A little serious, a little satire, and all opinion on animal welfare.
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But is it really the best solution?

When I heard the Ed Rendell was going to offer an eleventh hour plan for addressing the animal control crisis in Pennsylvania, I was hoping for he’d go nuclear.  Freed from political considerations, he would offer something bold and visionary.  Maybe make a point and fire all the political appointees in Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement.  Give the incoming administration a blue print for the next fifty years to work with.

Instead we got Prison Pounds.  He suggested we create state kennels in prisons and have prisoners care for the dogs.  As one article put it, it would “solve two problems with one program”.  There is an O. Henry twist to having captive humans with limited futures being charged with caring for captive dogs with a limited future.  Is a novelty program better than nothing?  Yes.  But we need more than novelty to solve this problem.

Creating a system of prison based state kennels will certainly help the BDLE and the State side-step the issue for a little longer.  It will give Dog Wardens a place to take stray dogs as private shelters, one after another, have reached the end of their ability to subsidize government animal control services and drop their stray animal catch and kill contracts. 

However, these kennels will be dead ends for these dogs.  They would be few in number, inconveniently and undesirably placed (hey, kids, let’s go to the prison to adopt a dog!), and run by non-professionals with no transparency.  The State hates sunshine.  Does anyone really think they will be open about what happened to Fluffy when it was accidentally euthanized?  Will they offer adoption services?  Who will the vets be and what will happen to the dogs, the vast majority of dogs, which are not owner claimed?  Will the BDLE play favorites when deciding what private adoption agencies may transfer dogs for adoption, as they have with decisions regarding which shelters may house strays?  Will the inspections of their own kennels be as picky as the ones that are given to politically outspoken organizations?

Taking off my professional hat for a moment:  Governor Rendell, I love you.  I voted for you twice, supported your campaigns, and I think you’ve done more for animals in Pennsylvania than any Governor we’ve had.  But this is not a serious proposal.  If you think it is, you are being poorly served by your advisers, who should know better.  There are many smart, thoughtful people out there- not animal crazies out of touch with reality- who have put forward ideas that are affordable, scalable, share the burden, and actually address the problems faced by animals, no just dogs, in Pennsylvania.  Heck, even not so smart and thoughtful people like me have offered up some ideas.

Please look at a few of them.  Get out of that echo chamber of agreement you will get from the Jessie Smiths, Tom Hickeys, and the Philadelphia moneyed elites and talk to some folks who aren’t relying on this issue to keep a job, garner press, or coalesce political power; people who might have some different ideas.  Some real ideas.

You need to talk to people who “get it”.  And for the ones who have been treading water over this for the past eight years, singing the same song we’ve been hearing for years, you need to quote my favorite Governor: “Don’t you understand? You guys don’t get that. You’re simpletons. You’re idiots if you don’t get that.”

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OK, so I got to talking to someone at tonight’s Furry Friday Art Exhibition and Open House at the HSBC about Vick and asked her if she had seen a goofy little thing I had made (she hadn’t) and said I’d put it online tonight for her to see.  I first heard about the Xtranormal animation site on NRP recently, which means all the cool people moved on from it three months ago and it’s just me and your granny using it, but it’s a fun little diversion.

To test it out I made the following animation.  It’s too long (hope you have six minutes) and I didn’t edit as would normally so it is bit on the mean side even for me.  The whole Socratic interrogative format was just too darn funny and the ability to make adorable little animals say really, really harsh things just makes me chuckle.  So with an advance mia culpa from Mr. Keep the Tone Constructive, enjoy “So, How About Those Eagles?”

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OK, so I have to admit even I had to turn on the game in the third quarter.  Setting aside all the animal stuff, please allow me a minute to just be an Eagles fan:

If this was Vick’s best season and we were going in to the play offs in the wild card round, he wasn’t ever that great to begin with (told you so).  He was over rated in Atlanta (where he never won a Superbowl) and he’s over rated here.  Before everyone blames Akers: As always, if the quarterback could throw touchdowns, no one would know the place kicker’s name!  Trade Vick!  Get the next young promising quarterback and start building around him.

Guess it wasn’t Donovan after all.  Coming in second is only a plus on American Idol.  After two first round and outs, my Andy Reed clock is ticking.    Give that walrus a bucket of fish and send him back to Green Bay.  Who has a chunk of ice I can throw at someone?

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Oh. My. God.

I thought the Kate Gosselin cruelty complaints were going to give me an aneurism but I think this Mike Vick insanity might be the thing to do me in.

In the past week or so I’ve been forwarded links to articles which range from Tucker Carlson calling for Vick’s execution to Michael Gerson writing that Vick is representative of all those ex-cons seeking a second chance to Charing Ball saying that the problem white people have with Vick isn’t the dog thing it’s that we hate rich black men to MSNBC’s Countdown equating the hiring of Vick with the hiring of Scooter Libby.  I swear to God everyone has lost their damn minds over this.

Vick is not representative of anything but himself.  His hiring was not a clarion call for anything.  The injustices heaped on man and beast cannot be summed up by what we do to, for, or with Mike Vick.  Can we please all try to look at this through a clear lens, a lens that looks at Mike Vick and just Mike Vick?  We can tie whatever baggage we want to Vick, but let’s be clear about the larded slope we all slide down when we employ his name to make our case.

Can we all agree that the Eagles did not hire Vick to strike a blow for the concept of hiring ex-cons?  Have they been hiring ex-con trainers, receptionists, coaches, and parking attendants?  Hell, no!  I guarantee they do what most employers do; they look for that check box on the application that asks if you’ve been convicted of a felony and they throw it in the trash.

They hired Mike Vick because he was a great quarterback, they could get him cheap, and they could throw him away if he didn’t work out.  Guess what?  He worked out!  The Eagles have the choice to hire who they choose, even if it’s a dog killing racketeer, wife beater, rapist, or vehicular murderer.  Hey, it’s their league; let them hire whoever they want.

However, the fact that we have created a prison state which profits on locking people up and disproportionately targets minorities through its crimes codes also does not mean that Mike Vick, a millionaire with the potential to make more even after he got out of prison whether he ever threw another football, should have been hired by the NFL.  Take away his talent (let’s say one of his dogs bit off his Achilles tendon before he was arrested) and would he have been hired for anything?  Would the Eagles have even given him a parking attendant job?  I really, really doubt it.

And the nonsense that the problem dog people have with Vick is that they hate rich, black men is just stupid.  There are lots of racists out there and even more sexists and loads of homophobes.  It helps when someone who does something as horrible as he did is also part of another group you happen to hate.  It makes it easier to hate them.  But I’m pretty sure when white Philadelphians were booing the signing of Donovan McNabb it was a vote to make another black man, Ricky Williams, rich in his place.  And when we were all cool with him getting traded to DC, it’s because he couldn’t win a Superbowl!  If we want to claim racism, let’s go subtle and wonder if Ben Roethlisberger would still have a job if the accusations against him had been made against, oh, I don’t know, Cordell Stewart?  I doubt that, too.

And really, Keith Olbermann, couldn’t you have called in from vacation to tamp down the inane knee jerk story that because Fox News isn’t livid about Scooter Libby getting work but are about the President applauding Vick’s hire that they are somehow equivalent.  Didn’t you just throw a tantrum about John Stewart’s false equivalence?  One guy got his sentence commuted by the President.  While I think what Scooter did was essentially treasonous, I could see how Fox News might be able to see a patriot who got screwed covering for his boss.  Is there any way to twist what Vick did into something heroic or in the best interest of a nation at war?  Anyone?

So I will bring it back to the single lens: a dog killing racketeer got a particular job.  Good or bad?

It depends.  Should an ex-convict be able to get a second chance, get a job after release?  I think so.  But any job?  No!  What job matters a great deal.  But if you think anyone with a violent criminal background should ever get any job, ever, than you need to explain why he deserves one but not this one.  Otherwise, isn’t Tucker right?  He might as well have been executed if he had no future.  But it is also perfectly fair to say that not every criminal gets to walk out and get any job just to get a redemptive second chance.

In some cases, it might be clear.  A pedophile teacher should not get to teach again.  A dog fighting Humane Officer should not get to work with animals again.  I think everyone would be OK with that.

Some jobs are held to a higher standard.  If Mike Vick had been in the military, could he lead a battalion again after conviction?  Would you want him to be your child’s school teacher?  Could he be appointed Secretary of State?  Nothing dog related there, everyone deserves a second chance, right?

So for this one guy and this one job, here’s how I see it through my lens: I for one think the NFL should hold itself to a higher standard and not hire back violent felons.  I don’t stop at violence against animals.  I think women and other humans should count at least as much as a dog.  Whether the NFL hires violent individuals is entirely on them and I think it is their choice and their shame.  I am a football fan but I have been having trouble watching games the more I have pondered the NFL’s hypocrisy and seen the decisions they have made that put money over a moral standard.  But they’ve done their calculation and they know that I’m one small fish.  More power to them.  But if they really want to make a statement to help America, start with showing that violence criminal activity is not acceptable to them.  Maybe start offering these players jobs on the loading dock for minimum wage for their redemption instead of million dollar contracts.

But to all those people out there who want to make Vick the cardboard cutout representing their  agenda, can you please just make an honest argument?  What job shouldn’t he be allowed to have and why?  Conversely, if he can do this job, why should we stop there?  Let’s really give him a second chance.  2012 is just around the corner and he won’t be any more likely to win the Superbowl for us that he was in Atlanta.

Mike Vick for President!

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If you live or work  in Berks County you probably already know that Mike O’Pake, long time Senator representing the 11th District, died following complications from heart surgery on December 27.  If you have ever set foot out of your house, odds are you have a Berks County map with his office stamp on it.  It was one of the most endearing things he did and could be seen as anachronistic in an age of GPS and Googlemaps.  However, in an increasingly modern and border-less world where anyplace is the same as everyplace, his map of Berks County reminded you that he served a place and a group of people, those of us who lived and worked in Berks.  That map was the reason that the people of Berks, no matter their party or the political winds, sent him back with solid vote margins every election.

Mike and me at the 2005 Walk for the Animals

I can’t claim him to be a mentor or even a personal friend, as so many can, but I wanted to share a couple memories of Mike and what he helped do for us at the HSBC.  When I first arrived 6+ years ago, we did not get much attention from anyone, let alone politicians.  As we set out to raise our profile, not every elected official saw the benefit to spending (wasting) their time at some little animal event when they could spend it with a bigger, more politically active crowd.  But when we invited Mike to join us at the second Walk for the Animals held after I was hired, he joined us for the kick off of the Walk and said a few words.  Not because it was a huge crowd- although it was nearly four time bigger than the prior year, walkers were still counted in the hundreds, not thousands- he came because he was invited.  He didn’t weigh the benefit to him, he simply came to the Walk, said a few kind words, and shook a few hands.  And gave me my first Mike O’Pake map.  Oh, and he gave us a $5,000 grant check to help with our Cat Adoption Center.  Nice.

He came to every Walk after that and, as the numbers grew from hundreds to thousands, the “value” to him probably grew but he did not change his approach.  He simply came, said a few kind words, shook a few hands, and was generally supportive of a local organization which was among his constituency. 

It was not simply at events that his presence was felt.  Animal welfare advocates owe Mike a debt for helping to get the Puppy Mill Bill signed into law.  When the original House version of the bill made it through it could easily have died in the more conservative Senate.  As the key Democratic seat on the Senate Ag Comminity which would oversee the Senate version of the bill, Mike helped to shape the bill into a form that could both win Senate approval and still maintain House support. 

He and I had several conversations about that bill and I think we shared a similar approach.  When he talked to me for input he asked if we wanted perfection at the cost of getting nothing or get vast improvement at the cost of not getting perfectection.  I’m a compromiser, as he often was, and asked for the vast improvement over nothing and I think he appreciated having someone on the animal side of things who saw the reality of how change needed to come rather than holding a Utopian vision.  “We can fix the parts that don’t work later,” he said.  I was just fine with that because 90% less suffering was better than no less suffering.  His important role in the Puppy Mill Bill is why the HSBC presented him with our 2008 Golden Bone Award for Leadership in Animal Welfare.  Note to the next Senator: Help us fix that last 10% and get rid of the wire flooring exemption for pregnant dogs.  Just saying.

I also had an experience once with him which I think many others must have had.  When somone is subtle and low key, you might think they aren’t paying attention.  He very definately was.  At one of our events Mike and I were making small talk between kind words and handshakes.  In passing he says, “So, I hear you’re thinking about running for office.”  I think I gave a Scooby Doo head snap at him because he started smiling.  I had, in fact, recently been invited to a small dinner party to chat with some folks about considering running for something.  I decided it was very much not for me (At the moment, at least.  Barack, when Joe retires, call me.  No hard feelings about all that Vick stuff, right?).  But not counting me and my wife, there were four other people in the room and it went no where.  How did he know about it at all?  The man did not win elections by accident. 

I jokingly said to Mike, “No, even my ego isn’t big enough to run for office.”  Doh!  My self-deprication just implied an insult to the Senator!  But he just laughed, maybe a little too much- I think he thought I had every bit the ego to run for office.  Then he told me he thought I’d probably be very good at it and that I should give him a call and talk about it with him if I was ever so inclined.

Now, I’m sure he may have said things like that a lot (Sure, kid, your band is great, send me a demo…) but I really appreciated it because he was not standing there telling me what he had done or could do, he was telling me he thought I could do something if I wanted.  That is what separated him from a lot of politicians you see out and about saying kind words and shaking hands.  And when I read all the comments from people who describe him as a friend and mentor, I’m inclined to believe it because he offered that to me, too, however much in passing.

But thank God I don’t want to run for his seat.  Who’d mentor me now?

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