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No matter how you feel about Michael Vick or the folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), only a drooling, spiral-eyed sadist would insist that drowning, hanging or electrocuting innocent dogs should be an unpunishable offense, let alone allowing them to rip each other to shreds for fun and profit. Guilty dogs should be included in that statement, too.

Now that Vick will cop a guilty plea in a federal dogfighting case loaded with allegations of such hideous, heartless behavior, PETA is calling for the public's assistance in demanding that the NFL add cruelty to animals "in all its forms" to the list of offenses in the league's code of personal conduct. The organization's Web site cites three prior cases -- Falcon tackle Jonathan Babineaux accused in February of beating his girlfriend's pit bull, which later died; ex-Packers/Cardinals/Giants running back LeShon Johnson found guilty in 2004 of involvement in a dogfighting ring; and former Eagles running back Thomas Hamner charged in 2001 with beating his dog.

If there's any cosmic justice for all of those poor pooches, Commissioner Roger Goodell will listen to PETA's minions. Of course, if he acts according to PETA's standards, he'll have to suspend a big chunk of the league. PETA is steadfastly against using animals for food, clothing, experimentation, entertainment or "any other purpose" and the NFL is home to more than a few players who avidly "enjoy" hunting.

Yep, hunting. Don't think that widely-accepted recreational activity is cruel? That deer or rabbit that just had a shell or arrow put into it and crawled off to bleed to death in the brush will beg to differ, as will the buffalo, boar, elk and more that are sitting ducks in enclosed areas on so-called "canned hunt" farms. And if you go by PETA's standards, fishing is a no-go, too. Think that bass enjoys that hook in the roof of its mouth while it's hauled gasping out of the drink?

I know. Get a grip, Rolfe. Personally, I've never understood what's so enjoyable about killing things. The chance to spend time in the great outdoors? Take a hike, son. For food and clothing? Unless you live in the wild, God invented supermarkets, falafel stands and fabrics just for you, Jack.

Before we go any further, I plead guilty to sitting at the groaning board each night, belching contentedly as I toss bones over my shoulder. I know that the animals I consume are raised and killed in hellish conditions. It's amazing what a little barbecue sauce can do to a man's conscience. I pass a sheep farm every day and when I think about chasing one of those cute, wooly critters around with a big ol' fork, I realize I'm just a goldplated candy ass who would be slaughtering and butchering fruits and vegetables -- exclusively -- if I had to slaughter and butcher my own meat.

I've heard the arguments that hunting helps control certain populations, such as deer, that would otherwise take a big nasty hit from disease and starvation. But whether it comes at the hands of Mother Nature or mankind, cruelty is cruelty. Is cruelty merely defined by the manner and circumstance in which pain and death are inflicted on animals?

You bet.

So, the NFL's avid hunters and fishers can rest easy, not that the league would ever bow to PETA's standards. After all, this is the ultimate meat-eater league in a sport where tales of coaches strangling a bulldog (Harvard's Percy Haughton in 1908) or having a bull castrated in front of players (Mississippi State's Jackie Sherrill in 1992) to inspire their ferocity are legendary if not always true, as in the case of Haughton. But, in the wake of the Vick case, PETA's plea deserves a sincere nod in the form of stern warnings and penalties from the NFL. The general legal definition of cruelty used by the Humane Society and state chapters of the Society For Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a reasonable place to start: "Any act of violence or neglect against an animal, causing unnecessary and extreme pain or suffering and death."

At the very least, exactly what those acts are should be food for thought.


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