03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Dog on the Elevator and New Media

"WARNING EXTREMELY VIOLENT VIDEO" reads the notice above the CCTV video of Chris Grant repeatedly kicking his girlfriend's dog on a NYC elevator. Nineteen of the 920 who reacted to the post heeded the warning and opted out of the viewing, even as they offered comment. Judging from the reactions of those who did watch it, most believe Grant should be:

-Fed to their (fill in the blank): Rottweiler; German shepherd; pitbull; two English Bulldogs, or served up as a chew dummy for military or police dogs;

-Locked in an elevator, prison cell or other small, confined space with (fill in the blank): a nest of rattlesnakes; a lion; fellow inmates with rape in their hearts; the monster who stabbed the nine-year-old at the same address; a cobra; a "steaming pile";

-Kicked in the testicles numerous times; beaten with fists, a tire iron or lead pipe to within an inch of his life, or until he loses control of his bowels; torn apart by bare hands; backed over by an automobile;

-Doused, genitals and face, with highly concentrated sulphuric acid; tortured at the highest level for days and weeks on end; relieved of his wiener in the middle of the night;

-Or, somewhat less aggressively: jailed; forced into counseling; tattooed with a scarlet letter on his forehead; shunned as "that guy" for the rest of his life.

More than a few respondents were advocates of swift and sure accountability, whether in the form of therapy or an avenging nastiness (fans of the latter producing Mr. Grant's home address and issuing claims of imminent visits by bat-wielding "goombas)."

Several of the commentators who elected not to view the tape were irate that it was posted at all, pleading with Huffington Post to stop presenting such images in the future, and to get rid of this one immediately.

As much as I was revolted by what I saw on that video, I can't agree. The country needs to see or at least understand, at a visceral level, what that man did.

It wasn't long ago that such a story, and I do mean story -- little or no art -- would have been buried on page B7 of the local paper's Metro Section, if it had been deemed newsworthy at all. Thanks to "new media," and the viral phenomenon made possible and inevitable by the internet, accounts of such horrors create the opportunity for unprecedented "witnessing." Along with an implicit invitation for principled personal action and organized political reform.

I have no doubt that Michael Vick went to prison in part because of the collective outrage of animal lovers far and wide, propelled by blogospheric activity -- never underestimate the power of politics in prosecutions.

True, most readers move on. They register shock and rage, thump their chests, fill these pages with purple rage and hyperbolic threats. (Confession: my Jungian-defined shadow side identifies completely with even the most graphic outcomes imagined for Mr. Grant.)

But many will act on their disgust and take appropriate, concrete steps, large or small, to help put an end to the kind of barbarism shown by Grant.

Some readers have told us they've already done so. They've doubled their dog hugs, stuck an extra ten bucks in the envelope to the animal protection society, sent links of the video to animal rights advocates.

Some will agitate for changes in the law, which are desperately needed in New York and many other states.

One reader, a Florida cop known to these pages as "glockman," believes in punishment proportionate to the crime, an outcome he says he often sees. Yet, he's witnessed the opposite. "I arrested a man several years ago for snapping a kitten['s] neck in front of his girlfriend," he wrote. The man got probation, as did another of glockman's arrestees -- for shooting a cat with a crossbow.

One night in 1992 three teenagers crept into a Seattle area park where Pasado, a beloved 21-year-old donkey was sleeping in a pasture. The boys tried to ride the small animal. When Pasado resisted, they beat him with tree limbs. And kept beating until he fell and could no longer walk, at which time they strung a noose around his neck and hung him from a tree. Workers found his lifeless body the next morning.

That very day, Pasado's Safe Haven was founded. The incident prompted sweeping, and continuing reforms in my state's animal cruelty laws. Much work remains to be done in order to end the cruel if not sadistic deaths that take place under the rubric of "animal husbandry," but Pasado's is a story worth reading and heeding.

Washington State's laws were changed the old-fashioned way -- newspaper and TV coverage, endless public meetings, visits to Olympia, the patience and perseverance of people like Susan Michaels, founder of Pasado's Safe Haven.

Imagine the speed and effectiveness of such a campaign organized today within the context of "new media."