How Two At-Risk Dogs Found Joy in a New Life with Each Other

December 27, 2023


One of the only things Riley, a four-year-old shepherd-mix, and Jillian, a year-old hound-mix, had in common when they met in the summer of 2022 was their extreme anxiety resulting from challenging prior experiences.

Riley, who was rescued from a hoarding case, once had to compete with dozens of dogs for food and other resources. Jillian, a former stray, had lived in a crowded rural animal shelter. The dogs’ fearful behavior compromised their quality of life and made them impossible to place in adoptive homes, so they were transferred to the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center (BRC) in Weaverville, North Carolina, for a second chance.

“Getting animals like Riley and Jilly in front of people who can make a difference is what we’re all about,” says Jenny White, Behavior Rehabilitation Specialist who has been at the BRC since it opened in October 2019.

“They ended up helping each other and becoming best friends, which makes their story even sweeter.”

Difficult Starts

Riley was removed in April 2022 from the property of an overwhelmed caregiver in Central Georgia, along with 64 other dogs, and spent the next two months at the ASPCA Cruelty Recovery Center (CRC) in Columbus, OH where veterinarians treated his wounds, dermatitis, and an ear infection. Riley also suffered from dental disease and had multiple fractured teeth.

Megan Bodish, another Behavior Rehabilitation Specialist, met Riley while he was at the CRC.

Riley with Megan Bodish, ASPCA Behavior Rehabilitation Specialist.

“Riley was very scared,” says Megan. “Still, every afternoon we would host a fearful dog playgroup where we used a crate on wheels to transport them to a play yard because these dogs couldn’t walk on leash. During play, I saw the first glimmers of Riley’s personality as he lit up around other playful dogs.”

Jillian entered the Carter County Animal Shelter in northeast Tennessee on July 12 with her sister, Nina.

“Both sisters seemed fearful, but in their short stay at the shelter, Nina warmed up to staff and was adopted,” says Dr. Ashley Eisenback, Senior Director of Veterinary Services at the BRC who also volunteers at the Carter County shelter. “But Jillian cowered in the corner, generally sitting as far away as possible and trembling.”

Overcoming Fears at the BRC

By August, both dogs were at the BRC to begin treatment for their behavior issues. They were spayed and neutered at the ASPCA Spay/Neuter Alliance in nearby Asheville.


Riley didn’t like being contained in a crate or kennel and had challenges walking through thresholds. He was also anxious and would pace. But he sought comfort in touch.

Riley with Jennifer White, ASPCA Behavior Rehabilitation Specialist.

“By the end of his time with us, he was sitting in my lap while I did computer work,” says Jenny.

In her kennel, Jilly remained fearful of new people and would not approach them, but she enjoyed snuggling and being petted by familiar people. She was also friendly and confident with other dogs. Impressed by this quality, BRC staff used Jilly as a “helper dog.” She could jump into a car and coax Riley to follow.

“Jilly seemed to appreciate how tolerant Riley was of her higher energy,” says Martha Moore, a Behavior Associate who spent office time with both dogs.

Riley, above, and right, with ASPCA Behavior Associate Martha Moore and another dog at the BRC.

Riley and Jilly were kenneled in the same area, where volunteers and staff delivered “drive-by” treats and rotated enrichment toys and scents. Staff soon noticed they had similar personalities and play styles, especially when they were outside.

Jilly graduated from the BRC on February 22, 2023, and Riley on April 19.

“Our requirements for graduation include being comfortable on a leash, being indoors and meeting novel people,” says Jenny, who suspects both dogs had previously lived mostly outdoors.


“They were quite unrecognizable from their initial days in our care,” adds Megan.


Last Christmas, Daisy and Tim R. began searching for a dog to adopt.

“We’ve always had dogs,” says Daisy, a pediatric home health nurse.

Their first, Toby, was a stray Beagle-mix whom Tim, an HVAC technician, found at a job site. Over the years, their pets ranged from Jack Russell-mixes to Great Danes, but by the fall of 2022, Daisy and Tim were without pets for the first time in 20 years.

In March 2023, Daisy found Jilly’s photos and videos online and noticed another dog, Riley, joining her in almost all of them. Over on Riley’s page, Jilly was also ever-present.

Daisy reached out to Jenny. “Were they best friends?” she asked, noting that she and Tim were interested in adopting more than one dog. Jenny responded that Jilly and Riley were indeed BFFs.

Jilly and Riley on adoption day with Daisy and Tim.

On July 1, Daisy and Tim visited the BRC to meet the pair. A week later, they adopted them both.

Finding Their Joy

Because Daisy and Tim work opposite schedules, someone is almost always home with Jilly and Riley, who have an L-shaped couch that they share with Daisy and Tim.

“Jilly turns into putty with petting,” says Daisy. “Riley is a ‘Velcro’ dog who sticks with me all the time.”


Both dogs are house- and crate-trained, and well-mannered indoors, displaying the success of their treatment at the BRC. But there’s no question they consider the outdoors —a large and secure backyard tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains—their happy place.

“They trot and sniff and play tag,” Daisy says. “They look for chipmunks and snorkel in the ivy. And Jilly loves to run.”


Those words are music to Jenny’s ears.

“The best part of my job,” says Jenny, who has overseen the metamorphoses of many Rileys and Jillians, “is when a shut-down dog discovers joy.”