ATLANTA Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick is not the lowest, most detestable scum imaginable.

He is not the lowest of the low.

On the bottom rung of the ladder to hell are child molesters, the human garbage who prey on the innocent and the defenseless. That's why decent people feel gut-rage at their offenses.

Animal abusers are one rung up, but they also target the innocent. When Vick yesterday agreed to plead guilty to one felony conspiracy charge, defense lawyer Billy Martin said Vick took the deal "to accept full responsibility for his actions."

That's certified crap. The plea bargain is Vick's attempt to avoid "full responsibility" for acts that were not only criminal, but also heartless and vicious.

He took the deal under the pressure of a grand jury that was thought to be preparing even more federal charges against him. I don't blame Vick for trying to dodge the bullet, but don't tell me it's contrition.

It's bad enough Vick bought a property and with pals (aka other defendants) bought, bred and trained American pit bull dogs for the purpose of turning them against each other, according to the 19-page federal indictment.

Even worse was what Vick and his dog pound did to pit bulls that didn't measure up, according to the indictment - they were shot, or hanged, or drowned, or electrocuted, or killed by being slammed to the ground. Man's best friend.

I suspect national outrage tackled Vick because he violated the special compact we have with dogs. We are closer to them than any other animal, even "companion animals" like cats, horses and hamsters.

Dogs helped searched for victims at 9/11's Ground Zero; they are the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, the legs of the disabled; the comforter of children, the protector of women; the puller of sleds, the sniffer for drugs and explosives. They help humans in so many ways and ask for a pat on the head in return.

The unique bond between human and canine can't be explained, but if you've lived with a dog, you've felt it.

An anonymous writer explained the human-dog relationship in "A Dog's Plea," which you may have seen before. It fits here:

"Treat me kindly . . . for no heart in all the world is more grateful than the loving heart of me.

"Do not break my spirit with a stick, for though I should lick your hands between blows, your patience and understanding will more quickly teach me the things you would have me learn.

"Speak to me often, for your voice is the world's sweetest music, as you must know by the fierce wagging of my tail when your footsteps fall upon my waiting ear.

"Please take me inside when it is cold and wet, for I am a domesticated animal, no longer accustomed to bitter elements. I ask no greater glory than the privilege of sitting at your feet beside the hearth.

"Keep my pan filled with fresh water, for I cannot tell you when I suffer thirst. Feed me clean food that I may stay well, to romp and play and do your bidding, to walk by your side, and stand ready, willing and able to protect you with my life, should your life be in danger.

"And, my friend, when I am very old, and I no longer enjoy good health, hearing and sight, do not make heroic efforts to keep me going. . . . Please see that my trusting life is taken gently. I shall leave this earth knowing with the last breath I draw that my fate was always safest in your hands."

That is the heart and the trust betrayed by Michael Vick - who despite his fame and fortune is a wretched waste of DNA. *

E-mail or call 215-854-5977. For recent columns: