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Senator Byrd’s Impassioned, Troubling Speech About Dogfighting

Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) loves cats and dogs. I won’t deny that. But his presentation of the dogfighting issue, for me, is exactly what’s wrong with animal welfare. Watch his speech and you’ll notice that it appears the reason dogfighting is so terrible is because dogs give us so much. It’s cruel because they’re of use to us, and repaying them by making them fight to the death (or worse) is atrocious.

Let’s deconstruct. Byrd says:

  • "The mere petting of these social creatures can lower blood pressure in humans."
  • "The affection that a dog provides is unlimited, unqualified, and unconditional."
  • "Dogs protect us, assist those of us with afflictions, and provide hours, hours, hours of enjoyable companionship."
  • Something about being happy that "if the people allegedly involved are found guilty, they’ll have to answer to our judicial system. . . and may God help their souls!"
  • "The hottest places in hell are reserved for the sick and brutal people who hold God’s creatures in such brutal and cruel contempt."
  • And my personal favorite: "One is left wondering: Who are the real animals: the creatures inside or outside the ring?"

Look, I know the 89-year old Senator means well. But behind his impassioned words is a spectacularly speciesist message that’s very, very troubling.

  • Dogs are worthy of our care and sympathy, largely because of reciprocity. They give us health benefits, companionship, protection, love and joy, therefore we owe them kindness in return.

People who willingly harm God’s creatures are evil and going to hell. I ask Senator Byrd, are cows not God’s creatures? What about fish? Chickens? People willingly harm farmed animals, by the billions and billions, and I don’t hear him being upset about that. They may not be bred to kill each other, but they are bred to live a torturous existence and be brutally killed for the enjoyment of their delectable flesh. Might God help the souls of the farmers who stuff thousands of chickens in sheds and sell their flesh and eggs at a premium with "cage-free" stamped on the packages? What about truly free-range farms, where the farmers love and care for the animals, while stealing their reproductive control, taking their eggs and milk, and building trust only so they can betray that trust and kill them for profit? Should we not pray for their souls, too?

Dogfighting is hideous, yes. And fortunately we have a law that supposedly is going to dispense some kind of justice and punishment. We’ll see.

To everyone enraged about animal cruelty, I ask: what’s in your refrigerator? What’s in your closet? What’s in your car? I’m not sure Michael Vick is that much more "sick and brutal" than anyone else who uses animals for food, clothing or sport. Clearly, culturally, dogfighting is fine with him. For much of the country it isn’t fine, as dogs hold a special place in the culture of many Americans. Not so special that they shouldn’t be used in potentially "life-saving" medical research, though, which I find disturbing. So some uses of dogs are horrible, yet others might be horrible yet they’re more socially acceptable.

Finally, Senator Byrd provides an answer to all of my queries with:

  • "One is left wondering: Who are the real animals: the creatures inside or outside the ring?"

Implicit in that profoundly-unfortunate query is his definition of animals as cruel, brutal, lacking in conscience and vicious, right? And that humans who fight dogs have become just like dogs: cruel, brutal, lacking in conscience and vicious, right? So then dogs, who are protective, loving, and lower the blood pressure of people through their mere petting, are really behaving like people? This is absurd. It may have made for a dramatic moment on the Senate floor, but it’s rife with problematic assertions and hypocrisy.

When Senator Byrd realizes that though 60 odd dogs were treated brutally and are likely to be euthanized while over 10,000,000,000 are treated brutally only to be slaughtered, and he damns the people responsible for the latter to the hottest place in hell, I’ll be impressed with his commitment to "God’s creatures."

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mike Grieco #

    While parts of the "civilized"? world was sleeping,i was in tears with laughter with Senator Byrd's speech (sorry i could not help myself.)
    Mary-i wish you were on the floor with Mr.Byrd to "enlighten" him and his believer's.I sure hope/pray:) they read your blog for some education.
    As Professor Gary Francione recently discussed:"if the law doesn't work for companion animals it's not likely to work for anybody."
    Then again,anti-cruelty laws will be selective because even if it works for companion animals,it likely won't work for animals that are produced and slaughtered for food,because and unfortunately many people see nonhuman animals much the same way as Mr.Byrd.
    But, i am optimistic that the masses will come to understand that ALL nonhuman animals are worthy of our respect.Thanks to all the 'abolitionist'.

    July 23, 2007
  2. Senator Byrd has eloquently and passionately delivered speechs on the floor of the Senate regarding the abuses of farm animals in factories, in transport and at slaughterhouses. I wouldn't be too quick to ridicule an 89 year old man who has been fighting for animals (especially those raised for food) for many years now. He may have inadvertantly sent a message that companion animals especially deserve our respect and consideration due to the unconditional love they give us over other animals, but his heart is and always has been in the right place. He has done more for animal rights than most of us, so lets not resort to belittling his latest effort to speak on behalf of animals.

    July 23, 2007
  3. Patricia,
    I know he loves animals. I know he means well. I say that. However, when you deconstruct his speech, you find exactly what's wrong with our mentality regarding nonhuman animals. Some are worthy of respect and good treatment because they give us something that we need/want. That's precisely the opposite of the message I would like to see.

    Recently, in a failed attempt to ban greyhound racing in New Hampshire, there was all this talk about cruelty and just how much and how often, and only one elected official (Rep. Wendelboe) had the guts to say it's wrong to profit off of dogs, period.

    The failure of welfare is precisely that it concentrates on cruelty, rather than on the reality that we have no right to use nonhuman animals. Period. As long as we circumvent the property status issue, we are no closer to our goal of abolition.

    July 23, 2007
  4. Mike Grieco #

    Hi Patricia,
    I meant no disrespect for Mr.Bryd,i made a comment on his speech,his opinion.
    His speech did not indicate respect for all life,he only spoke of dogs. Therefore that is why i said what i said,because IT IS very typical and sad that many people who "truly" love dogs, don't think twice about the rights of other animals.
    You said Mr.Bryd "has done more for animal rights than most of us."Wonderful news,it is a win,win for all life.
    Mr.Bryd is "vegan" i assume?
    *Peace & Health to All Life*

    July 24, 2007
  5. Mike,
    As a vegan and guardian of 7 animals I feel I am somewhat enlightened understanding animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on or use for entertainment. I don't know if Senator Byrd is a vegan or not, maybe you could investigate this for us. I did however, receive an email from Ingrid Newkirk praising Byrd's speech. Ingrid is the most enlightened human being I have ever had the pleasure to meet and I would think that hearing you say you were in tears laughing at his speech and that maybe Mary could enlighten him and his believers is not only disrespect, but open ridicule. At 89 years of age Byrd is far superior to his cronies who still have archaic beliefs regarding the use and abuse of animals. His speech was primarily devoted to the malicious treatment of dogs used for fighting since that was the issue. When issues are rasied about the treatment of farm animals then he speaks passionately about the abuses at factory farms and slaughterhouses. I do agree with you that most people who love their companion animals don't consider the suffering of animals they so proudly display on their grills at cookouts and other festivities. For me personally it is very difficult living in a culture that supports and condones the suffering of animals raised for food. Peace to you as well Mike.

    July 24, 2007
  6. Tricia,

    Perhaps I can provide some clarification, here. The difference between Ingrid and her approach to activism (what, thanks to Professor Gary Francione, is now known as "new welfare"), and abolition (which I would say is where Mike and I stand), is that the campaigns of new welfarists have been shown to not be not only ineffective, but harmful to nonhuman animals. Professor Francione (and others, but he, in my opinion has the best material at has clearly demonstrated that after all of the welfare campaigns for farmed animals and companion animals, more animals are being killed than ever, and in more hideous ways. Only a year ago, I was a new welfarist (though I wasn't a fan of PETA's misogynistic and other campaigns), so I know what it's like to be certain that the theory behind your actions is correct, and if you keep going with efforts to regulate the institutionalized use of animals, abolition will inevitably result someday. But reality–history–isn't playing out that way at all. I urge you to look into Professor Francione's work. It changed my entire perspective, overnight.

    Finally, Ingrid Newkirk, whom I too have met, praises slaughterhouses for slight alterations in the manner in which animals are killed. That is not the action of someone who is enlightened. That is the action of someone who refuses to say what she probably really wants to say: I'll praise a slaughterhouse the day it shuts down, never to reopen.

    July 24, 2007
  7. prad #

    mary (and mike),

    i really think some deconstructing of your statements is in order.

    1. you write, "When Senator Byrd realizes that though 60 odd dogs were treated brutally and are likely to be euthanized while over 10,000,000,000 are treated brutally only to be slaughtered …" this attack on byrd clearly suggests that he doesn't realize that 10 billion animals are treated brutally. do you have evidence to support this? or are you simply using parts of his speech to extrapolate a desired conclusion?

    2. mike write, "His speech did not indicate respect for all life,he only spoke of dogs." just why should his speech indicate respect for all life when the issue at hand is dogs? when byrd spoke out on behalf of farm animals, should we have accused him of not indicating respect for all life because seals, elephants and whales aren't in the usda's manifesto?

    3. you write that peta has done misogynistic campaigns implying that the organization is mysogynist. misogyny is defined as 'a hatred of women'. just because peta makes use of the present day attitudes towards female sexuality to make a statement doesn't make them misogynistic – it can be argued that they are sexist (though the opposite can be just as easily argued), but this is not misogyny. for instance, football player joe namath (who btw went veg) is reputed to have liked to pursue women for their physical attributes. one could say that he was being sexist for doing so, but since he most certainly didn't hate women he was not a misogynist. again, why would you make such an unwarranted extrapolation?

    4. you write, "Professor Francione … has clearly demonstrated that after all of the welfare campaigns for farmed animals and companion animals, more animals are being killed than ever, and in more hideous ways." is the implication here that more animals are being killed and in more hideous ways, because of welfare campaigns? are you suggesting that fewer animals would be killed and in less hideous ways if the welfare campaigns didn't exist in the first place? have we taken population growth and increase in export markets into account at all?

    5. you write, "Ingrid Newkirk, whom I too have met, praises slaughterhouses for slight alterations in the manner in which animals are killed." you seem to think that there is something bad in this action. perhaps you've forgotten the peta principle "animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment". isn't that as abolitionist as it gets? is one really being untrue to that principle simply because one acknowledges the slaughterhouse's minimal effort of pseudocompassion?

    6. you write about ingrid newkirk, "That is not the action of someone who is enlightened". is there a particular course with examinations that someone has to undergo in order to become 'enlightened'? who is the examiner?

    in your On Liking the Taste of Steak post you write, "people cave in and lose their way for a variety of reasons, and reprimanding them isn't going to get them back on track. In my experience, tolerance of the path of each person is what gets them, eventually, to veganism, if in fact they feel the need for a personal ethic". surely, this courteous spirit of 'tolerance' should be extended the likes of byrd and newkirk too.

    one might want to realize that historically abolition doesn't happen via an electric switch mechanism, but rather through interactions that result in various quantum steps. it would be beneficial to give thought to those interactions.

    the more-abolitionist-than-thou group who attack the so-called 'new animal welfare' should at least try to do it well and fairly.

    July 24, 2007
  8. Prad,

    Start here:

    Then go here:

    Learning the realities of the harm that welfare campaigns have caused was very painful to me, as I was a firm believer and a consistent financial contributor. That's why I urge you to delve into the consequences of welfare: it makes more people feel better about using animals (=abusing them). PETA is very problematic, as they have some abolitionist language, yet their strategies are not abolitionist at all. And I completely understand why: they think that little by little they will achieve abolition. But they haven't. It has all backfired miserably. Please read Professor Francione.

    As for the enlightenment thing, I was actually riffing on Tricia noting that Ingrid is enlightened. If she can judge Ingrid as enlightened, why can't I say she isn't? I don't think any human is enlightened. That's why we're all here.

    As for Senator Byrd, the purpose of Animal Person is to deconstruct how we frame our relationship with animals, and his language was troubling, though not uncommon. That's clear.

    Finally, the idea that PETAs sexist campaigns are perceived as misogynist isn't new at all. Try this one for a great explanation:

    Prad and Tricia, I have been where you are. If you read my blog from last may or june you'll see I was a new welfarist. I had a fundraiser for the HSUS legal fund, for heaven's sake! I really thought I was doing the right thing. My language was all abolition, yet my action (outside from being a vegan) wasn't.

    I do hope you are able to take the time to seriously consider Professor Francione's work. It just might change everything about your activism.

    July 24, 2007
  9. Prad,

    Also check out: How PETA is damaging to the animal rights cause by this newer blogger.

    July 24, 2007
  10. prad #

    mary, for some reason you seem to think that i haven't examined gary's stuff. i have – and for more than just "overnight". some of his arguments are right on, but some of them utilize the same 'extrapolative' mechanisms you use here.

    if you changed your perspective "overnight" as you say, you might want to look at some of his claims again and see if they have logical and factual validity.

    for instance, have you looked into slaughter stats over the past 25 years to see first, the degree of accuracy the 'more animals are being killed' statement possesses and then second, try to verify the validity of this statement's being a causal result of the welfare movement?

    peta's "little by little" concept can't be denigrated just because someone says so. as i mentioned earlier, historically, social justice movements have progressed little by little. there isn't an on-off switch. so peta, at least has historical evidence to back their approach (however, foolish we think some of their stunts are). what backing are you and gary are providing for your claims? can you show at least one social justice victory that didn't occur via incremental changes?

    the rationale byrd provides is admittedly not abolitionist – it really doesn't require a great deal of deconstruction – but then, i rather doubt if byrd is an abolitionist either. and you didn't just deconstruct byrd's message, you needlessly suggested that he was ignorant (the 10 billion thingy) adding you wouldn't be impressed till he overcame this supposed ignorance. it almost seems that unless one is vegan, abolitionist and speaks on behalf of all animals simultaneously, one just doesn't make the grade. so once again i ask, is byrd not worthy of that courteous spirit of 'tolerance' you wrote about previously?

    just saying that "PETAs sexist campaigns are perceived as misogynist isn't new at all" doesn't really address the point which is that sexism does not equal misogyny. if you read the contents of the link you wanted me to go to (thinking perhaps that i hadn't seen it before), you will note that the 'miso' word appears only once – it is sort of snuck in there right after 'sexist'. now the fact that gary uses both words is an indication that he thinks misogyny and sexism really aren't quite the same thing. perhaps he accepts this or perhaps this is yet another of those little 'extrapolations' … after all misogyny is more stunning than mere sexism right – and sure to get the media's attention? but these little conveniences are scattered thoughout like the "Although good results for nonhumans would not justify sexism, sexism has not produced any good results for nonhumans", which is a creative effort to place all the blame for the cited gallop poll result squarely on the shoulders of the peta campaign 😀

    now as far as the enlightenment thing, you are certainly free to say that ingrid is not enlightened. in fact, being the humble person ingrid is (despite her racing car fetish), she would no doubt agree with you. but you didn't just do that, did you? you implied that she is not enlightened because she praised a slaughter house for adopting more humane methods. i don't really see how her praising determines whether she is enlightened or not. if you say that ingrid is not enlightened because you don't think any human is enlightened (assuming ingrid is human), that makes a sensible syllogism, but it seems that was not the motivation for your comment. i don't necessarily disagree with your statement latter statement though, because i think the "it takes one to know one" idea applies with matters of enlightenment.

    finally, you say "Prad and Tricia, I have been where you are". have you been spying on us, mary? just where is it you think we are? 😀 😀

    i think it is great that you like gary's ideologies and his influence can be seen in your blogs many of which are excellent. i do think that it's a good idea though to take it easy with the extrapolations unless you can actually provide verification.

    i also appreciate your trying to initiate me to gary's work, but it's really a bit too late for that, you know. so would it be more appropos for me to say, "mary, we've been where you are"?

    July 24, 2007
  11. Ingrid Newkirk murders non-human animals. That should be enough not to take her seriously.

    July 25, 2007
  12. Prad,

    My mind was changed overnight, over a year ago (regarding theory), because I found Professor Francione's arguments compelling enough.

    You do not.


    Because you have read abolitionist literature, you then know that it is about incremental steps–not in the regulation of institutionalized animal use–but in not using animals. Period. That is where we part.

    Perhaps I was hasty in my tossing of links regarding misogyny (just picking Prof. Francione, whom I nearly always agree with), but for me the concept is so well covered that I don't feel the need to address it further.

    I am here to get people to think about how nonhumans are presented in the culture (and then get them to go far beyond that). It's great that you've gone even further, and are way ahead of us!

    July 25, 2007
  13. prad #


    i do understand that you are here to get people to think about how nonhumans are presented in culture and i think you are successful in this goal. i am also glad that you generally post factually, honestly and without sarcasm. that is why i often send your work to others.

    July 25, 2007
  14. Prad,

    I am the most sarcastic person I know, and I am not proud of that (I'd love to blame it on a NY upbringing, but that's just averting responsibility). When I first started blogging, I was on sarcasm overdrive at times, and it was a great release. Then I realized people were reading, and though sarcasm can be fun (and really easy at times), and it might make me feel better for a moment, it doesn't serve my purpose. I was being called the Andy Rooney of Animal Rights, and let's just say it wasn't a compliment. You would have despised my style back then.

    Clearly, when a button of mine is pushed (like the obsession with 60 odd, very tortured dogs in a society where we kill without necessity every day, by the millions, and don't think twice), I can choose sarcasm, and the choice is rarely a good one. Sarcasm as a sort of obvious linguistic retort to something, but not as an emotional reaction, fares better much of the time, as a form of humor and commentary.

    Senator Byrd has talked for years about farmed animals and I know it's not just the dogs he cares about. However, I personally (not you–me) am convinced that the changes in practices inside a slaughterhouse aren't going to serve my goal. Instead, they'll convince more people that humane slaughter just might NOT be an oxymoron.

    Thanks for sticking around to a peaceful, productive conclusion.

    July 25, 2007
  15. prad #


    well, i've found that i'm really not too good with sarcasm and i've been told more than once that i just don't catch on when it's directed at me.

    i too don't think that 'humane' changes in a slaughter house is particularly useful (though possibly preferrable for the individual victims). however, i think there may be some merit in the cummulative effect of some of these efforts, which is why i don't object too strongly when the occasional pseudocompassionate act is acknowledged. that acknowledgement gets people thinking too and in more directions than one.

    thank you too for having this discussion with me.

    July 25, 2007
  16. Mike Grieco #

    Hi everybody,
    Is it safe to come out now ?… Is it ?
    Thank you 🙂
    Animals are at our 'Mercy'…All Animals.
    Our actions will decide their 'fate.'

    The Right path is 'Animal Rights.'

    July 26, 2007
  17. Hi Mike,
    While you went into hiding, I decided to bow out gracefully realizing Prad and Mary could take this match to the finals. It was a good exercise for all and of course we are on the same team. Our first priority here is the animals who indeed are at our mercy. I am assuming you have read Matthew Scully's Dominion, Animal suffering and mans call to mercy. "Non-violence leads to the highest ethics which is the goal of evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages."
    Thomas Edison

    July 26, 2007
  18. Welcome back, Tricia and Mike!

    Now, don't hate me, but I wrote a very positive review of Dominion in August of 2006 (, and I've since reread much of the book and I'm less of a fan. As an atheist it got under my skin. And I don't like the idea of mercy; I prefer justice. And, of course, I'd rather a message that says we have no right to use them, not just we have a duty to not abuse them. But that's me. If it gets people to go vegan, that's wonderful.

    July 26, 2007

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