Michael Vick's pit bulls are rehabilitating nicely out in rural Utah. Now the question is, can Vick do the same?
Another is, should we even expect him to?
The disgraced former NFL star is back home in Hampton after serving nearly all his 23-month federal sentence for fighting and killing pit bulls.
As of Thursday, he's counting down the final two months under house arrest in a mansion, punching in every day for $10-an-hour busy work while maneuvering like the devil to get back in the game.
His debt to society nearly paid.
Come July 20, sentence served, let's mark it paid in full and let the man be.
This isn't compassion talking, but reality. And profound disappointment.
For a long while, I held out hope. For an honest jailhouse epiphany. For a good newz tale of a guy who without remorse drowns, hangs and beats his own fighting dogs to death if they under-perform, but who miraculously transforms into a genuine humanitarian.
Who then speaks out against animal abuse, mentors at-risk kids growing up in the same street culture that led him astray, bankrolls a no-kill shelter for rescued pit bulls.
Pipe dreams, all.
And, to be honest, a little selfish.
We have no right to demand more of Vick than the law does.
Apparently Vick requires no more of himself, either.
Sure, he sat down with the head of the Humane Society of the United States last weekend to discuss a possible role in the group's urban youth programs against dogfighting. It was a publicist's wet dream. But was it real?
"I sat with the man, but I still don't know his heart," society president Wayne Pacelle blogged Thursday. "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."
See, it's the "terrible things" part some people can't get over.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for instance, considers Vick's terrible things — and the trail of lies afterward — typical of a sociopath.
In fact, they had psychiatrists examine Vick's case, including an investigative report last August from the USDA's Office of the Inspector General.
The upshot, says PETA spokesman Dan Shannon, is that Vick fits the profile for antisocial personality disorder.
"It's the level of cruelty, and the level of indifference to the suffering," Shannon says.
He's referring not just to the report's eyewitness testimony of the hideous treatment of pit bulls forced to fight, but also to accounts that Vick threw family pets into the fighting ring. Then laughed as they were ripped apart.
Vick, the report reads, "thought it was funny to watch the pit bull dogs ... injure or kill the other dogs."
We already knew that Vick's own pit bulls fared just as wretchedly at his own hands.
He and cohorts, the report reads, "killed approximately seven dogs by hanging and drowning ... hung approximately three dogs by placing a nylon cord over a 2-by-4 that was nailed to two trees.... killed a red pit bull dog, by slamming it to the ground several times before it died, breaking the dog's back or neck."
When hanging didn't kill one dog fast enough, Vick took it down and threw it aside. Later, he hung it again.
Is it any wonder PETA wants Vick to undergo a psychological evaluation before it adds its blessing to his return to the NFL?
"No one should take him at his word," Shannon says. "We'd like to see him give people a reason to believe him."
Of course Vick won't. And there's no law to force him. If PETA is right, there's no conscience to compel him, either.
Besides, there's also no rule against sociopaths in the NFL.
PETA vows to fight tooth and nail Vick's return to the gridiron, but odds are he'll be back one day, and soon. Rich. Adored. Clean slate.
Till then, there's a sliver of poetic justice in seeing Vick kept on the ropes, in the ring, forced to brawl his way back to the good life, as if his life depended on it.
Contact Tamara Dietrich at email@example.com or 247-7892.