Come to Their Rescue

by ASPCA
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Come to Their Rescue
Come to Their Rescue
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Come to Their Rescue

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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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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People who see fearful dogs often think that if they just give those animals love, they will come around. While this may be true for some, it wasn’t the case for two dogs, Nanook and Dexter, who were rescued by the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response team as part of a cruelty case last March. Nanook and Dexter were among more than 50 animals living in deplorable conditions, isolated and left to fend for themselves.

Having had no opportunities to socialize with people, both dogs were extremely fearful of all who tried to comfort them. How could we help them become comfortable around people and learn to feel love?

We are challenged by this dilemma every day at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center (BRC), the first and only facility dedicated to the study and rehabilitation of undersocialized, homeless dogs suffering from severe fear, often caused by cruelty and neglect. Based in Weaverville, North Carolina, the BRC has the capacity to treat 65 dogs at any given time and provides research-based training for select animal welfare groups from all over the U.S. While the success of rehabilitation depends on each individual dog and the severity of their behavior issues, all dogs who come to our facility show fearful behavior severe enough to compromise their quality of life and make adoption impossible.

When Nanook and Dexter arrived at our Rehab Center, they hid at the back of their runs, trembling at the sight of us and showing no interest in other dogs, toys or even food. They refused to eat during the day in sight of our staff and kept a nocturnal schedule, daring to eat only at night. They had never been walked on a leash and were terrified of it. They didn’t make eye contact with us, never wagged their tails, had no interest in exploring or playing, and spent most of the day hiding. We could only wait patiently to see if our interventions could change all that.

Early on in their treatment program, we had doubts about whether Nanook and Dexter could overcome their anxiety and enjoy activities and people like “normal,” well-adjusted pets do. We were these dogs’ last resort, and after a lifetime of mistreatment, they deserved second chances.

We took baby-steps at first, teaching the two dogs to eat their meals in the presence of people. Later we worked on helping them get used to walking on a leash, playing with other dogs, enjoying petting and riding in a car. Seems simple? Not for these dogs! What’s simple for other dogs was a tremendous challenge for these two.

Dexter’s main challenges were his fear of people, especially when people made eye contact with him, as well as trying to flee when walked on leash. After we made creative adjustments to our protocols and used a harness in place of a standard collar and leash, Dexter was able to make a positive connection with people and began enjoying life. Nanook’s behavior issues were more severe, as she had extreme difficulty even eating in the presence of people and panicked every time we tried walking her on a leash. Our Behavior experts worked with her over the course of several months to help her gradually tolerate being handled and touched, which included using a harness so she could enjoy daily walks outside. While she still struggled to eat in our presence, she eventually developed a trust in people—something necessary for success in a home, as her new family continues to help her build confidence.

After several months of intensive rehabilitation, Nanook and Dexter made significant improvements. They met our graduation guidelines, which help us determine when a dog is ready to leave our facility and go to a shelter or rescue group to be made available for adoption. Nanook was placed with Asheville Humane Society in North Carolina, and Dexter was placed with Monmouth County SPCA in New Jersey. Shortly after being placed with these shelters, we were thrilled to hear that Nanook and Dexter were adopted into safe and loving homes.

It’s so rewarding to witness severely fearful, undersocialized dogs make such amazing transformations after spending time at the BRC. After five years of working with these behaviorally compromised dogs, they never cease to amaze me. Helping them conquer their fears is one of the greatest gifts that we, as a team, can give them. In turn, it keeps us motivated to continue to bring more and more dogs into the program and changing—and saving—more vulnerable lives.

Nanook and Dexter had to learn what love is and how to truly enjoy life in a new home. Now they’re enjoying treats, belly rubs and long walks with people who care for and love them as much as we did.

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It had been four years since Steven and Jacqueline Berry and their family lost their Siberian Husky, Missy, to old age. But when Steven saw a media segment about the Clear the Shelters adoption event at the ASPCA on August 18, he knew the time was right to bring a new canine companion into their home. 

By the time Steven and his family arrived at the ASPCA Adoption Center that same Saturday afternoon, only one dog was left for adoption: a blind, two-year-old pit bull named Jah.

They hesitated at first, but all misgivings quickly disappeared when Steven saw how Jah interacted with his four children, girls Heavenly and Janey, boys Caillou and Elijah, ages seven to 13, and Steve’s sister, Shanear.

“He came right up to us like he had known us for years,” recalls Steven, whose wife and sister were also present. “The kids were petting him, touching him, rubbing his stomach. He even rolled over.” 

“I remember thinking, ‘This is the perfect home for Jah,’” says Stephen Cameron, Admission and Foster Programs Coordinator at the Adoption Center, who processed Jah’s adoption. “They asked all the right questions and were very excited about him. It was an amazing moment, so full of life and love.” 

It only took Jah a few days to adjust to his new home, despite his blindness.

“He learned the layout of our house quickly,” says Steven. “The way he moves around now, you wouldn’t know he has a vision problem.”

Jah first showed up on the ASPCA’s radar when Lisa Kisiel, Community Engagement Case Manager, and Dr. Jasmine Bruno, Community Medicine veterinarian, visited his previous owner to provide food, vaccines and a microchip for Jah.

“Jah approached us by smelling us,” Lisa recalls. “So we suspected he was blind.”

An ophthalmic assessment at the ASPCA Animal Hospital confirmed Jah’s blindness as well as progressive retinal degeneration, an inherited disease, in both eyes.

When Jah’s owner transitioned to living in a homeless shelter, he was forced to relinquish Jah to the ASPCA. 

“He did everything he could to keep Jah,” recalls Katherine Good, Community Engagement Coordinator and the lead on Jah’s case. “But his situation wasn’t sustainable.”

In his new home, Jah’s disability requires some cautious measures. Steven and his family make sure Jah’s environment is always safe and they use a harness to guide him on outdoor walks at nearby Crotona Park in the Bronx.

“His sense of smell is 100 percent,” reports Steven. “Even though his sight is gone, you really can’t tell he’s blind. He even darts for the front door when it’s time to go out.”

“Jah is proof that an animal who is irreversibly blind can have an excellent quality of life and be a loving companion,” says Dr. Felicia Magnaterra, a veterinarian at the Adoption Center who oversaw Jah’s care.

Jah gets a number of walks during the day, and the outings benefit the family as well as their new pet. 

“Jah gets me walking more, and in general, our whole family is more active now,” Steven says.  “He’s fun to play and run with,” adds Caillou.

“It’s refreshing to see a family who just accepts Jah the way he is,” says Katherine. “I couldn’t have imagined a better turnaround for him. He was loved before, but now he has ten times the attention, stimulation and entertainment.”

Jah may have been the only available dog at the shelter the day Steven and his family walked in, but they don’t see it that way. “Jah was the last one left,” Steven says. “So I guess it was just meant to be.”

Jah’s story is just one example of how for every shelter dog, there is a match waiting to take them home. No matter their shape, size or age, there is someone for everyone. This month, as we celebrate Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, we hope that you will get involved to help more dogs like Jah find loving homes through our #FindYourFido campaign!

 

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Animals have a resilience that is sometimes difficult for humans to comprehend, and Maxwell, a once-abused and neglected German Shepherd, is no exception.

Found in a Queens, New York, backyard without food or water, eight-year-old Maxwell was rescued by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) in January 2017. He spent the next five months at the ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH), where he was treated for severe skin disease, hair loss and for being severely underweight. 

Maxwell shortly after being brought to the ASPCA
Maxwell shortly after his arrival at the ASPCA.

“I could tell he was quite regal at one point,” says Joanne Langman, an ASPCA Behavior Counselor who helped rehabilitate Maxwell and has personally rescued more than 25 shepherds over the last 15 years. “He was also friendly and smart.”

Maxwell was also hard to miss. Eventually weighing in at 100 lb., he quickly became a staff favorite. 

Johan Aguero and Maxwell
Johan Aguero, an ASPCA Animal Care Technician, helped care for Maxwell.

“Considering all he’s been through, Max has a wonderful demeanor,” adds Joanne. “He really takes things in stride.”

Maxwell with a ball
Maxwell loved playing ball while in the ASPCA’s Animal Recovery Center.

Maxwell turned out to be very playful, tirelessly scampering back and forth across the ASPCA’s play terrace with his favorite red ball. He even enjoyed baths. “He tried to chase and eat the water,” explains Johan Aguero, an Animal Care Technician who cared for Maxwell at the ASPCA’s Animal Recovery Center. “He made us all laugh.” Maxwell later spent time in a foster home to get ready for adoption.

According to Dr. Laura Niestat, Forensic Veterinarian at the ASPCA, who oversaw his care, in his time with us Maxwell conquered bloat—a life-threatening condition in which the stomach dilates and twists upon itself. A blood clot in his spleen also landed him in emergency surgery, as did a testicular tumor that turned out to be benign. But, despite these severe ailments, Maxwell’s resilience continued to pull him through.

Johan and Maxwell playing
Johan and Maxwell at play.

In May 2017, at Joanne’s suggestion, Maxwell was transported to the Sedona Shepherd Sanctuary, which finds homes primarily for adult and senior shepherds—75 percent of whom come from shelters.  

“Maxwell is an amazing dog,” says James Dascoli, President of the Sedona Sanctuary. “He has an engaging personality and is very people focused. His trust in humans, despite being neglected and treated inhumanely, shows how dogs still place their faith in humans, even when we don’t live up to their expectations.”  

About the time Max arrived at Sedona, Ed B., his wife Christine and their 12-year-old son Jackson were saying a final goodbye to their dog Emmett, a pointer Ed and his co-workers had rescued from a Newark roadway the previous October after he was hit by a car. Emmett, suffering from liver cancer, passed away after living with the family for seven months.

Maximus with his new family
Ed, his wife Christine and their son Jackson with the newly named Maximus.

“We agreed that we would not wait long to rescue another senior dog,” said Ed, whose previous shepherds, Tequila and Shamrock, lived well into old age. When Ed and Christine met Maxwell, they formed an instant connection. They adopted him in July 2017, renaming him Maximus, or Max for short, after Russell Crowe’s character in the film “Gladiator.”

“Like his mythical movie counterpart, Maximus has a spirit that can’t be broken, regardless of the bad hand his previous life dealt,” says Ed. “He has shown real toughness in the face of neglect.” 

After adopting Max, the family spent several months continuing to improve his health. They helped him gain weight slowly by giving him small grain-free meals, which also helped normalize his skin. And they administered antibiotics to alleviate edema in his paws, which leaked fluid frequently.

Maximus on a hike and vacation
Maximus accompanies the family on hikes and vacations.

Before long, Max was able to participate in the family’s favorite activity: hiking in the Poconos. Max also joined the family at a cabin in Vermont for Thanksgiving. 

“Max has quickly become the center of our world; we can’t imagine what life would be without Max in it,” says Ed, who adds with a wink, “We don’t spoil him at all.”

Maximus in his bed
Maximus at home, at bedtime.

*Max’s previous owner recently pled guilty to misdemeanor cruelty and is banned from owning animals for one year. With the help of our supporters, we’ll continue to fight against animal cruelty and to be there for dogs like Max, helping them to heal and to finally find loving homes.

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