OK so I’m recycling. I spent so long yesterday writing and recording this piece for NPR I didn’t have enough time to write something fun for you today. But you know I’d never let you guys go without. So consider it an exclusive sneak peak at something that will almost surely never enjoy air-time.

Vick: A vet’s take:

When I was fifteen, an overzealous boyfriend showed up on my doorstep with a pit bull puppy—an offer this future vet couldn’t refuse. This was the late eighties when the breed was regarded more as an edgy version of a Labrador retriever than the emblem of urban rebellion it is now.

So it is that as a veterinarian and unapologetic pit bull-lover who writes daily on animal health issues, I’ve been following the Michael Vick story very closely. Sure, I’ve had my say…and my fun, too. It’s hard to resist the temptation to demonize someone so out of touch with American culture that he would kill dogs for fun—and think it’s no big deal.

More recently, though, I’ve had cause to examine the more sober aspects of this case—as if a yard full of dead dogs wasn’t sobering enough. What happened to this talented, hard working guy that he would manage to throw his life away on a betting bloodsport?

My take? Sure he knew it was illegal. He just didn’t bet on the outrage. How could he? Neither did I. As a veterinarian, perhaps I’m jaded to the injustices committed against animals every day. Whether it’s a pit bull flayed by his opponent’s fangs or the commonplace lack of owner compliance that passes for love, I’m used to cruel treatment of animals.

But I’ll confess, I was pleasantly surprised by the outcry over Vick’s offenses. I blogged about it, trash-talked about it with my clients and commented on it indiscriminately online. So did everyone else, it seems. The story had legs that grew stronger with each outraged remark and violent Youtube video. That’s when Vick’s punishment became a hot topic of graphic debate—and when Atlanta area shelters allegedly began to receive Vick jersey donations for wiping down their kennels. 

It’s true, the uproar has been fierce and unrelenting. So much so that critics have condemned the volume as too high for the crime. They decry his public censure for animal abuse as inexplicably more caustic than for a cocaine charge. Then they argue there are worse criminals still playing ball—murderers, rapists, multiple drug offenders, child abusers. Why so harsh on Vick?

Because the bulk of the fury in this case isn’t about Michael Vick. It’s about the shocking brutality of the crime—one whose sordid details most US animal lovers were unaware of before Vick’s debacle. While we may have become desensitized to drugs and violence, high-profile animal cruelty is a barbarous novelty. As a result, the pent-up rage on behalf of abused animals everywhere has been granted a rare forum here. And it’s clearly proved its muscle in the pit of public opinion.

To be sure, Vick’s story is a tragic train wreck—you can’t look away or fail to deride the engineer for driving drunk. But it’s more than just another cautionary tale for overprivileged celebrity—it’s an extraordinary demonstration of the maturing cultural drive in defense of animals. To the uninitiated, pit bulls may not seem likely poster children for animal welfare issues, but some of us still remember them fondly as beloved family members more worthy of protection than one criminal’s football career.