While Michael Vick's story of repentance was making headlines, another shocking tale of animal abuse passed almost unnoticed.
Three animals were being forced through a narrow passage with electric prods, a common practice. 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 fell where they stood. Then each was dragged by a heavy chain through the narrow restraining channel -- over a floor covered in urine and feces dropped by the animals who had gone before them.
Once through the chute, the three were treated like all the others. They were shackled in more chains and 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 wrapped in plastic, prepared so we would buy them in the grocery store as steaks, chops and other cuts of meat.
First, let me say 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 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. Then 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 only news because some 800,000 pounds of ground beef had to be recalled. But then I read something else that changed it all.
An article in The Washington Post from April 10, 2001, has 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."
I thought of Vick, and the protests by people holding signs, people who will boo him at games. People who are meat eaters. People whose actions may not be as direct, but are still, by omission, in the same league as Vick's. The only way they can avoid facing that fact is through hypocritical rationalization: It's okay to treat cows that way, but not dogs.
So I'm rooting for Vick. I hope he brings his team to the top, that he becomes the king of football and makes more millions than he can count. Because he paid for his sins of animal cruelty, and he'll go on paying for them with every heckler, every columnist, every aspersion thrown at him for the rest of his life. That's why I feel I owe Michael Vick, why we all owe him. He went to prison. But we go to the store and buy a steak.