Animal Planet will soon celebrate the success of a unique program aimed at second chance dogs, often shy and traumatized victims of puppy mills, hoarders and abandonment.
In an hour-long special, the network delves into the Behavior Rehabilitation Center at St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey. It's a pilot program of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that began in 2013 and will soon be expanded, in time for the ASPCA's 150th anniversary.
Called "Second Chance Dogs," to air April 16 (9 a.m. Eastern), the Animal Planet show starts at the center's beginning, when the ASPCA decided to try rehabilitation for hard luck cases.
Of 259 dogs sent to the center since it opened, 185 have graduated. Of those, 170 were adopted and the majority is doing quite well, said Kristen Collins, a certified applied animal behaviorist who oversees the project and will be the director of a new facility planned as part of the expansion.
Not all the dogs were success stories. Thirteen were deemed inappropriate for the program, including those with health issues, and 28 failed to graduate after months in the program. Some of those were sent back to the shelters where they came from and some had to be euthanized.
But the ASPCA stands firmly behind the center. It will continue to move dogs through St. Hubert's until a new $9 million, 35,000-square-foot facility is finished in mid-2017 in Weaverville, North Carolina.
"While we can't yet answer all of the questions associated with rehabilitating at-risk animals, we continue to witness amazing transformations, dogs that conquer their anxiety and fear despite years of devastating behavioral damage. These transformations change the trajectory of their lives," said Matthew Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA.
Nearly every animal shelter in the country has a shy dog or two, Collins said. The new rehab center will have a dormitory that can accommodate visiting staff bringing in dogs from shelters or seeking training on how to handle their own loads. Shelters will not be charged for sending dogs or staff to the center, she said.
The human training will be offered because the ASPCA feels it's just as important to teach shelter workers around the country how to gain the trust of severely traumatized dogs as it is to rehabilitate the animals, Bershadker said.
"Collecting this insight and sharing it will enable all of us to move more vulnerable dogs from peril to safety," he said.
Collins said the center was the first dedicated solely to abused or neglected dogs. Her dogs, Wink, Juno and Toefu, are part of its workforce as "helper" dogs. They made it into the documentary, done by the production company Dog Files under ASPCA supervision.
Kathryn Klumpp of Watchung, New Jersey, is the proud owner of one of the center's graduates. She adopted Mary Ann after the dog was transferred from rehab to the Butler Town Pound. The mutt, believed to be around 2, adjusted quickly to life with her new family, Klumpp said. Her husband, sons (ages 11 and 13), two other dogs and a cat all made it work.
"When she came home, the family could only scratch her under her chin where she could watch them. Now, they can scratch her back." Klumpp said. "That's how much she has come to trust all of us."
While things went quite smoothly, the family made one serious change: "So now her name is Hope."