Yesterday, Michael Vick left the prison in Leavenworth, KS, and headed home.
On the same day, Wayne Pacelle from the Humane Society of the United States, announced that Vick will be coming on board to help HSUS in their quest to end the heinous act of dog fighting.
While many have criticized HSUS for this decision, it may, in fact, be what both parties desparately need. Or, it could be a disaster.
In so many ways, the past two years for Mike Vick and for HSUS have been running on parallel paths. Mike Vick was a very good NFL football player. He was revered. He was wealthy beyond most people's comprehension. And in the act of brutally killing a bunch of dogs, he threw all of it away. He lost his job, was thrown in jail, and his image was badly tarnished.
HSUS is not that far behind. HSUS is the world's wealthiest "humane" organization. They had a great image (at least among many). And yet, their reputation has begun to crumble -- in large part, because of them killing a bunch of dogs.
Two years ago, the dogs from Mike Vick's Kennels were rescued -- even in spite of insistence from HSUS that the dogs be killed. Most have now moved on to great lives in homes (I will post more on this later today). In spite of the successful rehabilitation of these dogs, the next time a group of dogs from a dog fighting ring were confiscated, HSUS once again insisted that all of the dogs be killed. The public outcry of HSUS's siding with killing -- in spite of the recent evidence that dogs from these situations could be rehabilitated, put HSUS on the defensive -- to the point where they've even said (at least kind of), that all dogs that were rescued from dog fighting rings would be given a chance to be evaluated and possibly rehabilitated.
And now, an organization that is trying to rebuild its reputation is joining forces with a man, who is trying to do the same. In some ways this appears desperate. In other ways, it makes so much sense.
Vick's future appears very up in the air. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has not said whether he plans to allow Vick to come back to the league once he serves his prison term. But the NFL doesn't need Mike Vick. The NFL is the single most successful professional sports league in the world. They're wealthy. They have tons of fans. Most stadiums are sold out on every Sunday. TV ratings are high. The league is rolling....and continues to do so without Mike Vick. If allowed to come back, Vick would be a distraction. Teams would have to endure picketing outside of games. Opposing crowds will boo him unmercifully. The fact that 13,000 people on facebook (and growing) have already joined a group to "keep Vick out of the NFL" means there will be backlash. The league doesn't need it. It is most likely time for them to part ways.
HSUS though, potentially has a spot for Vick -- that could be a perfect match.
A few years ago, HSUS partnered with Tio Hardiman. Hardiman has been working the streets of inner-city Chicago trying to stamp out dog fighting among urban youth. His program is not designed around punishing youth for fighting dogs (something they have learned to accept from those around them, and have likely never even questioned the ethics of it, it literally, is all they know). Hardiman works with these youth to change their hearts -- and to give the youth compassion for their four-legged partners. With the help of HSUS, they have added a training component to the program, where the youth learn to train their dogs -- so they can take pride in how well trained their dog is, not how well it fights. The videos of his program are amazing to watch.
Vick could be a perfect fit for a program like this. If Vick is truly a changed man (I'm not yet convinced, but I would have no real reason to not believe it to be true either), I think his celebrity could allow him to easily connect with urban youth. He could tell his story. He could (potentially) teach them compassion. He could use his story to change their hearts.
Now it could not happen that way. HSUS could use him as little more than a propped up scarecrow in a few videos that they used for little more than to raise yet more money to "stamp out dogfighting." We've seen their fundraising efforts before -- calling for money to help them care for and save the Vick dogs, but then calling for them all to be killed. And this may well be HSUS's intent.
If Vick ends up being used merely as a prop for a fundraising campaign, HSUS will continue to be seen by many as merely a fundraising machine that has little interest in actually saving the lives of animals. And Vick will look like the guy who took the money from an animal rights group and ran...without having shown true remorse for his past actions.
And that would be too bad. Because this union could be a good match for both parties -- and chance to rebuild tarnished reputations and truly benefiting the dogs that both are responsible for killing. It would be a second chance for both -- which is what we've all claimed the dogs from fighting operations deserve. The dogs from Bad Newz Kennels have used their second chance to thrive in their new environments. It is a new environment for both Vick and HSUS. Hopefully they will be at least half as successful as the dogs in adapting to it, and making the most of the opportunity.