Sep 26, 2019

After Seven Years in a Dark Barn, Lily Jane Finds

Inside an old barn—without fresh air or much sunlight, fresh water or food, or even the care and comfort of human contact—lived over 70 dogs, likely wondering if they’d been forgotten. Among these animals in need was Lily Jane. 

In the barn, there was fecal matter covering parts of the floor. Empty, torn up bags of dog food were strewn about as if they’d been thrown into the barn without much care.

It was a heartbreaking hoarding situation in Tennessee, and in November 2017, Lisa D., President of rescue group The Grateful Dog, led the rescue efforts to remove the suffering dogs from the property and out of that barn for good. It was reported that some animals had been there for as long as seven years.

Lily Jane, a Border Collie-mix, was found in the first stall of the barn standing near a small dog who was suffering from untreated medical conditions. Lily Jane stayed by the dog’s side, protecting her until responders could remove both of them from the terrible scene. Rescuers then rushed the small, ailing dog to the vet, but sadly, she passed away hours later. Lisa D. believes that Lily Jane stayed with the dog, perhaps helping to keep her alive, until she knew help had come for her.

Once all the animals were removed, they were then given immediate care and treatment that they’d been cruelly denied for years. Lisa D. began to transfer and place the dogs who were ready for adoption. But the lack of regular activity, social interactions and all-around normal everyday experiences made it difficult for some of the dogs to adapt. Many of them were extremely fearful and unable to cope with new and frightening real-world experiences.

Lisa D. contacted the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center (BRC) in Weaverville, North Carolina, for help in giving these innocent dogs a second chance at real lives away from neglect and the darkness of their past. Our Rehab Center is the first and only permanent facility in the United States dedicated to the rehabilitation of severely fearful, homeless dogs.

Before Lily Jane and her canine companions made their way to North Carolina, Sarah S., Administrative Coordinator at the Rehab Center, first met the special dog on paper. She was reviewing Lily Jane’s intake paperwork and was touched by Lisa’s words: “She’s a special soul. And during seven years, locked in a dark barn, she’s not lost her will to be a companion—she’s just lost her way. She is very cautious and unsure. I truly believe she will be a loving and loyal companion.”

Years of neglect left Lily Jane emotionally scarred, but no one ever doubted that she was beyond helping—especially Sarah. When she arrived at the Rehab Center, Lily Jane was shut down. She was afraid of everyone and she stayed glued to the bottom of a crate in her kennel. Leashing was especially difficult, and once on leash, Lily Jane would try to flee and seek out hiding spots.

“Her temperament was super fearful,” recalls Behavioral Rehabilitation Specialist, Lisa Marvin. “She did not engage with anyone. She was very sensitive to noises and submissive, freezing at times. She would even defecate and urinate.” 

On Lily Jane’s first evaluation, she received a D evaluation grade in every category, including: leashing, walking, handling and socialization. This meant that she exhibited extreme fear for most of her evaluation. In addition, she showed no signs of social behavior toward handlers and her body language indicated severe anxiety. Things that may seem normal to an average dog, like walking on a leash or being petted, caused Lily Jane immense stress and fear. It was heartbreaking to see. For the first time in her life she was physically free to explore the outdoors, but mentally and emotionally, Lily Jane was still trapped in that barn in Tennessee.

Our Rehab Center team uses positive reinforcement training and protocols to help dogs like Lily Jane overcome their anxieties. They introduced a helper dog to Lily Jane’s treatment because she was more comfortable around other canines. A helper dog is a social, confident, people-friendly and dog-friendly dog. Dogs in the rehabilitation program can follow a helper dog’s lead and slowly learn to trust people and become more comfortable with human interaction. 

When dogs like Lily Jane see a helper dog interacting with a human—taking a treat from their hand, playing fetch with a toy or receiving a scratch behind the ears—they pick up on the helper dog’s confidence and cues and might try out that behavior too. 

One helper dog named Goliath had a special connection with Lily Jane—he was rescued from the same hoarding situation. Our team realized that Lily Jane’s behavior would change drastically when she saw her friend Goliath. 

“Lily Jane would relax and get excited and that helped her tremendously move forward. Goliath was really social with us, so she learned to become confident from him,” says Lisa Marvin, who continued to oversee Lily Jane’s progress at the BRC. “We would always make sure Goliath was a part of her treatments, and that’s when we really started to see her personality come out. She would start getting social with us and that was really exciting because that’s a huge breakthrough for a fearful dog.”

Sure enough, as our team worked with Lily Jane day in and day out, she slowly began to show incredible progress. On her next evaluation only a few weeks later, her grades went from D’s to C’s. And a few weeks later, C’s turned into B’s. After just over nine weeks in treatment, Lily Jane started earning A’s in nearly all categories, exhibiting little fear of people, objects and environments that had once terrified her, and proving that her time in the rehabilitation program was nearly complete. Her next step would be a big one, as she would take the leap into finding a family who would appreciate just how special Lily Jane is and help guide her in the real world.

In her last evaluation, our team wrote: “Lily Jane has made many friends during her stay at the Behavioral Rehabilitation Center, both human and dog alike. She offers many tail wags throughout her day. Lily Jane is an adorable, calm, and delightful dog ready to graduate and find a loving home.” 

In a serendipitous turn of events, we soon discovered that someone had already noticed what a great dog Lily Jane is—and it was a familiar face. 

Around the same time that Lily Jane was graduating, Sarah and her husband were looking to welcome a dog into their family, which already included a few felines. When they were ready to adopt, fellow staff members recommended a few dogs, but when Sarah spent some one-on-one time with Lily Jane she knew it was meant to be. 

“I think what got me was just her gentle soul and presence,” Sarah says. “She seemed to be so calm and comfortable with me.”

Sarah, who knew Lily Jane since she had first read her heartbreaking intake papers, knew Lily Jane would be a great fit for her family and officially adopted her. From those first few moments at the BRC, to her adoption day, it seemed as though Lily Jane’s journey was always meant to bring her to Sarah. 

But Lily Jane’s adjustment to her new home took time. She had frequent nightmares and would start howling in the middle of the night, waking herself up along with Sarah, her husband and the cats. But little by little, with the support of a family who loves her, Lily Jane felt more comfortable in her new home. She began to blossom into a confident and loving dog even more than she already had.

And now, Sarah is not the only one in the family with a job at the Rehab Center! Lily Jane goes to work with Sarah several times a week and works as a helper dog for other fearful dogs, showing them how to be confident around humans and new environments.

But don’t worry, Lily Jane takes plenty of breaks too.

“We’ll go for a walk around the BRC on our lunch break and go into the big play yard and she’ll play a bit, but then she’ll lay on the ground and let me scratch her belly for a long while,” Sarah tells us. “Her little back legs stick straight out and she’s got her head lolled back in the sunshine. It’s the cutest.”

Despite her tragic beginnings, Lily Jane’s compassion for other animals has always endured, even beyond her role as a helper dog. Today, she lets her feline siblings groom her and give her kisses on the head while she patiently rests. 

Lily Jane’s journey from fearful dog trapped in a barn to confident, beloved helper dog who is helping rehabilitate fellow animal friends, has truly come full circle. Her Graduation Certificate from the BRC hangs proudly on Sarah’s fridge, a reminder of the remarkable feats even the most fearful dogs are capable of when given a chance to succeed.

“Without the BRC, Lily Jane would not have made it,” says Sarah. “And that breaks my heart to think about. Everyday I’m so grateful to the team at the BRC for taking that fearful dog to the couch potato she is today. My advice for someone considering adopting a rescue dog is to do it as soon as you can.” 

Year-round at our Rehab Center, our staff are helping dogs undergo incredible transformations to become beloved pets. Without this work, dogs like Lily Jane may never know the comforts of a loving family or a warm, safe place to rest their heads. Our rehabilitation work would not be possible without ASPCA supporters like you.


Jul 1, 2019

A New Destiny for Dexter

Dexter had come a long way in terms of both his travels and his temperament. More than two years ago, he was one of 50 animals rescued by the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response team as part of a cruelty case in northeast Wisconsin. The animals found during that case lived in deplorable conditions, isolated and left to fend for themselves. 

Dexter and another dog were selected for transport to the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center (BRC) in North Carolina, the first-ever facility dedicated to providing behavioral rehabilitation for severely fearful, unadoptable dogs, such as those confiscated from puppy mills and hoarding situations.

“When Dexter arrived in March 2018, he hid at the back of his run, trembling at the sight of us and showing no interest in other dogs, toys or food,” says Pia Silvani, Director of Behavior at the BRC. “He refused to eat in the presence of staff and dared to eat only at night. He had never been walked on a leash. He didn’t make eye contact or wag his tail.” 

Hoping to give Dexter a second chance, the BRC staff took baby steps, first teaching him to eat in the presence of people and using a harness in place of a standard collar and leash for walks.

“Fear is a common dilemma we face every day,” adds Pia. “We could only wait patiently to see if our interventions helped.” 

After several months at the BRC, the rehabilitation tactics had a positive impact on Dexter’s recovery, enough to declare him fit for adoption, and he was transported to Monmouth County SPCA in August 2018. 

Kristen Collins, Vice President of the BRC, says partner shelters like Monmouth County SPCA are critical to helping dogs like Dexter find new homes. “We could not exist without our network of animal welfare organizations and rescue groups that find homes for our graduates,” she says.


Megan G. was looking for a second dog at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, New Jersey, when she spotted a shepherd-mix named Dexter crouched in the back of his kennel. 

 “He was hunkered down in a corner, his eyes cast to the floor,” she recalls. “And he wouldn’t come forward, which broke my heart. But I fell in love instantly.”

 The next day, Megan returned with her eight-year-old dog, Hossen, for a meet-and-greet with the shy canine. Kennel staff coaxed Dexter out, and he took an instant liking to Hossen. In moments, they were playing together.

 “I’d known I wanted a second dog for a long time,” Megan explains. “Dexter bonded with Hossen really quickly, so I adopted him that day.”

 Once home in early September 2018, Dexter temporarily went into hiding, seeking out a corner of Megan’s living room and sometimes sleeping in a closet. 

 “He was anxious and would pace and run away from people,” Megan explains. “When he was in the house, it was hard for me to get him to go outside. And when he was outside, it was hard to get him to come in. He wanted to get away from everything.”

Feeding Dexter also presented challenges. “At first, I would have to disappear,” Megan recalls. “But eventually he took food from my hand.”

“It’s not uncommon for our graduates to experience some regression when transferred to a new shelter environment for placement and then adopted into what is usually their first-ever home,” explains Kristen. “Dexter had a particularly tough time settling in, but Megan was very patient. Usually a newly adopted graduate needs one to four weeks to adapt; they bounce back after a few weeks." 

“Our follow-up data indicates that after this initial period in the new home, dogs typically settle in well,” Kristen adds. “The work we do at the BRC makes that possible.”

Within two weeks, Dexter was following Hossen around the house. Megan, a business consultant, works from home, so she was able to give him lots of attention during his transition. By early October, he was a completely different dog.

“He now crawls into my bed in the morning and curls up,” she says. “He loves his toys and has become this super playful goofball.”

For Megan, Dexter’s recovery was never in doubt. 

“I knew he’d get there. I just had to let him do it on his terms,” she says. “Dexter changed my life. Today, he’s part of my family. And we’re lucky to have him.”



Apr 1, 2019

Franny's Good Fortune

In December 2016, the ASPCA assisted in the rescue of 155 dogs from a North Carolina dogfighting ring. The amount of dogs involved in this case was staggering, and for many of them, rehabilitation was a long and arduous journey. 

But there was never a lack of confidence that for many of these survivors, there was hope of better days on the horizon, and of loving families with open arms. Of these dogs, one in particular went through great lengths to find her way home from North Carolina, up to the Big Apple. Her name is Franny.

After her rescue in North Carolina, Franny was understandably fearful. Given that her beginnings were marred with the violence of dogfighting, she’d had limited experience in the real world. At the time, she didn’t know what it meant to be a beloved pet. 

Given her state, it was decided that Franny, alongside a few other dogs from her case, would do best at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center (BRC), where she would be able to receive specialized training and care to help her learn that the outside world isn’t such a scary place.

In her time at the BRC, Franny made immense progress and soon became an official graduate. Though she was still shy around new people, it soon became clear to everyone that this former dogfighting victim was nothing but a sweetheart, with endless amounts of love to give. She just needed the right adopters to truly see her. 

Once Franny graduated from the BRC, she went into a foster home through a partner rescue in Hoboken, New Jersey. Franny’s foster saw the sweet dog blossom while she was in her care, and they soon discovered that Franny absolutely loved snuggling and giving kisses to her favorite people. She also loved spending time with other dog friends!

In her temporary home, it seemed as if the horrors of Franny’s past were long gone. She was truly coming into her own. And before long, someone special saw Franny’s profile online. 

For some time, James W. had been looking for the right dog to join the home he shared with his girlfriend Alexandra. When he spotted Franny online, he knew there was something special about her. 

“I fell in love immediately,” James says. “From her bio, photos and video—she was the perfect match.”

James and Alexandra set up an initial meeting in Franny’s foster home, and then set up a secondary meeting to introduce their resident dog to Franny as well. After all was said and done, James knew Franny was the one, and the couple took her home after their second meeting. 

For James and Alexandra, Franny’s background in dogfighting wasn’t even a factor in their decision to adopt her. 

“I didn’t have any reservations about having a dog from a dogfighting case,” says James. “I’ve always had such an affinity for pit bulls, and I know they can come back from that sort of thing. All dogs react differently, and she seems to have put it behind her. So, it didn’t really phase me.”

Alexandra also adds: “I feel like one of the greatest things about Franny is that even though she came from that background where there’s violence and aggressiveness and where she really didn’t have a caring owner, she is definitely sweet and not aggressive at all, which is something that most people might be fearful of. There’s definitely discrimination, but she’s the perfect role model for those types of dogs.”

For the couple, there was no question that they’d found their newest family member. And for Franny, James and Alexandra gave her something she’d never truly known—a fresh start at a real life and a loving home.

Once Franny stepped into her new home, she knew she was where she was meant to be. According to James, she made herself right at home. 

“Within the first few minutes she was on the couch, she was on the bed,” he says with a laugh. James adds that while Franny was very well-behaved and took quickly to the new rules of her home, he felt like the biggest adjustment for the sweet dog was her new neighborhood.

In the city, Franny had to adjust to a lot more people, noises and the occasional pigeon or rodent out on the street. But, like most things, Franny took this in stride, and put her best paw forward as she adapted to life as a city dog. And with her new mom and dad by her side, she could take on anything that came her way. 

While Franny may have needed some time to adjust to the city, her shy nature soon began to dissipate and she began to shine as a social butterfly.

“I take her to the park every day. That’s my favorite part of the day,” Alexandra says. “She’s super friendly with other dogs, so she goes into the dog run and says hello to everyone there. Then she goes to all of the dog owners to say hello too.” 

As Alexandra watches Franny run and play with anyone and everyone—whether on four legs or two—it’s hard to imagine that her life had been full of anything but joy. “She’s never shown any signs of aggressiveness to other dogs, and she responds to my commands,” says Alexandra. “She welcomes other dogs into the dog run, and she also walks dogs out of the dog run to say goodbye.”

In her new life, Franny is soaking up every minute of fun and showing everyone just how sweet and loving she is. This sweet-natured, social gal is a far cry from the scared survivor we once met. 

“I honestly just don’t even want to imagine what her life would be like if she hadn’t been rescued,” says James. “I hate to think of what it could have been, but I’m happy that we don’t have to worry about that. I just want her to be a happy dog, and feel like she has a happy home”

Seeing Franny run through the dog park, and play with other dogs, it’s hard to imagine that her life is anything but happy. Her pet parents love everything about her, including her signature grin, where she shows them all of her teeth. And James thinks it’s important to remember that there’s always hope that dogs can recover from cruelty.

“Get an understanding of who the dog really is. And go into adoption with the mindset that whoever the dog is now, they can still change. If you put them in a good environment, that’s really what they need the most. Don’t let a negative bias about their past affect how you want to change the future.”



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