be reached at 387-2912 or

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