By Laura Oppenheimer
Out of all the public condemnation of NFL player Michael Vick and those who participate in dog fighting, perhaps no one’s words were more passionate than those of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. Byrd took to the Senate floor and delivered a scathing attack on those who participate in the “sport” of dog fighting. “It is a brutal, sadistic event,” he said in a 24-minute address, “motivated by barbarism of the worst sort and cruelty of the worst, worst, worst, sadistic kind. One is left wondering: Who are the real animals—the creatures inside the ring or the creatures outside the ring?” Tails recently spoke with Sen. Byrd about his love of dogs, the work being done by Congress to help animals, and his hope that we can all treat the animals in our communities a little more humanely.
You gave a very strongly worded condemnation of Michael Vick on the Senate floor. What was the impetus for this? Have you always been a strong advocate for dogs?
My speech was not directed at Michael Vick. That matter is something that will be resolved through the justice system. I was condemning the scourge of dog fighting in the United States. When I saw those horrible images on television, I thought about my own dogs, Trouble and Billy Byrd, both of whom have been my faithful companions and provided me with much love and comfort, and I summoned the strongest language I could.
Michael Vick pleaded his case out instead of going to trial. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think he should be able to play in the NFL again once he gets out of prison?
Again, that is a matter for the justice system, and not the U.S. Senate. Whether Michael Vick plays football again is for the NFL and the fans to decide.
Why do you believe dog fighting is a national, and not state-level issue?
When it comes to God’s creatures, I am interested in advancing this issue at all levels of government—state and local, as well as national level—whichever will ensure their humane treatment. I believe government has an important role to play in standing up for innocent creatures that cannot protect themselves.
And do you believe Congress has been aggressive enough in pursuing this legislation?
The Congress can always be more aggressive, by conducting more hearings and bringing more attention to the issue.
What other types of animal-related legislation would you like to see passed? Have you been actively pursuing anything?
I continue to advocate for legislation to prevent horse slaughter, to encourage animal adoption, and to ensure the humane treatment of all animals. This is an issue that is very close to my heart, and I will continue to speak out and fight on behalf of the humane treatment of animals.
Your home state of West Virginia has been in the news for both dog fighting and because of the poor condition that animals in shelters are kept in. Are you doing anything to alleviate these problems?
The inhumane treatment of animals is not unique to one geographic area or socio-economic background. Sadly, these crimes occur in all areas of the country, northern and southern states, urban and rural areas. I am committed to addressing this problem wherever it exists. It is for all of the authorities at the federal, state, and local levels to do more.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I often recall President Harry Truman’s famous adage: If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Well, I did that.