for National Geographic News
Almost half of the pit bulls rescued from football star Michael Vick's estate last year were allowed their first media appearance this morning at a Utah animal shelter.
The event follows the end of a court gag order that had been placed on the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, which has been housing 22 of the dogs for the past three weeks.
The shelter, one of the nation's largest no-kill animal rescue facilities, took in the pit bulls to help rehabilitate them from their former lives as illegal fighting dogs.
(Watch video of the dogs in "rehab" at the Best Friends shelter.)
"There are actually quite a few of them that seem 100 percent adoptable," said Frank McMillan, one of the sanctuary's head veterinarians. "Ultimately the goal is to get almost all of them adopted."
Before that happens, though, the dogs will stay 6 to 12 months at the sanctuary so they can begin healing from their traumatic past and so that staff have more time to learn about their personalities.
Last year federal agents seized dozens of pit bulls from Bad Newz Kennels, a dog-fighting ring on Vick's 15-acre (6-hectare) property.
Vick, a former quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, was eventually sentenced to a 23-month prison term at Leavenworth Penitentiary for his role in the operation.
He now faces an April 2 trial date in Virginia on state dog-fighting charges.
(Related news: "Cockfighting's 'Days Are Numbered' in U.S." [June 13, 2007].)
As part of the sentence, the football star was ordered to pay almost a million U.S. dollars for care of the dogs.
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