Celebrating a Year of Second Chances with Graduates at the ASPCA BRC

June 3, 2019

Roux holding her diploma in her mouth

Roux, rescued as a stray, was eager to accept his hard-earned dog-ploma for a job well done at the BRC program.  

One year ago, the ribbon was cut and the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center (BRC) in Weaverville, North Carolina, officially opened our doors to severely fearful, homeless dogs in desperate need of a second chance. The one-year anniversary of this first-of-its-kind facility, dedicated solely to the rehabilitation of undersocialized dogs, marks a major milestone in efforts to help save the lives of dogs like these in communities nationwide and help them get ready for new, loving homes. 

In honor of the exciting occasion, we celebrated some incredible recent graduates of the BRC program who are moving on to the next chapter of their lives as beloved pets. 

Some sped through the program, improving each day and realizing a new level of confidence they hadn’t known existed within them. Others needed more time, patience and understanding, as they were introduced to things they may never have experienced before—walking outside on a leash, romping in a play yard with a dog friend, or a loving scratch behind the ears from a caring handler. 

Every dog’s journey is different and our hearts soar to witness moments when a dog goes from skittish and anxious to confident and curious.   

Rescued from a hoarding situation, Sissy, like most dogs at the BRC, suffered from severe fear and anxiety and was the smallest dog in the recent graduating class. 

Kristen Collins, Vice President of the BRC, recalls Sissy’s early days in our care: “She in particular kind of broke my heart because she seemed to have some spunk underneath. Somewhere in there, there was potential. But every time she got close to people, you could see how very horrified she was by the idea of just being close to us.”

Sissy at the BRC

Sissy at the BRC.

Collins explains that if a handler tried to touch Sissy, she was terrified, “There was just a total lack of joy in her life. It was very sad to see her and in moments I thought she looked like a little wild animal in her kennel, being afraid of us no matter what we’d do.”

The BRC team works tirelessly to rehabilitate dogs like Sissy, who are painfully scared of things that are normal to the average dog—having a leash put on them, accepting a treat, even the most basic human interaction. These animals have been rescued from hoarding situations, puppy mills or other cases of cruelty or neglect. Many may have had little to no contact with people. 

As a result, the BRC team is tasked with finding unique ways to implement protocols to help these dogs learn to gain confidence and find moments of happiness and joy. After weeks of treatment, determination and perseverance, Sissy had a breakthrough moment. 

Collins recalls: “When I saw a video of her exhibiting social behavior toward people for the first time, it was incredible. I watched it over and over for a few days because it was just so fantastic to see her change this much. I’m proud and honored to work with such a gifted team of professionals who make recoveries like Sissy’s possible.” 

It was truly a reason for celebration. A familiar person entered the room where Sissy had been hiding underneath a table. Recognizing the friendly face and responding to careful coaxing, Sissy started to bounce and her tail began to wag. 

“And you could see that she was a little nervous still, but that social behavior was there. And that really is often the key to recovery for these dogs,” Collins explains. 

After that pivotal moment, Sissy continued to improve week after week, slowly learning that she could overcome her fear of human touch. Small successes became big wins as Sissy progressed immensely from the undersocialized pup she once was. 

As she was brought in to accept her diploma, Sissy nestled comfortably in the arms of her handler and even donned a graduation cap for the occasion.

Sissy being held by a BRC staff member at her graduation

Sissy ready to receive her diploma for graduating from the BRC with flying colors.  

Kristen concludes: “Her story’s a particularly powerful one for me because I remember being struck by how sad she was in the beginning, and how much suffering there was inside her, and how wonderful it is now that she can finally go home and be an actual pet.” 

Sissy isn’t the only proud graduate to have completed weeks’ worth of treatment with the BRC staff. Many dogs like her who may have had painful pasts, are recovering in miraculous ways through the BRC program.

Pocus laying near her diploma and hat

Pocus, a stray who escaped foster care and was loose for months, graduated from the BRC program and is now in a loving home. 

We all feel for these dogs who have lived through unimaginable trauma, who may have otherwise been euthanized were it not for this groundbreaking program dedicated to saving them. Witnessing the profound change in Sissy, to go from deflecting any human contact or touch to enjoy being held by a person, is truly remarkable. 

We wish all our BRC graduates the best of luck as they prepare to join loving homes, and we look forward to celebrating many more dogs who move through the BRC program this year. You can learn more about the lifesaving work at the BRC today.