Does Vick deserve to own a dog?
LOS ANGELES - My dog is dumb as a stick, but that doesn't necessarily make him a bad person. He's just gifted in other areas - such as chewing himself raw or hurling himself across the dinner table in pursuit of scraps.
Trust me, the guy would Fosbury Flop across the Panama Canal to acquire the dead end of a stale french fry.
I love him still, in that way you love things that need you a little more than you need them - bosses, hamsters, street mimes.
Michael Vick, former resident of the federal penal system and now a contributing member of the Philadelphia Eagles, one of those win-at-all-costs football organizations that Nietzsche could have coached, knows the value of a dog as well.
Vick wants one in his stocking come Christmas. Not this Christmas, for the courts won't let that happen. But when those pesky probation terms end . . . yeah, he wants a dog again.
"I think it would be a big step for me in the rehabilitation process," he said last week.
Thing is, a lot of people don't really care about Vick, for he can take care of himself. No, what people are concerned about is this poor potential dog.
It's easy to see why Vick would like a pet. A dog offers unconditional love in a very conditional world.
A dog waits up nights for you, shares his bed, let's you sit under him on the couch.
To a dog, every place is Paris. He'll go anywhere, anytime. He doesn't gripe that the lousy seat in church is too far from the bride and groom, or that the butcher is out of his favorite type of cutlet. Give a dog a cutlet, or even the remnants of one, or even the scent of one on your fingertips, and he will love you as if you're Ava Gardner.
So it seems obvious why Vick would want a puppy, for the same reason we all want puppies. For our kids, for our cold and clammy hearts.
A puppy also can't read the bad things they say about you in the paper.
Things got messy in this regard again this week, not on the field, where Vick can hurdle messes quite deftly (see Giants-Eagles highlights).
This mess is off the field, when Vick said he'd like to have a dog, then the head of the Humane Society of the U.S. seemed to say he wouldn't mind that happening - a thunder statement that shook the pet world, though the Humane Society director now says he was misquoted.
In protest, an outfit called HumaneWatch.org took out an ad Sunday in the New York Times. The group says a $50,000 check from the Eagles this year essentially bought off the Humane Society honcho.
Basically, the question still comes down to this: "Should Michael Vick ever have a dog?"
He will, probably, no matter what we think. The courts have banned him from owning a dog through May 2012, but after that, he is free to do what he likes. When that happens, the little pup will be like royalty born, his every move scrutinized. There might be surveillance cameras mounted in each ear.
In defense of Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle, who has been painted as a scoundrel but is nothing like that at all, Vick can do a lot to help dogs. Currently, Vick turns out twice a month with Pacelle to campaign against street fighting.
That is significant because dogfighting essentially breaks down along three areas:
The pros, who buy and trade dogs for profit.
The hobbyists, who buy and trade for fun.
The street fighters, consisting mostly of city youths who set up impromptu fights in abandoned buildings or in back alleys.
It is this growing phenomenon of street fighting that leaves the Humane Society feeling the most powerless. And it is in street fighting where Pacelle sensed some teachable moments.
"At the end of his prison term, [Vick] wanted to talk," Pacelle said by phone from Washington. "I was skeptical, but I thought his story would be a great cautionary tale.
"I'm not promoting him having a dog. . . . We're definitely not advocating that he have a dog."
Turns out this issue is not as cut and dried as you'd hope. There are nuances and gray areas, which always require more thought than we'd like to muster.
But still, the question will linger for the next 17 months: Should Michael Vick ever have a dog?
Well, rest assured that Vick - possibly the most exciting player in all of sports - will not get any kind of dog this Christmas.
Because you shouldn't pay for a dog with mere money. You should pay for him out of the kindness of your soul.
Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.