We’ve all seen the stories about innocent dogs being rescued from devastating hoarding situations and puppy mills, but where do these suffering animals go after they’ve been saved?
The Animal Planet special Second Chance Dogs answers this question, providing viewers with an inside look at the ASPCA’s Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey, a program dedicated to helping these abused dogs gain a new quality of life and find a loving forever family.
Second Chance Dogs premieres on Animal Planet at 9 a.m. ET/PT on April 16, in celebration of the ASPCA’s 150th birthday on April 10, but PEOPLE got an exclusive peek at some of the dedicated work that goes on at the Rehabilitation Center and insight about the program from the center’s Senior Director Kristen Collins.
In the clip, we see a dog going through hand-targeting training, a tactic the center uses to help dogs feel more comfortable around humans, and just one part of the center’s commitment to these animals, Collins explains.
Learn more about how this program helps dozens of deserving dogs from Collins below and by tuning into Animal Planet at 9 a.m. ET/PT on April 16.
How did you become the senior director of the ASPCA’s behavior rehabilitation program?
I was part of anti-cruelty behavior team that we have and that team goes with our field investigation and response teams, all across to the country, to do puppy mill cases and hoarding cases and dog fighting cases. I was on the team of behaviorists who assisted. We do expert handling for removal from properties, we evaluate the dogs’s behavior and we set up enrichment and simple behavior modification programs in our temporary shelters.
The things we were seeing out in the field, when it comes to the behavior of the animals coming from cruelty cases, all of that was the catalyst for the rehab center program. We realized that there was always a percentage of dogs who were not behaviorally-prepared for placement, because of isolation and under socialization.
The rescue from these horrible conditions is a success. The problem is, when you are talking about cruelty case animals, you take them out of those environments and they have sustained behavioral problems. They are terrified of all people, you can’t touch them, you can’t walk them on leash, you can’t expose them to everyday things. We were seeing there wasn’t an answer for those dogs. We needed help, time and space to take our work to the next step. We were taking care of their physical wounds, but we hadn’t yet been able to take care of their behavioral wounds. That’s why the rehab center was born.
What kind of behaviors do these dogs have when they come in?
They have a range of behaviors. There are two main types of fearful behaviors. Some dogs fall into the panicky category, and those dogs flee, try to hide, try to climb the walls. They are panting, cowering, trembling. These dogs were experiencing those feelings whenever we go close to them. On the other end of the spectrum, we have dogs that will shut down completely. They would become catatonic and go to that happy place in their mind, because they were so terrified they could not function.
In both of those groups we sometimes see defensive behaviors. In some cases if you push the dog too much, some of the dogs, because we had to get close to them for something, would become defensive and snarl or alarm bark or even try to bite.
What is square one for working to help these dogs?
The first lesson is that food and people go together. We have to help them develop good associations. So we try to associate people with anything they would find terribly delicious. We have a whole range of food we use, very high value stuff, like cheese, chicken and other delicious things.
The first thing we teach them is that when a person appears, that is when your food happens. That is when you get something good to eat.
How long will it take on average for a dog to go from the program to a state where they are comfortable being adopted?
We are collecting a bunch of data and we know it takes dogs, on average, 12 weeks to graduate our program and we feel they can go to a partner shelter for adoption. We do see dogs that are outliers on both sides of the spectrum. Some dogs will come in with really fearful behavior and they will astound us by zooming through the program in 2 to 3 weeks. On the other end of the spectrum, some dogs take much longer than 12 weeks. As long as they are making progress, we will keep working with them even if that’s 18, 19 or 20+ weeks.
What is your favorite part about your work?
I love it all! As a scientist, I am totally interested in what we are doing with the dogs, the behavior modification, their changes over times, the little tweaks we do to training. I love that stuff.
I love the people part, too. I love working with staff and visitors. I love sharing what were doing.
How can people outside this program help?
There are tons of way to help. We could not do what we do without monetary support from people. So that is a wonderful thing to do, chip in to help keep these programs running. But we could not live without the donations of time, too. We love our volunteers and we could not move the dogs all the way through the program without introducing them to strangers. Anybody who would love to help, going to volunteer is enormous.
Lastly, it’s important to open your hearts and homes to animals in need. One of the coolest things here is seeing dogs that aren’t just successful in the program, but are also successful in the home. They don’t leave us perfect, we’re just aiming to improve their quality of life.
They’re not golden retrievers, but people need to give these dogs a chance to be wonderful pets.
What do you hope people take away from Second Chance Dogs?
I love the fact that were raising awareness about hoarding cases and puppy mills. A decade ago, not everyone knew what a puppy mill was. So I hope people take away new information about the problems out there. And then they can take steps to eliminate problems like that. And I hope people take away the message that these dogs can be saved, they can be rehabilitated and that they do make wonderful pets. I really hope people will see that and go out there and adopt.