Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, met recently with Michael Vick at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., and said the former NFL quarterback wants to work on a program aimed at eradicating dogfighting among urban teens. Billy Martin, one of Vick’s attorneys, said Vick requested the meeting. “Michael is very interested in putting this together,” Martin said.

Vick was sentenced to a 23-month prison term after his 2007 conviction on dogfighting. He left the federal penitentiary before dawn yesterday to begin two months of home confinement in Virginia.  He is scheduled to be released from federal custody on July 20 and will then begin three years of probation.

Vick, who turns 29 in July, hopes to rehabilitate his image and return to the NFL where he was once the highest-paid player. During his two-month home confinement, Vick will be allowed to leave the house to work at a $10-an-hour job as a laborer for a construction company.

Pacelle said, “(Vick) indicated he is tremendously remorseful about this, and now he wants to be an agent of change, to work to end dogfighting and, specifically, get young kids to cease any involvement in these activities.” Pacelle said dogfighting is a “culturally complex problem” that is prevalent among black urban teens, and Vick’s voice could become a valuable asset.

Michael Vick will most certainly earn kudos if he works to help stop dogfighting. But Vick will have to work long and diligently to rebuild his reputation that once had him sign a $130 million contract and made his number 7 Atlanta Falcons jersey one of the NFL’s top sellers. Many people will remain skeptical of Vick’s motives, since he still needs the approval of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to play football again.

Last month, Goodell said Vick must show true remorse if he expects to be reinstated to play in the NFL. That means he must show he has learned from his mistakes and is prepared to live a different life. “Michael’s going to have to demonstrate to myself and the general public and to a lot of people, did he learn anything from this experience.”

Vick’s court battles and subsequent conviction left him broke. So he’s clearly listening to Goodell, the one man he must convince of his remorse. And who better to help overcome Vick’s image as an animal abuser than Wayne Pacelle and the HSUS, the world’s wealthiest animal-rights organization? And, if you’re the president of HSUS, who better to use as an unpaid spokesman than Michael Vick, who will surely have a pack of reporters following his release from prison?

In its 2007 annual report, HSUS claimed $120 million in revenue. But critics of HSUS say very little of that money finds its way back to animal shelters. That same annual report shows $112 million in expenses — money critics say is spent on lobbyists for animal-rights bills, salaries and benefits.

Is the elimination of dogfighting a worthy goal? Absolutely. But let’s recognize this marriage between Vick and HSUS for what is — a marriage of convenience. — Greg Henderson, editor