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National Geographic's 'Dogtown' series to feature Vick dogs


By Christopher Rocchio, 01/31/2008 

National Geographic Channel announced 22 dogs that previously belonged to jailed NFL star Michael Vick will receive some puppy love via the network's Dogtown reality series, which premiered earlier this month and documents the rehabilitation of abused animals.

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The canines are currently residing at Dogtown -- a Utah animal sanctuary run by the Best Friends Animal Society, and National Geographic Channel is filming new episodes of the series to air this summer that will follow the center's staff as they attempt to re-acclimate the "seriously aggressive" pit bulls who had been trained for dog fighting.

"Some say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but I've never believed that," John Garcia, Best Friends head dog trainer, told The Salt Lake Tribune in a Tuesday report. "Every animal deserves a second chance."

Best Friends took in the "bulk" of the 47 pitbulls seized from Vick's dog-fighting operation, according to The Tribune. Vick is currently serving a 23-month federal sentence for his role in a dog-fighting ring at a property he owned in Virginia, and allegations against him and three co-defendants claimed they raised and trained pit bulls for fighting, with losing dogs sometimes being hanged, drowned or electrocuted.

"These [pit bulls] are living symbols of a national disgrace," Best Friends spokeswoman Barbara Williamson told The Tribune.

At the sanctuary, the pups and other animals featured on Dogtown learn to socially interact with people and other animals with the help of a team of experts, including Garcia; medical director Dr. Mike Dix; veterinarian Dr. Patti Iampietro; animal behavior consultant Sherry Woodard; head vet tech Jeffrey Popowich; Dogtown manager Michelle Besmehn; and handler Thomas Foyles.

"We have a staff that cares for them 24 hours a day," Besmehn told The Tribune. "They are not used to people, but will have the opportunity to learn life skills here."

While Dogtown's staff is accustomed to rehabilitating animals -- hosting roughly 1,500 at any one time at its 33,000 acres of southern Utah canyon country -- vet Frank McMillan told The Tribune that Vick's dogs present a "unique chance" to study trauma issues.  Williamson added he hopes Dogtown will help change the public's perception of pit bulls.

"Look at [The Little Rascals] with Spanky and his gang; they had a pit bull," Williamson told The Tribune.  "Most shelters offer a one-way ticket, and that's to be killed.  People are the ones who train them to kill. We hope to get them into loving homes."

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