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The ASPCA Rehabilitation Center that is changing the lives of damaged dogs

January 13, 2016 10 comments
Maggie gets this close for chicken. #sheltie #puppymilldog

Foster Maggie telling me it’s too much pressure to “touch” my finger when I am this close.

If you would have asked me what my dream job was five years ago, I would have said professional pet sitter. It was what I was doing at the time, and I loved it. I loved caring for other people’s pets and making them feel loved while their parents were away. I also loved being able to train and socialize the ones I walked each day. Puppies were the easiest, they were always so eager to learn, but what always got me excited was working with a shy or fearful dogs. I can’t explain it, but there is something so rewarding about being able to build their confidence and win their trust.

Even when I volunteered at our local shelter, it was the shy or fearful ones I was most drawn to each day. In the 8 1/2 years I was there, those were the dogs I woke with most. I think it’s in my DNA. It’s most certainly how I met my dogs Indy, Daisy and Jasper.

Several years ago, I heard about a small facility that was being set up as a pilot site to work with and better understand how best to help dogs coming from dog fighting rings, puppy mills and hoarding cases.

Operating out of St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison New Jersey, the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center rehabilitates dogs that are damaged and traumatized by abuse and neglect. Their goal? To give dogs, most likely to be euthanized at local and county shelters, a new leash on life.

Back when I first read about it, it was more of a proof of concept, an experiment designed to prove that these dogs could be rehabilitated. But, it was also a study into learning what worked and didn’t work when rehabbing these dogs.

Fortunately, it appears they are succeeding. Thanks to the ASPCA and the wonderful people working at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center, dogs are successfully being rehabbed and placed into new loving homes.

And now, they are ready to graduate and take it to the next level. Recently, they announced that they will be moving to a brand new (and much larger) facility in Weatherville, North Carolina in 2017. This is HUGE news. For those of us who work with puppy mill dogs, it means we may soon learn more about how best to help these dogs recover from abuse, trauma and neglect, and that really excites me.

This is my dream job! Think they would be open to a Minnesota transplant with a silly Fargo-like accent? Would it work if I made up a sign “Will rehab dogs for food?”

A person can dream, can’t they?

If you want to learn more about the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center, there is a great piece on it in NJ.com: Meet the ‘miracle’ dogs: N.J. center rehabilitates animal cruelty victims

Kindness to animals

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Book Review: As Bright as the Sun

March 20, 2013 13 comments

As Bright as the SunJust before Christmas, a friend recommended a book to me. Being a sucker for a good book, I immediately checked it out on Amazon. It didn’t take much for me to know that I needed to add it to my Christmas list. I am so glad I did.

The book is called “As Bright as the Sun” by Cynthia Schlichting, and is about a strong but vulnerable victim of the dog fighting world, Bella.

I can hardly explain some of the emotions I felt as Cynthia wove the tale of Bella’s life, as told from her perspective. Some of the details are true and some of them are based on Cynthia’s imaginings of what happened to Bella prior to coming to live with them. It works. I found myself smiling at times and crying at others as I followed Bella on her treacherous journey. If Cynthia wanted to place the reader in Bella’s shoes, then she did a good job.

The book starts out with Bella as a puppy and follows her as she is kidnapped from her loving family and forced into the dark, cruel and sick world of dog fighting. For years, Bella is used and abused by her captors. She is bred over and over again for her puppies – all forced into the dog fighting ring, and she is also forced to fight. It was during her last fight (more of an assassination than a fight) that Bella faces her worst moment. She is tossed into a ring with a fighting dog with her legs tied together, unable to defend herself. Her captors intended for her to die there. Instead, she survived. So they tossed her into a roadside ditch – pregnant, bleeding, skin and ears ripped up, she lay there in that ditch all but giving up on life until a good samaritan comes along and saves her. A guardian angel was looking over Bella that day and the days to come.

By all odds, Bella ends up at the now infamous Chesterfield County Animal Shelter, where employees shot and killed 22 of their dogs and buried them in a landfill. Thank goodness she was pulled by a rescue before she could suffer that fate. The rescue cares for Bella’s wounded body and soul and shares her story on Facebook, where it is passed on by many.

It is there that Cynthia and her husband, Brian, read Bella’s story and decide they are the ones to give her a new home. What follows is their, and Bella’s, journey to bring her home (to Minnesota) and to give her a chance at a new life. She meets her new doggie siblings, Foster and Jane, and learns what being a dog really is when you live in a home where people love you.

It’s a powerful story and one worth reading

If I had but one wish it would have been that Cynthia had shared more about Bella’s life after she was rescued. For those of us with dogs who have suffered a horrible beginning in life, we want to know how she, and her husband, Brian, helped Bella to assimilate into her new world. But, I think I know why Cynthia chose to focus more of her time and attention on Bella’s story. It’s because Bella’s story is not just a story about Bella, it’s a story about every fighting dog still living in that world. It’s the story of those who try to help these dogs and what really happens in that cruel sadistic world that some consider a sport. If you didn’t know much about dog fighting before, you will after reading Bella’s story. You can even follow the work Cynthia continues to do to bring attention to this issue on her Facebook page.

Reading Bella’s story opened my eyes even more to the horrible world Bella lived in for so many years. She is a symbol for those who have come before her, and all those who will, no doubt, come after her. If you get a chance, I would encourage you to read her story. It’s one worth reading.

The ASPCA opens a new center to help fearful dogs

March 14, 2013 17 comments

Various 2008 018Yesterday, I saw a story announcing the opening of a new center dedicated to helping fearful dogs. The center, located in New Jersey, is a project being led by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Now dogs who have lived their whole lives in puppy mills or have come from a hoarding situation or were victims of animal cruelty will have the chance to get help meant just for them.

If you have ever had a fearful dog, one who has had little exposure to the world or has been abused, then you know that rehabilitation takes time. Unfortunately, time is not always an option for them. Many are euthanized because the amount of time and dedication (and money) it takes to work with a fearful or traumatized dog is more than most shelters can give.

This center is a source of hope for these dogs and the people who rescue them. The Behavioral Rehabilitation Center at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, N.J. will take dogs from shelters across the country as well as those that come  those animal seizures involving the ASPCA. Their first guests, Malamutes, are coming in from Montana in the next few days. These were the dogs who were seized from a breeder charged with animal cruelty (I wrote about them a couple of months ago).

Dogs who come to the center will stay on average about 6-8 weeks, but they are not putting a strict time limit on their stay. As anyone who has worked with a puppy mill dog knows, sometimes it can takes a year or more before a fearful dog can really function in their new environment. Knowing there is a center, and people, focused on helping these dogs is really encouraging. I hope that what they learn can be used to help more dogs in the future. I suspect Debbie Jacobs from FearfulDogs.com could tell them a lot, but I am hoping that more will be learned from their work that can be used by rescuers across the country to help dogs like these, like Daisy and Cupcake.

I’ll be watching to see what they learn. How about you?

Let Us All Be For Dogs

August 7, 2012 10 comments

Dog Files creator and filmmaker, Ken Bell, recently posted a video on his blog (Iowa Congressman Steve King Defends The Right To Watch Dog Fighting) showing Congressman Steve King from Iowa speaking about his views on dog fighting and his position on creating laws to outlaw it. As you can imagine, it created quite an outrage in the dog world and beyond.

Suddenly, what was mostly about a Congressman’s support for a cruel practice that often has criminal elements attached to it, became some sort of political attack on the candidate himself (ah yes, this is the world we appear to live in today).  Supporters of Mr. King started to go a little crazy on Kenn Bell. They attacked him viciously for posting the video. They accused him of playing partisan politics and said hateful things to him and others who commented on his post.

Kenn certainly could have let it all go on and on and let the commenters duke it out on his blog. He could have just let it go and not commented at all. He also could have taken the post down, which I am sure was part of motivation of the attackers. But, instead he did something classy. He wrote a great post that highlighted something I think all of us dog lovers can rally around.

I’ll let you read his post, Partisan Politics? I’m On The Side Of The Dogs: Dog Files Opinion, but let me share with you the one statement that really clicked with me:

And the ONLY way we will EVER be able to fight animal abuse is to successfully maneuver through the government corridors of Washington, DC. And the ONLY way to do that is with a UNITED FRONT OF DOG LOVERS.

I agree with Ken. Let’s stop letting the politicians and their minions tell us what we stand for. Let us not play along with their game to use dogs to get us to side with them on a particular issue. Let us become a united front against legislation that hurts dogs and be for legislation that supports them.

Let us all be for dogs.

Oprah Winfrey vs. Michael Vick = The Interview

February 15, 2011 16 comments

Word is out today that Oprah Winfrey is going to interview Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback, Michael Vick (the show is set to air on February 24th). This may be Oprah’s most important interview ever. Not because Vick is the most important interview subject she’s ever had, but because people have such strong opinions on either side of this issue.

Football fans and Vick supporters will be watching to see if Oprah will treat Vick unfairly in the the interview. This comment taken from the Philly.com pretty much sums it up:

“Mike, if Oprah tries for ONE SECOND TO LECTURE YOU AND ACT LIKE YOUR MOMMY, GET UP AND WALK OUT.”

Animal rights and animal lovers will be angry she in interviewing Vick at all, but will likely be watching to see if she throws him softballs instead of asking him the hard questions. This comment taken from Winfrey’s own website is just an example:

“I am absolutely shocked that Oprah would have this monster on her show. The dogs he viciously abused and killed had no voice. It was bad enough that he is being feted in his city, but for Oprah to give him any time is unbelievable…”

Either way, Oprah is likely to garner a lot of attention and viewers for this one-on-one interview. In my opinion, she is going to have to play this one very carefully. There are a lot of strong emotions at play here and as we already know from past news stories on Michael Vick, there is little chance that everyone will see this interview the same way. Some will think she was too hard on him, while others will think she was too soft. Either way you look at it, I would not want to be Oprah Winfrey today or on February 24th.

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