DALLAS — Some people who came to North Texas for the Super Bowl left with good memories, some with bad memories and many with souvenirs.
But Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick also took home something else: A ceremonial key to the City of Dallas.
Animal rights activists are furious that Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway would give the city's highest honor to a convicted felon.
"I'm insulted by it," said Jonnie England, Metroplex Animal Coalition. "Michael Vick is a convicted felon. He commited horrible atrocious crimes, violent crimes. He has done nothing to deserve a key to the City of Dallas."
Other rescue groups agree.
"I don't think he's really earned that honor yet to get a key to the City of Dallas," said Tara Harper, PAWS In The City. "I think that should be bestowed on people who are internationally famous for wonderful things they've done."
Mayor Tom Leppert is upset, too, saying it's against city protocol.
Richard Hunter of Dallas adopted one of pit bulls previously owned by Vick, who is now on probation after serving prison time for running a dog fighting ring.
Hunter says his dog, "Mel," still carries the emotional scars of the fighting.
On Saturday, Hunter carried the curiosity of what Vick might say to him on video following an appearance at Dallas club. Hunter didn't get a response from the NFL star.
But he did get a surprise at the same event when Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway presented Vick with a key to the city.
"People are going to think that the city — in the week that the eyes of the world were on us — gave the key to the city to a sociopath like that," Hunter said.
On Monday, Caraway explained that he wanted to show children at the event they can reset their lives in the right direction after bad decisions like the ones Vick made.
“My thing is the message that it gets over to the children, and who it's coming from — someone saying, 'Look, don't you do it,'" Caraway said.
Caraway said what he gave Vick was a ceremonial key to the city available to City Council members.
Last week, Council colleague Steve Salazar gave rocker Gene Simmons of the group Kiss a ceremonial key for Simmons' effort to help servicemen and women.
But city protocol says only the mayor can award an official key to the city — usually to an elected official of international status.
Mayor Leppert calls what Caraway did "unfortunate," and said he wants tighter rules to prevent something like it from happening again.
"There was no official connotation that was given to it," he said. "My office is responsible for doing it; I was not involved in it. We did not designate anybody to do it, nor would we would have in this case."
Caraway represents a southern Dallas district and holds the title of mayor pro tem at the will of the Council. Should Mayor Leppert resign to run for U.S. Senate, Caraway would become mayor until the next election.
But because of the Vick matter and other recent missteps, there are rumblings at City Hall that the Council could name another member mayor pro tem.
Jason Whitely contributed to this report.
Under current guidelines, Council members are given the opportunity to present a ceremonial key to the city to national celebrities, including sports figures. These ceremonial gifts are different from the official keys to the city presented by the Mayor. Since making some bad choices, Michael Vick has devoted time to speaking to children about staying in school, staying away from drugs, making positive choices about picking friends, and the importance of education. That was the focus of the event. I have also devoted a lot of my time to helping teenagers by hosting more than a dozen teen summits at City Hall – all with positive themes - to make sure our youth get on a path to success and prosperity. For those reasons, Michael Vick deserves such an action from my office.
I care deeply about animals. I fully support our new initiative “Dallas Loves Animals” campaign. I have two dogs of my own and I am deeply sorry to offend anyone who loves animals.
I welcome a clarification of the guidelines regarding ceremonial keys to the city.
The action taken was not sanctioned by my office and was not an official ceremonial honor on behalf of the City of Dallas. Official Keys to the City are presented by the Mayor, or an elected official designated by the Mayor, and reserved, on a limited basis, for an elected official of international status. Clearly, this was not the case in this situation and done without my knowledge or approval.
Given these circumstances I have requested the City Manager propose guidelines to prevent this situation in the future.