Updated: 25th April 2018

Second Chance Dogs: Offering Traumatized Dogs a Life-Saving Second Chance

Kristen Collins, a producer of the documentary Second Chance Dogsnow available on Netflixdiscusses the joy and importance of rehabilitating traumatized pets.”>

When you consider the years of cruelty, neglect and isolation dogs rescued from puppy mills and hoarding situations endure, its not surprising that they often struggle with persistent behavioral problems, even after theyre rescued. Most of these dogs have never played with toys, walked on a leash, or had positive interactions with people. As a result, many are so fearful and untrusting that theyre not ready for adoption after rescue.

In the past, there was no happy ending for these dogs. Because of the severe behavioral damage they sustained, they often languished in shelters or faced euthanasia. Their quality of life was very poor, and they simply couldnt function as companion animals. Feeling that these victims of animal cruelty deserved a second chance, we decided to open the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in Madison, New Jerseythe first-ever facility dedicated to rehabilitating vulnerable and victimized dogs. 

Since the opening of our Rehab Center in 2013, Ive watched hundreds of dogsbig and small, young and oldtransform from hopeless cases into happy dogs, romping around in our play yards, tails wagging, enjoying human affection and interaction for the first time, after weeks of intensive behavioral rehabilitation. Sometimes the progress these animals make is slow, but they continue to amaze and inspire our team of behavior experts, often teaching us new lessons that we can apply to other dogs in our program.

To help dogs in our program overcome their debilitating fears, we created about 35 behavior modification protocols based on sound scientific principles. We employ a variety of tools, from tasty food to toys to socialization time with other dogs. In fact, incorporating other dogs into our treatment sessions has proven one of the most effective strategies we employ. We pair up helper dogs confident, friendly dogs with more fearful ones. The presence of canine helpers often gives anxious animals the boost they need to make progress. My own dogs, Juno, Toefu and Wink, served as valuable helper dogs, and it was amazing to watch their calming influence coax timid dogs out of their shells.

We conduct our treatment sessions indoors and out, carefully introducing our undersocialized dogs to many environments theyve never experienced before. We even have several rooms designed to look like typical rooms in a house, including a living room and a bedroom, because traumatized dogs need to get used to and feel comfortable in these particular settings if theyre to thrive in adoptive homes.

Of the hundreds of animals whove graduated from our program, many stand out in my memory. A severely undersocialized Jack Russell Terrier named Coconut remains one of my favorite cases. Coco was rescued from a puppy mill, where she lived in isolation for years. When she first arrived at the Rehab Center, shed shrink away when we entered her kennel. She found even gentle handling highly aversive, thrashing violently to get away from us if we attempted to pet her. If she couldnt escape, shed sometimes resort to snapping at us. It was clear to all of us that Coco needed our help to become suitable for adoption. To our delight and surprise, after six weeks of patience and intensive rehabilitation, Coco was able to not only leave her kennel with confidence, but leave her fear and her past behind. She learned to wear a leash and trot beside us on walks, explore new places, meet new friends and enjoy a good scratch. Today, shes living with a wonderful couple in New Jersey.

After working with approximately 300 dogs, many of whom have already been adopted, and producing a 2016 documentary on our work called Second Chance Dogs, we decided it was time to take a developmental step up ourselves. Late next year, we are opening a permanent facility in Weaverville, North Carolina, where we will not only continue our research and hands-on work with behaviorally challenged dogs but also expand to include a national shelter mentorship program. Well invite other shelter professionals to come, learn and take new knowledge back to their own organizations.

The big idea is to achieve widespread impact through education and collaboration, to see the lessons weve learned and the hope they inspire spread around the country, so that abused and neglected dogs can get the second chances they not only need, but deeply deserve after lifetimes of brutality and betrayal.

Read more: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/11/06/second-chance-dogs-offering-traumatized-dogs-a-life-saving-second-chance.html