Eagles Vick evokes strong emotions from mid-Hudson residents

By Kevin Gleason
Times Herald-Record
Published: 2:00 AM – 12/19/10

Shari Forst sits in the gazebo at Warwick Valley Humane Society petting Hoyt, a pit bull whose name derives from the road nearby on which he was found abandoned last month. Believed to be 3 years old, he has a stunningly beautiful black coat and white streak starting on the forehead and expanding to cover most of his face and belly.

Hoyt arrived with issues. He’d sharply lift his head each time he heard the sound of a pickup truck, presumably the kind of vehicle driven by his previous owner. Forst says Hoyt “would growl at everything, including me,” and trusted no one, clear signs of neglect and abandonment. A month later, and with Forst’s help, Hoyt is up for adoption as a friendly tail-wagging, face-licking sort who seeks attention.

Forst, who lives in the Village of Florida, has dedicated a good part of her life to caring for dogs. She’s been a trainer for 22 years and board certified companion animal behavior counselor the past decade. Now Forst is asked her reaction to hearing that Eagles quarterback Michael Vick wants a dog.

She answers quickly and disdainfully. “I wanted to throw up. … I don’t think he should be given a stuffed dog.”

Vick continues to draw heated debate into his second season of NFL reinstatement and three years after being sentenced to 23 months in prison for running a dogfighting operation. Many viewpoints are personal and emotional. On the cusp of perhaps the league’s biggest game all season — Eagles at Giants Sunday for first place in the NFC East — we present viewpoints from three parties: an Eagles fan who believes Vick deserves another chance, a diehard football fan who says we aren’t entitled to cast judgment and a dog lover and trainer.
The Eagles fan

Jim Bannon’s dad grew up in Philadelphia and had Eagles season tickets dating from 1961. Many family members remain in the Philly area, and Jim, raised in Scranton, Pa., spent his childhood years attending a half-dozen Eagles games per season. He’s a local business owner and lives in Mount Hope, just outside Middletown. He’s married with three children ages 7, 9 and 10.

Bannon is sure to point out that he finds Vick’s crimes “absolutely atrocious.” But when the Eagles announced the Vick signing, Bannon had another reaction. “I was ecstatic,” he says.

“Everybody deserves a second chance. We are given a lot of second chances,” Bannon says. “I’m not begrudging anybody not rooting for him. I’m not begrudging anybody not clapping for him, or anybody not buying his jersey. But if I was in business and I got in trouble, I paid the price and went to jail — I would not be able to go back into business? He paid the price.”

Bannon points out that pro sports are filled with players getting second chances for assorted serious crimes. Why not Vick? Bannon’s boys, 9- and 10-year-old Eagles fans, are still a bit young to comprehend the details of Vick’s actions. Bannon drew a rough outline for the kids: Vick ran with the wrong crowd, got into trouble, paid for his mistakes, and “what he did was a terrible thing.”

“They appreciate his talent,” Bannon says.

The diehard football fan

Chris Flowers is 35 years old, married and the father of five living in the Town of Newburgh. He’s a diehard football fan whose substantial thirst for fantasy football (nine leagues at last count) barely represents a sip compared to his consumption of all things Chicago Bears. He owns a pit bull named Obi and absolutely would take Vick on his team.

“Well,” Flowers begins, “as someone who has made my share of mistakes, and as a Christian, it’s my nature to forgive. But in truth, it is not my place to forgive. In my opinion, it is not my place to judge him. Only he and God know whether he has changed. But I will say this: A man can be measured by his actions. He admitted guilt, went to prison, served his time and has been out in front of this situation and taken responsibility and is now an advocate for animal rights, so his actions speak louder then his or anyone else’s words.”

Flowers has more to say. “The Bible says, ‘From the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks’ and his words seem genuine and from the heart. But I challenge anyone who thinks to judge Michael Vick with this: Have they lived a perfect life? Are there things they have done that no one knows about? Are there things they are ashamed of? Are there things they have done in their lives that they wouldn’t whisper into the darkness? The bible says, ‘Judge not lest ye be judged, and by the measure you use to judge others so will you be judged.”
The dog lover

Shari Forst is all for second chances. She just doesn’t consider Vick a prime candidate. She wrote letters to the NFL and to the Eagles expressing her concerns, her anger, at the reinstatement and signing of Vick. She got no reply. Forst fails to see genuine remorse and contrition in Vick interviews.

“I don’t think he thinks he did anything wrong,” says Forst, who works twice a week at the Humane Society and runs a company called Canine Case Squad, Inc. “He knows society thinks he did something wrong. But I don’t think he believes inside that he did anything wrong. I don’t think he’s rehabbed at all. I think if he was given two dogs to breed, he’d start a whole new fight kennel.”

Even abused women can make a conscious choice to run from their abuser, Forst says. Dogs can’t help themselves. They are essentially at the whims of their owner. Yet they have incredibly sharp senses, which is why Forst speaks confidently of their intuition.

“If you put (Vick) in front of a dog right now,” Forst says, “that dog would react.”

link to original article: http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=%2F20101219%2FSPORTS%2F12190357

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