When NFL star Michael Vick pled guilty to running a dog fighting ring on his property in 2007, he sparked instant and intense outrage across the country. Vick’s violence against pit bulls ― he also admitted to killing six to eight dogs by hanging or drowning ― infuriated animal lovers, and one activist who was particularly disgusted was Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle.
As Pacelle told Oprah during an interview for OWN’s “SuperSoul Sunday,” he and the Humane Society were very vocal in their condemnation of Vick’s horrifying acts.
“We demanded his prosecution because what he did to the animals was barbaric. It was despicable,” Pacelle says.
Vick ended up suspended from the NFL and served 19 months in prison. Then, the disgraced athlete reached out to the very people who had written him off the moment his cruelty surfaced publicly.
“One of his people called me just before he was getting out of prison, and they said, ‘Michael would like to work with the Humane Society of the United States on its anti-dog-fighting work,’” Pacelle recalls.
Pacelle, who figured the request was little more than a PR move, said no and hung up the phone. “I thought, ‘OK, this guy wants to do a makeover. He wants to use me for that,’” he says.
But then, Pacelle began to reflect on himself and his mission.
“I said, ‘What am I about at the Humane Society?’ I mean, am I not about changing people for the better? That people who are doing the wrong thing start to move and do the right thing?” he says. “That’s what I do. I’m not just talking to people who are ‘of the faith.’ If I’m doing that, that’s just an echo chamber.”
Pacelle reconsidered Vick’s proposal not just for this reason, but for another powerful benefit as well.
“I also thought, ‘What if Michael Vick put boots on the ground, sort of talking to these kids in communities where they’re getting pit bulls for the wrong reasons ... and told them about the evils of dog fighting?’” Pacelle says. “From a campaigner’s perspective, that’s going to allow me to reach tens of thousands of kids that I would not have an audience with.”
Ultimately, Pacelle adds, he hoped that working with Vick would also send a signal to society that would make people become more conscious of their own behaviors regarding animals, whether that’s through their fashion choices or eating habits.
“I’m sending a signal that we’re all sinners when it comes to animals,” he says.
“SuperSoul Sunday” airs Sundays at 11 a.m. ET on OWN.
Another insight from Pacelle: