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Vick's dogs find sanctuary

Animal groups bet on the resilience of rescued fighting dogs

Tuesday June 9th, 2009

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Twenty-two of the pit bulls seized in the Michael Vick dog fighting case arrived in their new home on Wednesday afternoon. Their new digs are much spiffier than the kennels they left behind in Virginia and Washington, DC, where they were being held as evidence against the former football star.

Best Friends Animal Society, located on 33,000 acres of dramatic red rock country just outside Kanab, Utah, is the nation's largest no-kill animal sanctuary and it's giving the dogs a safe and humane place to live, for the rest of their lives if necessary. But the pit bulls may be doing the sanctuary a favor as well.

Gauging resilience

Best Friends, which got many of the most traumatized Vick pit bulls according to a report by Rebecca Huss, the court-appointed guardian of the dogs, plans to study how the dogs heal--or not--in their care. "This is the first time we've had a group of dogs who all came from the same situation," says Best Friends spokesperson John Polis. "We don't know if the dogs' emotional behavior has been scarred or not--that's what we hope to learn."

Polis is cautiously optimistic about the outcome. "We're hoping some of these dogs could eventually be adoptable."

The journey to companion dog

Other groups caring for the Vick dogs who fared well on temperament tests--a total of 22 dogs from the group of 47 rated as potentially adoptable--are even more optimistic. They believe that with time, training, and TLC, their dogs' chances of transitioning from fighter to pet are very good.

"They'll need time to adjust," says Susan Kelly, director of development for the Richmond Animal League in Virginia, one of the seven rescue groups that took in pit bulls seized in the case.

And they'll get time. Per court order, the dogs will spend six months to a year being trained and observed for signs they're ready for life as a family dog. "They need to learn to live in a home," says Kelly. "Quite a few of these dogs have never been indoors, never been around people or children. They need to learn what it means to be a pet."

Kelly says the dogs will also be trained to earn their AKC Canine Good Citizenship certificate, a test of basic manners and obedience skills.

What about the other dogs?

As for the rest of the dogs, another 10 are with Oakland-based BAD RAP, three are with the Georgia SPCA in Suwanee, Georgia, three with the Monterey County SPCA in California, and another three with Recycled Love, Inc in Baltimore. Animal Rescue of Tidewater in Norfolk, Virginia and Our Pack, Inc in South San Francisco each have one dog.

The people caring for the dogs can't say how the dogs are doing or release any pictures until the last defendant is sentenced on January 25. But once the gag order is lifted, DogTime will be sharing the video and story of one of the resilient survivors being fostered through BAD RAP. His name: Jonny Justice.

-Updated January 7, 2008

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