Dogs from Vick case get new leash on life

Makaveli is still so scared he trusts only his foster parents.

Lucky 7, despite being covered in healed bite wounds, is a happy dog.

And Charlie is fine, although when he came into rescue he was classified as being so withdrawn he might never be adoptable.

The three were among the 47 dogs taken from Michael Vick's property about a year ago amid a dogfighting investigation. Vick ultimately pleaded guilty to a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge and is serving 23 months in prison. Now some of the dogs he used in the dogfighting ring are starting to find homes.

The dogs were placed with rescue groups in December with a stipulation that most had to be kept in shelters or foster homes for six months to ensure the dogs weren't a threat to people or animals. With that time almost up, some of the dogs, including all three in Georgia, will soon be formally adopted.

Two, Mak and 7, will be adopted by their foster parents, while Charlie, or Chuck, is up for adoption.

"He's great," said Julie Warnat, who has fostered Chuck since he arrived at the Georgia SPCA, a Buford rescue group. "He lives with three other dogs and cats. He gets along with everybody. There's no aggression. Yesterday we went to Bruster's and had ice cream."

Warnat said with a house full of dogs and cats, she can't keep him. But she'll carefully screen applications to find him the best home.

Vick's other two dogs are already home and happy. It's just a matter of making the adoptions final. Daron James of Atlanta fell in love with 7 the first time he saw her.

"She's just an incredible dog. She's my best friend," said James, who wasn't put off by the numerous scars covering 7's body, or that the left side of her face is paralyzed. Instead he saw her gentle nature and happy personality. "I don't think she has a mean bone in her body."

Today she's learned to walk on a leash, sleep inside, play with toys and is even a bit of a celebrity in her Atlanta neighborhood.

"I walk her in Freedom Park and people recognize her and want their picture taken with her," James said. "All the local pet store owners know her and give her treats. She's a princess now."

Only Mak is still having problems, according to foster dad Brandon Bond of Marietta, who owns two tattoo studios and has done pit bull rescue for 12 years.

"He's made progress, but he's still really skittish," said Bond, who runs All or Nothing Pit Bull Rescue. "He's not dangerous, but he's really leery of everybody."

Still, Mak is coming to like the good life and is finally relaxed around Bond and his wife, Ashley. So Bond has decided to keep him.

"He needs so much special attention and love, I wouldn't feel right giving him to a stranger," Bond said.

Michelle Besmehn, a trainer at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, which took in 22 of the worst Vick dogs, said each dog heals at its own pace. But she said eventually most of them will be adoptable.

"We haven't had aggression issues," Besmehn said. "Their biggest problem has been lack of socialization."

Normally, pit bulls taken from fighting rings are killed, but Besmehn said she hopes this shows they can be rehabilitated. Legislation signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue May 6 also should help cut down on the number of fighting dogs in Georgia. Now it is illegal to own, train, transport or sell fighting dogs anywhere in the state, and to attend a dog fight.

John Goodwin, with the Humane Society of the United States, applauded Georgia for going from the worst dogfighting laws in the country to the 20th best.

"It's a great law and I think it's going to be effective," Goodwin said. "It will help the dogs as well as law enforcement."

To apply for Charlie, go to www.georgiaspca.org. For more information on pit bull rescue: www.atlantapitbullrescue.com. To report dog fighting and be eligible for up to a $5,000 reward from the HSUS: 1-877-847-4787.