Just Like Hunting

Folks are still talking about Michael Vick and apparently a new talking point has popped up.  I give you the “What about hunting?” talking point.

See Stephon Marbury (and damn it, I like him): “I think, you know, we don’t say anything about people who shoot deer or shoot other animals. You know, from what I hear, dogfighting is a sport. It’s just behind closed doors.”

Or the Atlanta Chapter President of the NAACP,  R.L. White: “White also said he didn’t understand the uproar over dogfighting, when hunting deer and other animals is perfectly acceptable.”

It’s not quite as ludicrous as “Why is there all this uproar about dogfighting when women are having abortions?” but it comes very, very close.

Anyway, CNN’s got a video up about dog fighting, which just confirms what I’ve been saying for years: “pitbull” is a pain-in-the-ass term because folks could be using it to mean “any dog that fights in a pit,” or “the American Pitbull Terrier,” or “Any of four or five breeds plus any mixes plus any dogs that vaguely resemble them whose lineage comes out of the fighting pits (excluding the English bulldog and the Boxer, which have the same lineage, but which are acceptable dogs to own)” and they never quite specify which they’re using.

I own a “pitbull” in the sense that I own an American Staffordshire Terrier.  My next-door neighbors own a “pitbull” in the sense that they own a Staffordshire Terrier.  They look kind of similar and yet there are obvious differences.  And, when you look closely at the dogs in the CNN video, though they also bear a resemblance to my dog and my neighbors’ dog, there are striking differences, one being how much smaller and scrawnier those dogs are, how shallow their chests are, and how leggy they are.

And look about thirty-nine seconds into this video.  The top of the head looks similar to my dog, but the jaw line, the neck, and the muzzle are all wrong.  I’m just saying, folks, you could install a breed-ban in your community that would catch my dog, which has never been fought, and this dog, a fighting dog, could easily slip through.

Anyway, I don’t really have an ending point to this rant.  I’m just tired of hearing how it’s all the dogs’ fault when we can’t even get folks people look up to to acknowledge that cruelty for fun and dog fighting are a problem.

30 thoughts on “Just Like Hunting

  1. I watch that stuff… It breaks my heart. That dog laying in the ring at the end of the CNN video looking around for someone to please help him. I’m literally crying.

    After what happened to Sophie… I’m glad the spotlight has turned on dogfighting for the sadistic practice it is. I’m hoping, like you, that it doesn’t cause folks to start banning breeds. I will never spend a drop of money in Denver, that’s for sure.

    I’ll write later about the difference between hunting and dogfighting.

    Right now, I’m just really upset.

  2. I think there is a easily accessible subtext to what Messrs. Marbury and White are saying. (Call it the dog-whistle effect; I believe it resonates in my African-American ear more than it does in my animal-loving ear.)

    Neither of them is suggesting that dogfighting is acceptable. What they are suggesting is that one sport involving cruelty to animals is widely accepted and legal, while another is illegal, heavily stigmatized, and has earned a celebrity participant a possible trip to prison (among other sanctions).

    While I won’t argue with anyone who says that dogfighting and its associated activities offer demonstrably more cruelty and sadism than the relatively quick deaths suffered by hunting victims, that isn’t the point Marbury and White are making.

    I believe they are rather obliquely calling up a larger issue: our society is rife with cruelty and violence, and some it is carried out merely for sport. While we rightfully go after a high-profile minority who gets caught with a hand in abusing animals for sport, most of us are barely disturbed by the sorts of activities that are engaged in largely by middle and upper-class white people.

    Yes, I’m talking about hunting. Now, I have no serious moral issue with hunting, per se. If you’re hungry and you’ve got a gun and there’s a lot of meaty animals around and you can’t wait for the harvest, then by all means go out and kill you some dinner. (I buy my meat from the grocery; it’s already been killed for me.) But I can guarantee you that the vast majority of people stocking up at Cabela’s aren’t missing any meals between hunting excursions. Call it what you want, but the vast majority of hunting in North America is nothing but killing for fun. A small percentage of it is gratuitously pointless and cruel.

    Of course, the outrage over Michael Vick (and the relative lack of outrage over, say, Dick Cheney) also has much to do with North American affinity for dogs as pets. Other animals, which feel no less pain than dogs, don’t normally garner as much sympathy. However, the ethnicity and class issues of this should be ignored no less than the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine.

    So while I might have been a bit stronger in voicing my disapproval for Michael Vick’s actions, I would certainly still agree with R.L. White when he says that Vick should pay whatever penance the government demands of him and then be treated (especially by the NFL) just like any other rich ex-con.

    And I’ll add one more thing. While I would certainly expect some serious legal sanctions to be handed down to anyone who engages in dogfighting or this activity, I am looking with a jaundiced eye at a society that wants to put Michael Vick in a hole for torturing and killing dogs while willfully paying six-figure salaries to assholes who are guilty of torturing and killing innocent human beings.

  3. Don’t forget Darfur! How can we get upset about Vick with all the horror going on in Darfur!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    You don’t disappoint, Exador. Monumental suffering and death reduced to a punchline; now that’s contemporary conservatism. “Did I ever tell you my grandfather was in Auschwitz…?”

    And regarding the photo to which you linked: should I link to some photos of carcasses of animals killed in canned hunts, or should we agree to forgo the gross-out one-upmanship?

  4. And regarding the photo to which you linked: should I link to some photos of carcasses of animals killed in canned hunts, or should we agree to forgo the gross-out one-upmanship?

    i’ve seen game animals killed by hunters, in both the politically correct kind of hunting and the (to me, repugnant) canned hunts. respectfully, i think you’d lose that gross-out contest. i think you’d have to look for roadkill photos to come anywhere close to the repulsiveness of the fighting rings.

  5. I apologize for the misremembered right-wing joke quoted above. The correct joke is as follows: “Did I ever tell you my grandfather died in Auschwitz?”


    Nomen, I suppose it depends on what grosses one out. Each of us has our own idiosyncrasies. That said, I don’t advocate unnecessary cruelty toward any living thing, and I don’t see the need to place dogs on any particular pedestal in that regard. Humans, maybe. Dogs, no.

  6. Yeah, that’s a pretty rough one. I just can’t help needling you, CS, when you get all preachy and tie every wrong in the world to Dick Cheney. Call it a character flaw, if you will.

    Still…my point was that I’ve known oodles of hunters (tried it a couple of times. Not for me) and they were consistent.
    They all wanted as quick a kill as possible. Sure there was the “don’t want to track it all over hell” thing, but they all also had a real appreciation for minimizing the suffering of the animal. Hunters that don’t have an appreciation for this, or don’t make every effort to track down a wounded animal and kill it, are universally met with disdain. Who knows? Maybe it was just the hunters I knew.

    Also, while there may not be a survival need for the meat (although my family, growing up, did count on it as a required supplement) there is something to the idea of eating what you kill. Call it less-wasteful.

    No more gross-out oneupsmanship. I promise.

  7. Last night I chatted with someone who thought that organized dog fighting resembled, quite closely, what happens at dog parks when a fight breaks out – nothing more, nothing bloodier, nothing ending in death. He wasn’t trying to condone or defend. He just didn’t understand the apparently extensive uproar over Vick. After hearing him I also wonder is there is just some ignorance out there coming from these people who slide down the slippery slope. If they don’t know the extent of the suffering the dogs experience, then they can see it is more similar to or even less death than hunting.

    Of course, I’m not defending them just thinking that we need to learn more successful methods of education, even if only to educate people in how to form their own opinions and to not do so without seeking credible evidence.

  8. Aw, now, I thought Exador was bringing up Darfur as joking social commentary, not to be an ass.

    I guess there’s just a lot of assumptions in this whole story about race and class and, I think, honestly, what it means to be a man, that are hard to get perspective on.

    I mean, from where I sit, hunters appear to be rural white folks who eat what they shoot, or, in the case of some states, folks who are helping cull populations that lack natural predators any more. Failing to kill your prey quickly is seen as a failure.

    And yet, certainly there are a lot of urban white men from the middle and upper classes who hunt. I’m just not familiar with that phenomenon. I know men who hunt on lands they know for food they’ll eat.

    So, it’s hard for me to understand when people talk about sport hunting. To me, hunting is part of taking care of the land, not about thrill kills.

    As for dog fighting, I guess I thought that it was mostly done by poor men looking for some way to prove their manhoods.

    What offends me viscerally about Vick is that he’s rich beyond my wildest dreams. His manhood is reaffirmed every time he gets out on the field. He’s smart, he’s manly, he’s wealthy, he’s got a job most men would kill for.

    And he could entertain himself how ever he wanted. He could pay girls to come to his house and clean it naked. He could go to strip clubs and pay to get lap dances from all the girls all at once. He could to to a restaurant and order everything on the menu. Whatever it is he wanted to do, he’s got the money and power to do it.

    And yet, how he chose to pass his time is by breeding and training dogs to try to kill each other. And, the ones that behaved normally–i.e. didn’t want to kill other dogs–he killed them.

    That’s what he does to entertain himself–he tortures animals that otherwise wouldn’t into trying to kill each other. If he fails to warp them through training, he kills them. He does that for fun.

    When he could do anything in the whole universe he wanted to for fun, that’s how he chose to spend his time.

    I don’t think he should be banned from football forever after he does his time or anything. I even disagree with folks who say that he should have done to him what he did to those dogs.

    But for grown folks to act as if his fucked-up-ness isn’t that bad? He could do whatever he wanted in the whole world and that’s what he chose to do.

    Folks shouldn’t excuse that.

  9. Well said, B. Although, I did make the Darfur comment as political commentary. Darfur is the liberals’ version of abortion; it’s the great tragedy that they point to and scream that something must be done.

  10. Aunt B., you mention that rural hunters usually eat what they hunt. While that might be practical if not noble, I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you that dogfighting is also quite popular in rural areas. (In fact, it only relatively recently became an urban phenomenon.) The HBO documentary that I linked to previously portrays some pretty awful treatment of dogs (yes, I watched it). In spite of the mountain of evidence compiled against the proprietor of the dog farm, he didn’t do any significant jail time and is now doing business somewhere else.

    My point in mentioning all this is to question why the Michael Vick story has suddenly generated such outrage when dogfighting and other dog abuses have been around for centuries. I wonder if all this outrage will amount to any serious societal efforts to curb animal abuse (especially dogfighting), or if it will fall by the wayside to make room for the next sensational celebrity outrage. (Personally, I think most of the infantilized public will be satisfied with a symbolic pound of Michael Vick’s flesh and then be content to forget all about dogfighting. I wonder if the prosecutors in the case are thinking the same thing.)

    I hate to be a cynic, but that’s why I alluded earlier to our government’s inhumane behavior. I wasn’t trying to belittle the horrors of dogfighting. On the contrary, I was pointing out that an electorate that can’t bother itself to stop its government from killing and maiming thousands of human beings probably won’t go too far to help dogs.

  11. It certainly did not take very long for the Vick case to become a microcosm for so everything, an act which often occurs when some situation gets national news attention.

    I’m with you that given Vick’s boundless opportunities, he chose something so hands-on barbaric for entertainment.

    As for hunting – is it more of an entertainment for the upper echelons of wealthy folk? I often think it must be, given the rising numbers of people who offer canned hunts for large cash fees.

  12. I think the ‘canned hunt’ high-society thing and the ‘lets go get dinner’ thing are pretty different, even if both groups take pleasure in it.

    There’s the class thing, of course (when you have plenty of other options, how ethical is it to do something that hurts other people? not to mention the fact that the groups generally hunt different things under different circumstances with different outcomes and expectations), but also structural stuff…you do different things to an animal you want for taxidermy than one you want to eat; you use different types of ammo for different things, you practice differently, all that.

    I think the traditionally higher class hunting activities (game safari shoots, shooting pigeons, fox hunting, etc.) emphasize different things, both in their structure (shooting small things you’re not going to eat because they’re ‘more fun’ or ‘better practice’ vs. shooting larger things because they’re better targets and more meat… though squirrel throws this off completely) and their outcomes – a head mounted on the wall, if anything. These things set up greater psychological distance between the hunter and the prey… it’s a thing, a prize, a far-away object to be acted on to secure your status.

    That’s actually to me the big difference between hunting-for-food-and-enjoying-it and sport hunting (rich or poor)/animal fighting. Not the distance (which is important, but not as striking, I think), but the fact that sports are status exercises. Which goes back to Aunt B’s point about all the other things that guy could be doing, but isn’t.

    (See: “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” by Clifford Geertz. Best. Academic. Essay. Ever.)

    Bentham’s concept of “deep play” is found in his The Theory of Legislation. By it he means play in which the stakes are so high that it is, from his utilitarian standpoint, irrational for men to engage in it at all.

    This, I must stress immediately, is not to say that the money does not matter, or that the Balinese is no more concerned about losing five hundred ringgits than fifteen. Such a conclusion would be absurd. It is because money does, in this hardly unmaterialistic society, matter and matter very much that the more of it one risks the more of a lot of other things, such as one’s pride, one’s poise, one’s dispassion, one’s masculinity, one also risks, again only momentarily but again very publicly as well. In deep cockfights an owner and his collaborators, and, as we shall see, to a lesser but still quite real extent also their backers on the outside, put their money where their status is.

    It is in large part because the marginal disutility of loss is so great at the higher levels of betting that to engage in such betting is to lay one’s public self, allusively and metaphorically, through the medium of one’s cock, on the line. And though to a Benthamite this might seem merely to increase the irrationality of the enterprise that much further, to the Balinese what it mainly increases is the meaningfulness of it all. And as (to follow Weber rather than Bentham) the imposition of meaning on life is the major end and primary condition of human existence, that access of significance more than compensates for the economic costs involved. Actually, given the even-money quality of the larger matches, important changes in material fortune among those who regularly participate in them seem virtually nonexistent, because matters more or less even out over the long run.

    This graduated correlation of “status gambling” with deeper fights and, inversely, “money gambling” with shallower ones is in fact quite general. Bettors themselves form a sociomoral hierarchy in these terms. As noted earlier, at most cockfights there are, around the very edges of the cockfight area, a large number of mindless, sheer-chance type gambling games (roulette, dice throw, coin-spin, pea-under-the-shell) operated by concessionaires. Only women, children, adolescents, and various other sorts of people who do not (or not yet) fight cocks – the extremely poor, the socially despised, the personally idiosyncratic – play at these games, at, of course, penny ante levels. Cockfighting men would be ashamed to go anywhere near them. Slightly above these people in standing are those who, though they do not themselves fight cocks, bet on the smaller matches around the edges. Next, there are those who fight cocks in small, or occasionally medium matches, but have not the status to join in the large ones, though they may bet from time to time on the side in those. And finally, there are those, the really substantial members of the community, the solid citizenry around whom local life revolves, who fight in the larger fights and bet on them around the side. The focusing element in these focused gatherings, these men generally dominate and define the sport as they dominate and define the society. When a Balinese male talks, in that almost venerative way, about “the true cockfighter,” the bebatoh (“bettor” ) or djuru kurung (“cage keeper”), it is this sort of person, not those who bring the mentality of the pea-and-shell game into the quite different, inappropriate context of the cockfight, the driven gambler (potet, a word which has the secondary meaning of thief or reprobate), and the wistful hanger-on, that they mean. For such a man, what is really going on in a match is something rather closer to an affaire d’honneur (though, with the Balinese talent for practical fantasy, the blood that is spilled is only figuratively human) than to the stupid, mechanical crank of a slot machine…

  13. I grew up around men who liked to hunt, in a rural area, but it was never about food to eat because it was necessary – it was about firing guns and killing animals and bragging about it. If there was any eating, that was secondary to the number of points and the amount of time spent lurking in the stand. Is there a difference between liking to kill animals relatively quickly for sport and liking to watch and entice animals to suffer? I think there is, but I can’t quite articulate it, and am not a fan of either.

  14. I have to agree with B. Hunting (in my not-unlimited experience with it) is something I do not associate with the upper classes. I come from a family of farmers and factory workers, not doctors and politicians. My family hunted. They hunted deer in the fall to thin out the population because… well… just let me say you don’t ever want to see a starving deer or deer that has starved to death. It’s horrible. It’s heart breakingl and beyond sad.

    The difference between the sport of dogfighting and the sport of hunting? With the exception of canned hunts (deplorable and sick), hunters don’t raise deer to hunt. They don’t riddle them with bullets and leave their carcases in a pile. Hunters sit around in trees covered in deer piss all day. Although there might be some wagering between friends, it isn’t a gambling venture. Hunters eat the venison. They sell the hides to leather workers. And yes, they mount the trophy. But the animal is used.

    Unless you are vegan, you really have no room to talk about the inhumanity to animals that we hunt. The life of a cow or chicken that goes to the slaughterhouse is far worse than the life of a wild deer.

    And this notion that dogfighting runs along racial lines… well… looks like it appeals to both blacks and whites around Fleaflicker.

    I’m still all worked up about this. It really is personal to me.

  15. The Editor – One thing that is interesting to me is that you and I seem to have come from the same part of the state, but to have experienced hunting in very different ways. You highlight some redeeming aspects of hunting, of using all parts of the animal, of providing food, etc. Maybe the difference I’m feeling between hunting and dogfighting is what you’re saying, that there is no such usefulness or sustenance in dogfighting.

  16. Easy, there, Editor. I wrote about both race and class. In urban areas, some of the higher concentrations of the poor tend to be people of color. In rural areas, of course, that might be different. So there.

    Anyway, I feel it necessary to reiterate that I don’t approve of dogfighting. I must also point out that I was reasonably poor for much of my younger adulthood, and I can tell you from experience that people without financial advantages tend to empower themselves through direct physicality. That, to me, might explain why poorer people tend to gravitate toward something as brutal as dogfighting, and why middle-class and rich people tend to go for hunting. As with all generalizations, of course, the devil’s in the details. Anyway, Michael Vick is something of an anomaly as he is a wealthy man who came of age in a poor environment; his attraction to dogfighting, in spite of all the advantages he’d secured for himself, might flow from that personal history.

    I’m digging your thesis stuff, Magniloquence. Very enlightening. Also, I like what you say about the psychological distance between hunter and prey. That’s why I used Dick Cheney as my example of someone who likes the canned hunt. Cheney, in his role as a politician, has also seemed to relish the slaughter of human beings, but he’s never gotten his hands dirty. And his primary target (Iraq) was probably the least threatening of all the targets his administration could have picked. So it goes. Anyway, just to make Exador happy, I’ll give you a link to the bloodthirsty ravings of an alleged liberal. Watching this scumbag’s glee at describing the decimation of thousands of human beings (and the plunging into misery of millions more) made me way sicker than anything I could see at a dogfight. Maybe we could put him in a cell with Mr. Vick so that the dog lovers and people lovers* could all be satisfied.

    *I’m assuming a bit of overlap between the two groups.

  17. There will be no feeling bad about being a giant nerd at this blog. Lord knows if the giant nerds at this blog all had to feel bad about being giant nerds, I’d never get out of bed.

    I keep thinking, too, CS, about what you’re saying about politicians who can arrange the deaths of thousands.

    But I think that this dogfighting stuff hits closer to home because it hits closer to home. Many of us have dogs in our homes. They’re our intimates. They are with us at our most ordinary; they sleep in our beds; they walk with us.

    Newscoma said something ages ago when this first broke about how everyone is up in arms about this and not so much about violence against women.

    But just as I think that this stuff is often a coded way to talk about race and class, of course I believe it’s a coded way to talk about gender. It’s not for nothing that both female dogs and female people are called bitches, I don’t think.

    Women identify with animals and we identify women with animals. It’s no mistake that Peta’s main spokespeople are women and no mistake that their message is “Imagine if someone treated you this way.” They’re appealling to women. Or trying, anyway.

    I think that’s one of the reasons you’re seeing such vitriol here as well. Women hear these kinds of stories and imagine that a man who would abuse one darling thing in his house would gladly abuse another.

    I don’t know why we can’t just rally around abused women, but we don’t. I think, instead, we use strories like this to stand in for domestic violence issues.

    That’s my working theory anyway.

  18. Rachel: Clarification. I grew up in Western New York State. The big joke in my family was about my Papa’s (grandfather’s) spaghetti. He hunted regularly, so you NEVER knew what was in his spaghetti, but it sure wasn’t hamburger.

    Sorry SC. Sorry I’m so… harsh. As I said, this whole subject is very personal to me. Dog fighters broke into my home in July and tried to steal my bullie, Sophie. Hunters never broke into my house to steal my dad’s rifle or shotgun. There is a lot of other crime associated with dogfighting than just the “sport” of the fight. There is absolutely no comparison.

    So yeah. I don’t want to hear about it being cultural, because there are plenty of poor folks out there that don’t get their jollies out of watching dogs tear each other apart.

  19. There’s a huge long history about why Americans connect abuse of animal dependents (which were a form of property…even “ordinary dogs”) and abuse of human dependents (also subjects in which men had vested property interests). Early animal rights and anti-cruelty orgs explicitly argued that the enjoyment of blood sports desensitized the participant and made him — always a him — more likely to engage in intimate violence and become “brutish”. The American Humane Association has as its slogan “Protecting Animals and Children since 1877.”

    So yes indeedy, there’s a big pink elephant in the room.

  20. Editor – Ah, I see. I grew up about where I think you are now. I did have a boyfriend out there whose parents ran a sheep and deer farm. From there I do know the feeling of not being sure the hamburger was hamburger. Yipes. Also, I read about Sophie but didn’t realize it was dog fighters who tried to take her. Very scary.

  21. They had busted up 2 rings (one in Hamblen County and one in Cocke County) in the preceding months. We found out after the fact from the shelter that a number of homes had been broken into in the area and dogs (“pit bulls”) had been taken.

    So the folks that hadn’t gotten caught up in the sting were replenishing their supply.

    That’s why Sophie lives here at the undisclosed secret location.

  22. Editor,

    I read yesterday that Vick’s dogs are running out of time to be either adopted or euthenized. What caught my eye was that they had to keep the dogs at a secret location out of fear that dogfighters would steal them because they are of such high value.


  23. Oh, yeah.

    Thanks CS. Now that Bridgett has predictably tied dogfighting (like every other topic) to chauvinism and the patriarchy, the circle is complete.

  24. Exador, you give me too much credit. I’m not the one who made the tie. As my comment says, this is something other thinkers have studied for about 150 years. I myself write very little about animal/child abuse.

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