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Dog lovers cry foul over comments from Jay Leno and Chris Rock about Michael Vick

November 11, 2009 |  6:58 pm

Chris RockTalk show host Jay Leno's interview with comedian Chris Rock last month caused many animal-loving viewers' jaws to drop. Did they really just say that? they wondered.

The answer is sure to displease animal advocates who've expressed outrage about the actions of NFL star and convicted dogfighter Michael Vick: Yes, they really did say that.

During the interview, the two comics' chatter turned to the controversial arrest of filmmaker Roman Polanski in late September.  Rock expressed shock that members of the Hollywood community stepped up to defend Polanski, who fled the U.S. more than 30 years ago after being accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. 

Sounds reasonable so far.  But that's when Leno steered the conversation in an unexpected direction, using Vick's case as a contrast to Polanski's: "It's amazing to me -- you mistreat a dog, and you lose your career, and you go to jail for two years."  Rock's response added insult to injury for dog lovers: "Yeah, look at Michael Vick! What the hell did Michael Vick do, man? A dog? A pit bull ain't even a real dog."

Donna Reynolds, co-founder and executive director of the Bay Area-based pit bull rescue group BAD RAP, was quick to respond to Rock's and Leno's statements on BAD RAP's blog.  After the Leno show (which Reynolds says she didn't watch), "emails started pouring in from people begging us to slam Chris Rock for comments made regarding Michael Vick and his pit bulls," Reynolds wrote, adding, "I'm glad I missed that show. Leno hit a new low, too."

Leno Carole Pearson, founder of L.A.-based group the Dawg Squad, which rescues and places many pit bulls and pit mixes as well as other much-maligned breeds like Rottweilers, was inclined to agree with Reynolds.  "There are many celebrities out there who think that joking about problems will make the problem go away," Pearson said today. "Jay Leno's and Chris Rock's dialogue regarding Michael Vick and pit bulls in general is a prime example."  

The Dawg Squad and other like-minded rescue groups "fight every day to make people sensitive to the plight of pit bulls and bully breeds in general," Pearson continued.  But it's an uphill battle to make the general public understand that members of this often-demonized breed are typically gentle and affectionate by nature and only become fighters through human interference, she added -- and comments like Rock's and Leno's certainly aren't helping matters. 

"These dogs are so in-tune to people that they will do anything their person asks ... even fight," Pearson said. "It's been said before and I'll say it again ... the problem is not pit bulls.  It's the people who have them and treat them as if they were not 'real dogs,' just items for disposal."

Writing on the website Change.org, animal-loving blogger Stephanie Ernst summed up her displeasure most succinctly: "I was indifferent to Chris Rock already. I disliked Jay Leno already. Now I have good reason to dislike them both."

Leno recently incurred the wrath of PETA when his show entered into an advertising partnership with fast-food giant McDonald's. PETA argues that the method by which chickens are slaughtered to make McDonald's products is inherently cruel and is attempting to pressure the company into adopting a more humane slaughter method.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Top photo: Chris Rock at a 2005 event. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Bottom photo: Jay Leno walks onstage for the debut of "The Jay Leno Show" on Sept. 14.  Credit: Justin Lubin / AFP / Getty Images

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