'Vick-tory' dogs make strides at sanctuary

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 12 2008 12:18 a.m. MDT

John Garcia walks with Georgia, one of the fighting dogs that were seized from football star Michael Vick and that are being rehabilitated at Utah's Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

ANGEL CANYON, Kane County — Georgia, a rust-colored pit bull with a lopsided grin and deep brown, soulful eyes, is a TV celebrity and she doesn't even know it.

"She's a jet-setting diva," said John Garcia, assistant dog care manager at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, located about five miles north of Kanab. "When she gets that hot pink, diamond-crusted collar on, she's got bling. She's phenomenal."

Georgia is one of 47 pit bulls rescued more than a year ago from former Atlantic Falcons quarterback Michael Vick's illegal dog-fighting operation. Now living in her own kennel at Best Friends, Georgia is one of 22 Vick pit bulls now being rehabilitated at the nation's largest no-kill animal sanctuary.

"Georgia is the spokes-pity for her breed," Garcia said. "Her ears are cropped, she has no teeth and she was obviously bred excessively. But she's sweet, loves attention and you can't help but smile back at her."

The story of Georgia and the rest of the pit bulls, now called the "Vick-tory" dogs by those familiar with their history, will be featured on the National Geographic Channel program "Dogtown." The show's second season premiere episode, which airs Sept. 5, will feature the Vick dogs and their progress at Best Friends.

"When we first got Georgia, she had some food-guarding issues and didn't like other dogs. We think she was probably one of Michael Vick's prizefighters. Her scars tell the tale," said Garcia. "She's still a little reactive with other dogs, so we're gradually working on that."

Today, Georgia is lovable, likable and working hard at acing the Canine Good Citizen Test. Sitting politely when a stranger pets her and coming when called are old hat to her now. Georgia is doing so well, said Garcia, that she faced the television critics association in Beverly Hills with him a month ago to promote the upcoming season of "Dogtown."

"It was really amazing to watch how people treated Georgia when she had a plain, green collar on," Garcia noted. "They would part waves when they saw her coming. As soon as she put the bright pink collar on, people would come running to see her. It was a real testament to the breed. They are good with people."

Building a good relationship with Georgia and the other Vick pit bulls takes time, patience and the ability to focus on the smallest hint of progress, said Garcia and Best Friends dog care manager Michelle Besmehn.

"Each dog is such an individual, and we want to make certain that we give each one of them what they most need," said Besmehn, who oversees the health and welfare of all the dogs living at Best Friends. "Before they came here, their lives were really limited. Now it's important to help socialize the dogs into other situations."

Little Red is another success story. Meeting Little Red, a caramel-colored pit bull who also is missing her teeth, means getting a big, slobbery kiss and a good sniffing-over.

"Oh, you little missy, you come here!" coos Mckenzie Garcia, John's wife who also works at Best Friends as a caretaker. Little Red obeys immediately, wiggling her chubby body onto a waiting lap and panting with delight as her belly is rubbed.

At some point, most of the "Vick-tory" dogs could be adopted, said Besmehn, although there is much work left to do before they are ready.

"We have a very stringent adoption process in place for these dogs," she said. "Because they are under such a microscope, we want to make sure they make the best possible progress. Their behavior is not a disease."

For more information about the program, "Dogtown," go online to natgeotv.com or to bestfriends.org


E-mail: nperkins@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS