May 20th, 2009
08:45 AM ET

Michael Vick gets a second chance, but what about his dogs?

Editor's Note: The Philadelphia Eagles welcomed Michael Vick back into the National Football League on Friday after the quarterback spent almost two years in federal prison on a felony dogfighting conviction. John Polis, of the Best Friends Animal Society, blogged about the fate of the dogs a few months ago when Vick was released from prison.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/20/art.georgia.dog.jpg caption="Lucas’ deeply imbedded physical and emotional scares are healing, and his best years are ahead of him"]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/20/art.vick6.dog.jpg caption="Best Friends trainer John Garcia and Georgia, one of the dogs living at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/20/art.vick5.dog.jpg caption="Former grand champion fighter Lucas has found a new life at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary."]

John Polis
Best Friends Animal Society

When Michael Vick emerges from Leavenworth today after a two-year sentence for dog fighting, all eyes will be on the former Virginia Tech college star, who went on to quarterback the Atlanta Falcons for seven seasons. Will he play again? At 29-years-old, will they switch him to wide receiver? Will his return to the game help or hinder ticket sales?

But amid all the hoopla about Vick’s future in football, what about the victims, the dogs that were mistreated, tortured, and, eventually, killed when they were no longer profitable as fighters? What happened to them? Does anyone really care?

At Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, located in the pristine high desert county of southern Utah, 22 of the toughest cases from the Vick fiasco are rewriting history when it comes to the reputation of fighting dogs. Prior to their coming to Best Friends, it was a widely held opinion – by the most highly-respected animal welfare groups in the country – that any dog rescued from a fighting situation should immediately be put down.

After the Vick bust back in 2007, Best Friends and other groups that advocate for the pit bull breed, contacted the U.S. District Court of Eastern Virginia with an alternative. Would it consider allowing groups who knew pit bulls to take the dogs instead of euthanizing them? Thankfully the answer was yes, and today, the dogs at Best Friends are making terrific progress.

It’s not all hearts and flowers. There are steps forward and backward. But the majority of the news is good. One dog is out to foster care, the first step toward adoption, and another half dozen are nearing that point. They have a happy life at Best Friends, which promises lifetime care for all of the 1,700 animals on a beautiful 3,700-acre sanctuary.

Best Friends has been busy this week.  We have been doing interviews on our work with the Vick dogs. Many people have seen this worked chronicled on the National Geographic Channel weekly series “DogTown.” A few media outlets are doing stories about where the dogs are now and how they are doing and we’re happy to tell their story.

We hope that the memory of the horrific experiences that the dogs went through under Michael Vick will be a constant reminder of the evils of dog fighting. We hope that people will remember that this single activity, fueled by an inner city cultural phenomenon that glorifies tough, aggressive dogs for protection, has impugned the reputation of a breed of dog that has been loved for generations.

Seeing the “Vicktory Dogs” as I often do here at Best Friends, I cannot help but marvel at how these dogs, given so little chance in 2007, are living happy, mostly contented lives at Best Friends. They all have hope for happy, long lives.

They suffered untold physical and emotional scars, many of which are still here. But the love and attention they get at Best Friends has accelerated the healing process. Each day they get the enrichment they need, which includes interaction with people, good food, socialization with other dogs, first class medical care, and most of all, hope for a bright future.

So when you see all the Michael Vick coverage today, remember the dogs who suffered and now are recovering. They are the real victims in the case and it’s up to all of us to help ensure that all pit bulls—not just the Vicktory Dogs—get a chance at a happy life.

Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • Michael Vick
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