Vick Dogs Start Long Road to Recovery


Lucas, a brown, doe-eyed pit bull, was one of Michael Vick's prize fighters, and he has the scars to prove it. First beaten, then rewarded with food, he learned to endure pain and to kill.

As a stud, Lucas would have been worth $20,000, but today, after years of violent training and fighting, he needs round-the-clock care — even when he is sleeping — to help heal the physical and psychological wounds.

The champ's name was changed, but so have his fortunes. Today he is getting therapy for post-traumatic stress at Best Friends animal sanctuary in Utah.

"He's all prestige," said Best Friends CEO Paul Berry. "But you can imagine what he has been through with all the scars over his arms and face."

Lucas is one of 48 dogs seized at the dogfighting training camp run by the star quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. Vick is now serving a 23-month sentence in federal prison. He has been suspended from the National Football League, and his future with the Falcons is murky at best.

This week, the court in this high-profile case lifted a gag order and allowed those involved in the care of the dogs to talk publicly about their condition.

The National Geographic Channel announced it is following the dogs' re-socialization progress in its television series "Dogtown," which is based at Best Friends. For the next six months, film crews will watch four of the most aggressive dogs re-socialize.

From Killing Ground to Sanctuary

Best Friends, the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the nation, cares for 1,500 dogs, cats, horses, goats and other animals. With an annual budget of about $30 million, most of it from private donations, it has rescued animals traumatized by Hurricane Katrina and those who have suffered in hoarding situations or puppy mills.

"Being the Mayo Clinic for dogs, they take the most difficult cases where dogs have no of hope of surviving," said "Dogtown" producer Chris Valentini. "They care so deeply about the animals."

"Dogtown" originally began documenting the work at Best Friends last year, and the three initial episodes were very popular, the producers said. The episodes chronicling the Vick dogs will air this summer, and producers hope it will be as successful as its initial episodes at the sanctuary.

"When you marry the science with the natural history and the emotional component, you have powerful television," said Valentini.

Physical, Psychological Torture

The Vick dogs, which once fought for $30,000 purses, knew nothing but violence. They were run on treadmills to exhaustion, beaten if they didn't show enough aggression and subjected to psychologically confusing training methods.

After the Virginia training camp was raided this summer, the courts ordered the NFL star to pay $928,000 in restitution to cover the cost of moving and caring for the animals.

Rebecca J. Huss, professor of animal law at Indiana's Valparaiso University Law School, was appointed legal guardian of the 47 dogs.

"I lost a lot of sleep," she said.. "I knew it was going to be a challenging project."

Huss was given the responsibility of protecting the safety of the public and the welfare of the dogs as she selected their individual placements at treatment facilities.

"Unlike seizing a John Deere tractor, these animals need to be cared for," said Huss.

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