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Leonard “Leo” Shelton of Liberty City, Florida, tried for weeks to round up a neighborhood stray dog.

“She would never come to me,” Leo says of the large terrier mix he called Sheila. “She looked pregnant, tired and worn out. But I knew I had to find a way to bring her home and help her.”

Leo, who moved from Philadelphia to Miami in 2004, lives just minutes from the ASPCA’s new Community Veterinary Center (CVC) which opened last November in Liberty City. When he finally caught Sheila, Leo made appointment for an exam there on February 18.

Sheila was rescued by Leo just days before giving birth to 11 puppies.

Dr. Hyunmin Kim treated Sheila for fleas, confirmed her advanced pregnancy, supplied a leash and a collar and—most valuable to Leo—provided helpful advice about Sheila’s impending delivery.

Early the next morning, Sheila delivered 11 healthy puppies in Leo’s one-bedroom apartment. In just five hours, his family of canines—including his Lab mix named Buddy—went from two to 13. 

Helping Leo and Sheila

A day after the pups were born, the ASPCA Community Engagement team, including Marlan Roberts, Manager, and Cassie Vazquez, Coordinator, visited Leo’s home to check on Sheila and the pups and provide food for the nursing mother.

“Leo really wanted to do what’s best for them,” says Marlan. “Even through these challenging circumstances, he persevered.”

The Miami team planned to give the pups their first set of shots on April 5—when they would be seven weeks old.

Because he doesn’t have a car, Leo borrowed a shopping buggy and placed the pups in a tub that fit snugly into the cart. All 11—Apollo, Boss, EJ, Junior, Liberty, Mini-me, Nikita, Pebbles, Ringo, Saint Ben and Sweetie—were examined, weighed and vaccinated.

Leo visited the ASPCA’s food distribution center in Miami several times during the pandemic for pet supplies.

“The entire staff, even security, was extremely friendly and understood my challenges,” recalls Leo. “We all really connected through Sheila.”

“Leo broke down every barrier to get those dogs what they needed,” says Marlan. “He took them on without thinking twice and then found resources. The man is a saint.”

Leo was determined to give Sheila’s puppies the best start at life so they could grow up to be happy and healthy. 

“Leo got those pups off to a great start,” adds Jennifer Klotch, Licensed Veterinary Technician for the ASPCA Miami Community Medicine team. “He made sure Sheila was as healthy as she could be, and he socialized the puppies, even bringing them by in the shopping cart to show them off. He did right by Sheila and took on a lot.”

“He’s one of the most inspiring cases we’ve had, that’s for sure,” says Cassie. “We supported him through all of that and will continue to support him.” 

Feeding Pets During A Pandemic

Providing free pet food in four cities nationwide, including Miami, is one way the ASPCA has supported families with pets during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of July 3, more than 35,241 pets in Miami have received free food, including 17,680 dogs and 17,561 cats. And from April 7 and July 7, the CVC helped 542 clients and 736 pets during 974 CVC visits. 

“There was a need before the pandemic and it’s increased,” says Cassie. “Many families had financial restraints before and have now have lost jobs. Those we’ve served are very grateful.”

Leo made multiple trips to get food for his pack and got Sheila up-to-date on her vaccines.

“The sheer number of dogs was my biggest challenge,” says Leo, who cooked a rich broth for the growing brood. “But I was always all in. It was never a case of, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’”

As the pups grew, Leo admits his thinking evolved.

“I went from, ‘I’m gonna keep them all,’ to, ‘I’ll keep one or two,’ to ‘I want to get them all adopted.’ After three months, even Sheila was ready for them to leave.” 

Finding Homes for 11

Leo promoted the puppies on social media and kept track of their adoptions through regular posts. EJ was adopted first; Apollo last. Two adopters even drove all the way from Brooklyn, New York, to adopt Nikita and Sweetie. They met Leo at the CVC for the pups’ booster shots, flea and tick preventative treatments, and de-wormer. 

His next step is to have Sheila spayed once the CVC gets back to its non-emergency schedule. 

The CVC has been a great resource for pet parents like Leo who love their animals and want to do everything they can to ensure their health and safety. Leo watched the ASPCA’s CVC being built and is forever grateful. 

“I was like, ‘Yes! It’s about time!’ Of all the areas in Miami, it’s a blessing the ASPCA is here,” he tells us. “I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

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When Stephen F.’s Hound-mix, Moe, died at the age of 12, he and his son Matan visited the ASPCA Adoption Center to find a new pet, just as Stephen had done with Moe and their dog before that.  

“We wanted a small dog because we live in an apartment, but when we arrived, we saw a German Shepherd named Arty who had just been made available,” says Stephen. “He jumped up on my son and licked me... and that was it.” 

Stephen called his wife, Dova, and asked her to come to the Adoption Center to meet Arty. 

“I knew I couldn’t just come home with an 80 lb. dog,” Stephen says. “But I also knew we weren’t leaving without him.”

From Surviving to Thriving

Nearly three months earlier, an emaciated Arty was rescued by the New York City Police  Department from an apartment where he had been abandoned without any food or fresh water. He was brought to the ASPCA for assessment and treatment.

“For a young adult, Arty was remarkably underweight—just 35 lb.,” says Dr. Robert Reisman, the ASPCA’s Forensics Sciences Supervisor who oversaw Arty’s case. “He had lost a substantial amount of body tissue and his skeleton was prominent. He truly fit the expression ‘skin and bones.’”

Dr. Reisman placed Arty on a careful re-feeding diet to manage his transition from ‘survival metabolism’—using his own body tissue for nutrition—to a normal metabolism in which food can be ingested and absorbed. 

“His entire body was compromised by a lack of nutrition,” Dr. Reisman explains. “His coat and skin were unkempt and dehydrated, and his claws were grown out, indicating a lack of adequate exercise.” 

As Arty gained weight, he moved to the ASPCA Canine Annex for Recovery and Enrichment (CARE) for behavioral rehabilitation.

“He was very sweet from the get-go, albeit a bit nervous, but it wasn’t long before he came out of his shell,” says Alexa Guidotti, Coordinator of Behavior Enrichment at CARE.  

Within three months, Arty more than doubled his weight, reaching a healthy 80 lb. 

Ready for Adoption

Rachel Maso, Senior Manager of Behavior at the ASPCA Adoption Center, knew Arty needed to find a very special family.

“Initially, he had a hard time focusing on his handlers,” she says. “But when I met Stephen and his family, and they told me about their previous experiences with dogs and what they wanted in a new dog, I knew immediately that Arty was their match. He displayed none of his unfocused behaviors and connected with them right away.”

“Rachel’s instincts about pairing Arty with us was spot on,” says Stephen. 

Stephen empathized deeply with Arty. His previous dog, Moe, also had tragic past; he was rescued from a junkyard where he’d been physically beaten. 

“It kills us to think of how Arty suffered,” says Stephen. “But the ASPCA brought him back to life. What they did was incredible.”

“This Big, Loveable Thing”

The family made the adoption official on November 23, 2018, and changed Arty’s name to Marty, inspired by the main character in the 1955 Oscar-winning movie “Marty,” about an average man surprised to find himself falling in love. 

“He’s just this big, lovable thing,” Stephen says affectionately. 

Marty even gets along with the family’s playful 10-year-old cat, Minnie, despite their 76 lb. weight difference.

An Appetite for Adventure

Marty is a regular participant on the family’s hiking trips and nature walks. He’s even accompanied Stephen and Dova on visits to Matan’s summer camp.

“We now have a greater appreciation for nature and make a conscious effort to include Marty as often as we can,” says Stephen, who works from home and makes sure Marty gets out of the family’s Upper West Side apartment multiple times a day, sometimes with help from a dog walker. “Once he’s in the country, Marty’s a different dog. We love to schlep him along. It’s a lot more fun.”

At home, Marty likes to arrange his toys—which includes a collection of tennis balls—on his bed and sleeps with them. 

“He is such a smart, intelligent dog,” says Stephen. “Very rarely do you find a dog that lives up to the ‘Rin-Tin-Tin image’ of what a German Shepherd should be.”

“Making a dog part of your life makes life better,” Stephen adds. “We’re devoted to Marty. And he takes care of us, too.”




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When North Hollywood residents Elliott and his girlfriend Stella popped into their local Petco, they expected to adopt a cat they had seen online. But instead, they fell in love with Pepper, a four-month-old female kitten with a tortoise-shell coat.

“When I first saw her, she won me over by making a cute little noise and putting her paw against the glass,” explains Elliott. “She has very sweet eyes, her mouth looks like she's smiling, and her right paw is cream-colored—identical to the left paw of our other tortie!”

Pepper went home with Elliott and Stella on August 24, 2019, but her journey from homelessness to home-sweet-home was not easy.

Pee Wee Program to the Rescue

Pepper had been admitted as a stray to the Baldwin Park Animal Care Center on June 18 earlier that year. Upon her intake, staff noticed that Pepper had just a partial left hind limb, the origin of which is unknown. In addition, because Pepper was  under five lb. and slightly fearful, she was placed in the ASPCA’s Pee Wee Program, a foster program for kittens in Los Angeles, through the Baldwin Park and Downey L.A. County Animal Care Centers.

“The ASPCA helps the county by taking on cases like Pepper’s since we have the resources to handle them,” explains Nadia Oseguera, the ASPCA’s Manager of Foster Care in Los Angeles. “We felt Pepper’s best chance at a long and healthy life was through our Pee Wee Program.”

“Even though she hissed at people at first, Pepper easily accepted petting,” says Nikki Marquez, Coordinator of Animal Placement and Logistics in L.A., who fostered Pepper for seven weeks. “With time and patience, she adjusted to her surroundings and new people and showed promise, soon blossoming into a sweet kitty.”

An Extra Obstacle

While in foster care, Nikki noticed Pepper had difficulty walking and that her partial left hind limb had become infected. ASPCA veterinarians quickly determined that Pepper would be more ambulatory and comfortable if the remainder of her limb was removed. Tri-pawed kitties can live happy, full lives just as well as their four-legged feline friends, and the team was confident that with time and patience Pepper would thrive on three legs. FixNation, an ASPCA partner clinic with the capacity for more complex surgical procedures, conducted the amputation.

“Admitting Pepper into our Pee Wee Program gave us the opportunity to address and resolve her medical issues before putting her up for adoption,” Nikki explains. “Trying to place her in a new home with a partial limb would have been challenging and likely unsuccessful considering the medical follow-up she needed.”

“Something like a limb amputation can strain the county’s shelter staff,” adds Nadia. “The procedure is more complex than a routine spay/neuter surgery, the recovery time is longer and the animal would need to spend more time in the shelter, taking up kennel space that could house another animal. That’s why this kind of fostering is so important.”

Learning to walk after her amputation was challenging for Pepper, and Nikki had to hold her stable when she used the litter box. But Pepper was soon active again, even approaching Nikki’s other cats to play.

“I’m glad I was able to provide the time and patience to show her that humans are good,” says Nikki. “The Pee Wee program saved Pepper’s life.”

According to Foster Coordinator Chantel Bolanos, more than 1,650 kittens have benefited from the ASPCA’s Pee Wee Program so far this year.

Three’s Not a Crowd

Elliott says that Pepper’s new feline siblings, five-year-old Fig and two-year-old Plum, are getting used to Pepper, and that the three cats were easy to introduce to one another.

“Pepper tries to be respectful of their space, and she’ll even nap as close to them as she can,” Elliott says. “Other times she can't help herself and runs straight into them trying to play. She’s just very interested in them, and we know they're going to be best friends soon.”

Elliott explains that Pepper also has no problem “zooming” around on three legs.

"She's a great cat and we're really enjoying getting to know her,” he says. “It always strikes me how different cats’ personalities can be. I've always loved them, and I can't imagine living without them.”

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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.


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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.”



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