Michael Vick's Image Rehab to Include Humane Society

Disgraced Former NFL Star Will Do 'Boots-on-the-Ground Work' Against Dogfighting

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Disgraced former NFL quarterback Michael Vick left federal prison for home confinement today with a new animal-rights-advocacy partner in his quest to rehabilitate his public image.

Michael Vick
Michael Vick Credit: Tami Chappell
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is out. The Humane Society of the United States is in.

Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle met with Mr. Vick twice in the last month at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., before the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback was released to home confinement. He said the Humane Society believes Mr. Vick can discourage youths from participating in dogfighting.

"Michael's [legal] team reached out to us several months ago, but we didn't want to make any judgments until our president was able to visit with him personally," said Michael Markarian, the chief operating officer of the Washington-based organization. "Wayne did get the sense that Michael was sorry about what he did and wanted to be part of the solution."

Mr. Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison in 2007 for his role in financing and participating in a dogfighting ring. The investigation revealed that he tortured and killed dogs that underperformed. Mr. Vick was also suspended indefinitely by National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell.

PR campaign
Ad Age reported earlier this month that Mr. Vick's handlers have put a public-relations campaign in place for the former superstar, who will serve the final two months of his sentence at his home in Hampton, Va. The PR plans include mea culpa TV interviews, donations to charitable animal-rights organizations, the possibility of forming an animal-rights foundation of his own and public-service announcements. Originally, those PSAs were supposed to be with PETA.

Mr. Markarian said the Humane Society wants more than just a "one-shot, 30-second PSA," however.

"We still have to work out the details and develop the plans, but just doing an ad is not satisfactory to us," he said. "We have told Michael, and he agreed, that it has to be a more serious commitment. We've told Michael we really would like him to do some boots-on-the-ground work."

In his blog on the Humane Society site, Mr. Pacelle wrote that Mr. Vick "asked for an opportunity to help. I want to give him that opportunity. If he makes the most of it, and demonstrates a sincere, long-term commitment to the task, then it may prove to be a tipping point in our campaign to eradicate dogfighting."

Mr. Markarian added that he doesn't expect the same backlash in his organization that happened with PETA, thanks in large part to a comprehensive plan the Humane Society already has in place to help combat dogfighting. The group has programs in Atlanta and Chicago, where it infiltrates neighborhoods, helps break up dogfights and tells dog owners there are better ways of spending time with their pets.

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