Dog Gets New Leash On Life Through New Jersey ASPCA Rehab Center

Belle, a lop-eared Shepherd mix, was one face in a crowd of over 300 animals rescued from an overcrowded dog pound in Alabama.

The experience had traumatized the dog so much that even when she was adopted, her first owners returned her after only two days. Belle was terrified and unable to cope with life in a new environment.

The dog was transferred to the ASPCA Rehabilitation Center in Madison, New Jersey.

Kristen Collins, Senior Director of ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Behavior Rehabilitation, said that the dog’s reaction was not unusual, according to a report by

“It takes a while for some dogs to come out of their shells. And that was certainly the case with Belle. She was inhibited, afraid and under-socialized — she couldn’t do much but just sit and crouch, sometimes trembling.”

In a nine process that took over two months, with brief intervals involving lots of praise and positive experiences, Belle began to come around.

Belle now joins more than 200 dogs who have been through the Rehab Center.

“The dogs in our program have to be able to develop social relationships with people and tolerate leashing and handling by unfamiliar people. Once Belle had that under her belt, we felt pretty confident she could cope with another change in environment.”

After graduating from rehab, Belle was put up for adoption through Sammy’s Hope, an animal welfare center in Sayreville, New Jersey. She was spotted on Petfinder by Cassandra K., a juvenile counselor who lives in Franklin, New Jersey. She and her boyfriend, Steven T., brought their German Shepherd, Jackson, to meet Belle.

“When I saw Belle I knew we wanted her.”

Beginnings in the new digs were tough.

“It was a struggle to get her out of the house. But one day she turned the corner, imitating Jackson and following him outside, where she really came out of her shell.”

Today, Belle plays fetch and snuggles with her new big “brother,” Jackson. She is a success story, and living proof of the payoff that can happen for undersocialized dogs through rehabilitation efforts. reported that ASPCA rehab facility is “one of a kind in the state and a rare therapeutic option for dogs in the country at large — dogs beat up by trauma and neglect, doomed to the likelihood that they will deteriorate in a shelter.”

Collins said there was a real need for a facility that specializes in behavior rehab for dogs from hoarding conditions.

“We kept seeing in case after case that these dogs were too fearful for placement. They’d panic or become catatonic. Lose control of their bowels.”

Collins has a master’s degree in applied animal behavior and formerly worked with dogs rescued from puppy mills, dogfighting rings, and hoarding cases.

She said that beyond the physical issues such as emaciation and skin condition, the psychological wounds of the dogs were even more serious: “Scars worn deep by isolation and fear. Even the most well-intentioned family would not be able to use love, or time, as a salve for these dogs — some of them had never been indoors, or outside.”

There were no clinics or facilities specializing in this type of recovery.

“Nobody was doing this.”

The rehab center, which was launched in March 2013, has been so successful that it plans to expand to a new, larger facility in North Carolina in 2017.

[Image via Emily Skeels/Shutterstock]