January 4, 2017

From Rescued to Rescuer: Hoarding Victim Finds New Purpose

Riley

Riley’s story began with trauma. One of 77 dogs rescued from a hoarding situation, the eight-year-old Beagle mix was brought to the ASPCA Rehabilitation Center after exhibiting signs of extreme emotional scarring. “He was terrified,” recalls Kristen Collins, Senior Director of the Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team. “When he first arrived, he sat in a corner and urinated all over himself. It was clear he had little contact with people.”

Riley then spent six weeks in rehabilitation, where Kristen and her team worked to socialize him, ease his anxiety and fear and introduce him to normal domesticated life, so that he could eventually go to a loving home. 

Riley post surgery

“We began with leash application, and then easy, quiet walks, but he would sometimes balk and then panic, thrashing around on the ground,” Kristen explains. “If he really wanted your attention, he would whack you with his paw. We saw some friendly social behavior in there; we just had to encourage it and build his confidence.”

At the end of February, Riley “graduated” from the Rehab Center and was made available for adoption. It had been a long journey for the once-traumatized dog, and he was finally ready to find a permanent, loving home. Everyone at the ASPCA wanted nothing more than the perfect adopters for this incredibly resilient dog. Fortunately, in mid-March, Riley met newlyweds Maddy and Daniel, who knew it was meant to be. “He behaved perfectly,” recalls Maddy. “The first thing he did was hop up on a bench beside me and lick me. I was sold.”

Most people adopting a pet realize they’re getting a great companion, but the benefits don’t always end there. After taking Riley home, Maddy and Daniel noticed something very special about their new furry family member. Days after the adoption, the couple was on their couch when Maddy began to twitch. She was suffering a seizure—a symptom of Maddy’s previous diagnosis of General Seizure Disorder. In that moment, Riley immediately jumped up beside her, instinctively pawing at her chest and licking her face. The sharp dog knew that something was wrong with his guardian.

Since then, Riley has responded to more of Maddy’s seizures, always with calm, comforting attention. “He stays with me and keeps me aware as long as possible,” Maddy explains. Sometimes, with Riley’s help, Maddy can control her breathing to prevent a full-fledged seizure.

For people like Maddy, seizures can last a few seconds or up to an hour and may cause unconsciousness. The outward effect can vary from uncontrolled jerking movements to momentary loss of awareness. Any delay of those effects allows Maddy to get to a safe place, take medication or call for assistance.  “He can pick up on things sometimes before I can,” says Maddy. “And that really helps so I can tell my husband if I'm alone, or my brother-in-law—whoever it may be. Riley's been more than just a companion to me, but he's helped me, more than I could ever ask.”

Riley running

While Daniel—a Petty Officer in the Coast Guard—is at sea, Maddy spends her time with Riley, as well as Sis, a second dog the couple adopted  who came from the same hoarding case as Riley, and also graduated from the Rehab Center program.

Sis is more timid than Riley, Maddy says, but “is learning to trust us by watching how much Riley trusts us.”  

Riley, Sis, Maddy and Daniel

We know that adoption is about saving lives. But in Maddy and Riley’s case, that act of compassion goes both ways. Riley spent his entire life without knowing the feeling of comfort or safety, and now he is able to give those feelings to someone else as a beloved pet.

No animal should have to live in the constant fear that Riley did—not knowing the difference between a helping hand and a harmful one. It is through the generosity of people like you that the ASPCA is able to provide care and rehabilitation for traumatized dogs like Riley. When you make a gift to the ASPCA, you are helping more animals receive the care they so desperately need. Please make a donation to help support the ASPCA’s work for neglected animals nationwide.