By Dr. Becker
Abused dogs are getting a new "leash" on life, thanks to a New York City rehabilitation center opened by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (ASPCA).
The center takes in some of the most abused animals from dog cruelty cases handled by the New York Police Department.
The dogs arriving at the rehab center are traumatized — physically and emotionally wounded. After being nursed back to health physically, the dogs then begin the often-longer journey of healing their emotional scars.
This is, in part, where the center excels. It's a state-of-the art facility specifically designed to help abused animals become well again. In many cities, these dogs would be considered unadoptable and so would be euthanized.
By giving these dogs a chance to heal, however, many are learning how to trust, how to play and, in some cases, how to be a dog for the very first time.
Giving Abused Dogs a Chance at Life
Most of the dogs coming to the ASPCA's NYC center have been severely abused. Some have been starved, others deprived of social contact, others beaten, shot or abandoned.
As a result, the dogs are often fearful of people and may have never been pet. Their fear often manifests as aggression, and so the dogs cannot be adopted out until they learn how to get along with people and other dogs.
The center has a staff that includes animal behaviorists that specialize in rehabilitating abused dogs. Depending on the dog's condition, they may even have to learn that it's safe to be pet.
Normal shelter situations are stressful for abused dogs, which don't take well to the metal and concrete enclosures, loud noises, close proximity to other dogs and strangers coming and going. At the ASPCA center, all of this is taken into account.
The center has a number of unique features designed to make the dogs feel safe and calm. Among them:
- Light dimmers
- Calming scents and music
While working with trainers, the dogs are closely monitored and their progress is carefully recorded. This not only helps the trainers to customize their rehabilitation program and facilitate their future adoptions but also helps with the prosecution of their abusive former owners.
Other humane organizations have expressed interest in creating similar life-saving programs for abused dogs. While the treatment is expensive, Matthew Bershadker, president of the ASPCA, explained to The New York Times why it's more than worth it: 1
" … [T]his is exactly what these animals deserve. We owe these animals because we, as a society, as a species, have so horribly betrayed them and failed them … It's our responsibility to make sure they live the life they were born to live."
New Jersey ASPCA Rehabilitation Center Focuses on Puppy Mill Dogs
Another ASPCA rehabilitation center, this one in Madison, New Jersey, focuses on rehabilitating dogs that are fearful and undersocialized, such as dogs rescued from puppy mills or hoarding situations.
In the video above, you can watch Coconut's amazing transformation as she gets the care and attention she needs. Coconut was rescued from a puppy mill and didn't yet know how much she loves to be pet.
The ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center at St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center, as the center is known, opened in 2013 and was described as "the first-ever facility dedicated strictly to providing behavioral rehabilitation to canine victims of cruelty, such as those confiscated from puppy mills and hoarding cases."
Most dogs will stay at the facility for six to eight weeks, with some requiring a more lengthy or shorter stay, depending on their individual situation. "Graduates" of the center will return to partner shelter for placement and ongoing therapy will be provided as needed.
What to Know If You Adopt a Formerly Abused Pet
Animals that have been victims of abuse or neglect require special care and consideration. In some cases, you may not know for sure if your pet was formerly abused or neglected, but you can typically assume it's the case if your pet displays these signs:
✓ Withdrawn or overly timid
✓ Insecure in open spaces
✓ Fear of the outdoors
✓ Spends time in the corner of a room or in a hiding place
✓ Makes very little noise
✓ Food aggression or frantic/rapid eating
✓ Anti-social behavior
✓ Fear without known cause (such as fear of inanimate objects, like a garbage can)
The key to remember with an abused pet is it will likely take time for him to trust and feel safe again. His ability to bounce back also depends on when the abuse or neglect occurred. Abuse suffered during the early weeks and months of life can have life-long effects that your dog (or cat) may not be able to overcome.
He may have missed out on necessary socialization during this crucial developmental window and therefore may have a hard time ever feeling fully comfortable around strangers or children, for instance. That being said, you can still help your pet to thrive to his best ability.
How to Make an Abused Pet Feel Loved
All pets need to feel loved, but for an abused pet this is of paramount importance. You'll need to make your dog feel loved and needed (and you'll need to work at his speed). Don't force him to meet new family members all at once, for instance, and follow his lead when trying new experiences. If he seems fearful, protect him — don't make him keep going until he is ready.
At the same time, reward even small signs of progress, which will help to build his confidence. Be sure you also make your home a safe place for your dog. The ASPCA uses soundproofing and calming music; you might also try soft music or at the very least be sure everyone in your household speaks in low, calm tones.
Yelling should be avoided, as this is often traumatic for previously abused animals. One of the best things you can do is to simply spend some quiet time with your pet each day. Sit in a quiet, cozy space and calmly interact with your dog or, if he's not yet ready for that, read a book to him.
Bring treats with you and reward your dog with a treat every few minutes. Your dog will soon learn to look forward to spending this time with you and, ultimately, will learn he can trust you. While it takes extra work and dedication on your part, the love you can receive from an animal in need is immeasurable.
If you'd like to make a difference in the life of an abused animal and you have the room in your home and your heart for such a pet, consider adopting and rehabilitating a previously abused pet.