(CNN) -- The head of one of America's biggest animal protection organizations said Thursday that Michael Vick, who served prison time for his role in a deadly dogfighting operation, should have the opportunity to bring a dog home -- in due time.
Humane Society of the United States President Wayne Pacelle told HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell that the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback shouldn't get a pet immediately and should have to meet certain milestones whenever he does. But Pacelle, whose group has worked with Vick in public outreach efforts, said that it would be wrong to close the door to his ever having a dog again.
"He's been going through counseling, he's been speaking to kids twice a month, and he needs to interact with animals," said Pacelle. "If he continues to hit these markers, then if his daughter wants a dog two or three years down the line,... I'm saying that we should be open to that possibility."
Under the terms of his conviction, Vick is currently barred from owning an animal. But the Newport News, Virginia, native this week told The Grio, a news website focused on an African-American audience, that he would "love to have another dog in the future."
"I think it would be a great step in my rehabilitation process," Vick said. "Just to have a pet in my household and show people that I genuinely care, (to show) my love and my passion for animals, I think, would be outstanding."
Jim Gorant, the author of the book "The Lost Dogs" about the animals that were killed and those that survived from the ring that Vick belonged to, questions the extent of Vick's love for animals given his conviction.
"It's a common thing among dogfighters: In one sentence, they'll talk about how much they love these dogs, and the next sentence they'll talk about how they force them to fight," the author told HLN's Velez-Mitchell.
"It's hard to take him at face value, (given) what he's done," added Gorant. "He was arms deep in this process of abusing and killing these animals."
The NFL indefinitely suspended Vick in August 2007 after he pleaded guilty to a federal charge of bankrolling a dogfighting operation in Virginia. Vick left a Kansas prison in May 2009 to serve the last two months of his 23-month sentence in home confinement.
The Humane Society, which claims support from 11 million people, bills itself on its website as the country's "mainstream force against cruelty, exploitation and neglect" of animals -- including the very kind of dogfighting rings and killings for which Vick was convicted. After being released, Pacelle said that Vick approached the group "to help ... combat that problem."
The society president defended his group's partnership with Vick, saying that it has helped spur a new conversation about the reality of dogfighting. Pacelle said that the quarterback has personally talked with thousands of children regarding an issue he first learned about as an adolescent, helping start a dialogue that's led to animal protection clubs popping up at several inner-city schools.
"What he did is terrible, there's no question about that," Pacelle said. "But this is an issue of protecting animals in the future. And endlessly flogging Michael Vick is not going to save one animal. But putting him to work in communities to save animals and educate people about the problem of dogfighting -- especially with at-risk kids -- is the way to help the problem."
"Thousands now are being reached," he added. "We've never had a conversation with them before."
Vick's off-the-field past has done little to diminish his popularity on the field. According to NFL.com, he currently ranks first in fan voting for the 2011 Pro Bowl -- above all other players, at all other positions.
Still, Vick has acknowledged publicly that his rehabilitation is not yet complete.
And as much as Vick might potentially save some dogs by making the public more aware of fighting rings, Pacelle said that having him interact with dogs should benefit Vick personally. The Humane Society plans for public interactions at first, during which he might even attend "end dogfighting classes" with others.
"Animals have a healing quality to them," Pacelle said.