22 Michael Vick pit bull terriers coming to Best Friends

With maintenance crews breaking frozen ground in Utah, animal caregivers building relationships with former fighting dogs in Virginia, and vets and other Dogtown staff planning for the dogs’ arrival and for their future at the sanctuary, Best Friends is doing what it does best: providing a second chance at life for neglected, abused and injured animals.

Michael Vick dog fighting case in court

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson – who on Dec. 10 sentenced Michael Vick to 23 months in prison – appointed Valparaiso Law School professor Rebecca Huss to represent the dogs’ interests in court.

After studying in-depth evaluations of each dog, discussing them with experts in the field and interviewing representatives from the many shelters that applied to take the dogs, Rebecca recommended that Best Friends be entrusted with 22 of the 47 surviving dogs. The rest were placed with seven other organizations.

"Best Friends Animal Society is accustomed to dealing with dogs who have special medical and behavioral needs," Rebecca told the judge, who last week approved her recommendation. "Best Friends Animal Society is committed to providing what each of the dogs needs to be able to thrive in a sanctuary environment if it is necessary for a dog to remain in such an environment for life."

Watch videos featuring the Vick dogs

Best Friends prepares to receive Vick dogs

Now that all the defendants in the case have been sentenced, Best Friends has begun the process to bring the dogs to southern Utah.

McKenzie and John Garcia were dispatched to Virginia, where they are getting to know the dogs and are preparing them for all the new, caring people they’re about to meet.

Back at the sanctuary, a maintenance crew is retrofitting one of the octagons in Dogtown to provide living quarters. Octagons provide indoor shelter and feeding areas and have dog runs fanning out from the building. Inside, caregivers can see all the dogs at a glance and keep an eye on their activities.

Maintenance workers are digging two-foot-deep trenches into the frozen ground and laying wire to prevent the dogs from digging out of their individual runs. As of Dec. 13, they still had more than 1300 feet of trenches to dig.

About half of the 22 areas have now been prepped and are ready for installation of the Priefert fencing.

Maintenance manager Ross Hartill said his staff is on pace to complete the project by Dec. 21, less than two weeks from when it began.

"The team has been continuously working in freezing temperatures but their spirits remain high," Ross said. "We are excited to be a part of the dogs coming to start their new lives at Best Friends."

Each dog will have his own 10-foot by 20-foot outdoor run and a space to come into at night. There also will be an exercise yard for them to stretch their legs or have a play date with another dog.

"Until we get to know these dogs, we will have some supervised play dates," said Michelle Besmehn, Best Friends dog care manager. "Eventually we may try and pair some of the dogs."

Dog health and behavioral assessment

Upon arrival at the sanctuary, each dog will get a health check and treatment if necessary.

After giving them some time to settle in to their new environment, we’ll begin assessing their behavior to see what each one needs in regard to training or enrichment.

Best Friends makes a lifelong commitment to all our dogs, but of course our top priority is to place them in loving, forever homes. We continue to look for new ways to enrich each dog’s life while they are with us.

"Pits tend to be very loving and affectionate dogs," Michelle said. "They are smart and very athletic. It can be a lot of fun working with them."

Sponsor a former Michael Vick dog

Photos by Ross Hartill