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Michael Vick to work with Humane Society on its campaign against dogfighting

May 20, 2009 |  1:48 pm

"It’s a happy day for him to be starting this part of the process," Larry Woodward, an attorney for Michael Vick, said of the disgraced football star's release from Leavenworth prison this morning.  Vick will return to his home in Hampton, Va., where he'll serve the remaining two months of his 23-month sentence for dogfighting.

His release today is not a surprise -- it's been expected for several months now, since it was announced that the halfway house he was initially slated to move into no longer had space.  One element of his release is surprising to many, however: He'll be working with the Humane Society of the United States on its anti-dogfighting campaign.  ESPN reports:

[Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle] said he was approached with the idea of working with the former star quarterback several months ago by Vick's representatives. After meeting with Vick at the federal prison camp, Pacelle said, he decided just within the past week that working with Vick was the right move for the society and its missions.

Specifics are to be determined, but Pacelle made it clear that the expectation on both sides is for Vick to contribute more to the cause than public service announcements. A source close to Vick said he has agreed to be more than a spokesman. Pacelle believes Vick can do the most good in the area the society believes is of greatest need -- urban outreach and prevention.

Is Vick, who not only financed a dogfighting ring but also reportedly "enjoyed placing family pets in the ring with fighting pit bulls and ... laughed as dogs ripped each other apart," really reformed?  Is his desire to help the Humane Society simply a public relations move designed to get him reinstated in the NFL?

Even Pacelle isn't sure.  "I sat with the man, but I still don’t know what’s in his heart," Pacelle wrote on his blog today.  "He told me he did terrible things to dogs. He said he grew up with dogfighting as a boy, and that he never sufficiently questioned it as he grew into manhood. ... He said this experience has been a trauma, and he’s changed forever. And he said he wants to show the American public that he is committed to helping combat this problem. He asked for an opportunity to help. I want to give him that opportunity."

Pacelle says the most potent weapon in combating dogfighting isn't law enforcement, but "interrupting the cycle of violence that leads kids down this dead-end path, one that's paved with animal misery."  Vick's story, Pacelle argues, is one that illustrates that point. 

Whether or not Vick's work with the Humane Society helps him repair his image, according to NPR, depends on how sincere he appears:

"If it's not perceived as heartfelt, people are going to say, 'Michael Vick is just doing this to get back in the good graces of the NFL,' " [Marc Ippolito of Burns Entertainment] says. "For some people, it's going to take a year to believe (Vick is) sincere; for others, it could take 10 years."

Vick's pledge to help the Humane Society ... is a good start, he says.

"He can't overdo it, and it can't seem rehearsed," says Glenn Selig, who specializes in crisis management public relations at The Publicity Agency. Selig, whose high-profile clients include the disgraced former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, warns that "people will be parsing his every word and wonder if he is just doing what he has to do to get back in the game." 

For its part, PETA is skeptical of Vick's apparent change of heart.  The group was in talks with his representatives last year, with the idea of a partnership similar to the one he's since forged with the Humane Society.  But PETA later rescinded its offer.  "What we don't believe at this point is that there is a contrite, remorseful Michael Vick," staffer Dan Shannon told Advertising Age when confusion arose on the subject.  PETA called on the NFL to administer a brain scan and comprehensive psychiatric exam to the troubled star before considering reinstatement; that apparently did not happen. 

Writing today about Vick's release, PETA blogger Shawna Flavell rehashes the psychiatric exam idea, saying that such a test is necessary to determine if he will reoffend.  Flavell adds that a person who "trained dogs to torture and kill one another for sport, who drowned and hanged dogs who wouldn't fight, and who laughed while watching his own family dogs fight for their lives as they were maimed and finally killed does not deserve to be rewarded with a multimillion-dollar contract or be given the privilege to serve as a role model to millions of children. PETA will not take anything off the table when it comes to any team or league that may sign Michael Vick."

Arthur Blank, who owns Vick's former team, the Atlanta Falcons, was softer in his response to the remorse question.  "I believe in second chances. I believe in redemption," he told the Associated Press. "But the commissioner needs to satisfy himself that Michael's not only going through his own journey but is prepared to make other decisions that he's made in the past — both personally and who he associates himself with is a very big part of that."

On giving Vick the benefit of the doubt, Pacelle says that his group can only win as a result of this indisputably unorthodox partnership. "If he demonstrates a fleeting or superficial interest, then it will be his own failing, not ours," he writes. "Our campaign will march forward regardless."

RELATED:
Michael Vick to be released from prison this week
Michael Vick could serve end of his sentence at home
Is Michael Vick in talks to be PETA's spokesman? The group says no

--Lindsay Barnett

Video: Associated Press

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