A Puppy Cowering Once in Fear: Cindy’s Transformation

August 11, 2021

When you think about a puppy, what comes to mind? Cuteness overload, constant tail wags, playful pouncing, endless cuddles and a fluffy little fur baby. Sadly, for five-month-old Cindy, that youthful energy most puppies have was not her reality. 

Cowered in a corner—even with toys, treats and more—Cindy was so afraid. Adoption at that time was not possible—her fear was debilitating, and her quality of life was non-existent. She would need the help of the ASPCA to overcome her severe anxieties. 

Cindy in a corner anxious

The Beginning

Cindy was rescued by a local animal welfare organization in Mississippi. While we don’t know much about her past, we know that she was without a family or home to call her own. 

As part of the ASPCA’s Relocation program, Cindy journeyed alongside 24 dogs to the Northeast where she would have a much better chance of finding a loving home at the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City.

Once in New York, Cindy displayed high levels of fear. We set up a comfortable environment for her to feel safe and protected. Despite getting along with other dog friends, Cindy was terribly afraid of people. Even after two weeks of repeated sessions, she did not leave her crate when a person sat in a room with her.

Cindy with another dog

Even as a puppy, Cindy was very fearful when she arrived in our care. 

Our devoted staff knew that she would benefit from the structured treatment program at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center (BRC) in North Carolina. The BRC is the first permanent facility dedicated to rehabilitating extremely fearful homeless dogs. 

Here, Cindy would receive the critical rehabilitation she needed.

Another New Start

“Cindy’s case was a little different just because she was so very young. It’s very unusual to find puppies that extremely fearful,” says Monica Body, ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Specialist and Cindy’s caseworker. “It was a matter of urgency to work with her while she was still such a young dog.”

“On her very first behavior evaluation, she scored all Ds, which is our lowest score, meaning extreme fear in a lot of different situations,” Monica recalls. 

Cindy sniffing a hand with a dog friend

She had to help Cindy learn what it’s like to be a companion. Things like walking on a leash, being  touched by a human—even playing with a toy—were all new to her. 

At a slow pace, Monica and the behavior team paired things that scared Cindy with things she loved. For example, going for a walk on a leash was fear-inducing, but Cindy loved other dogs. The team would pair these two things together in Cindy’s treatment sessions to gradually reduce her fear. 

Cindy with her dog friend and human friend

Cindy feeling more comfortable with dog friends and human friends. 

Soon, she was gaining confidence and becoming comfortable with things that had originally terrified her. Finally, we saw glimpses of that playful puppy energy. 

“The first time Cindy started bouncing and playing was such a monumental occasion for her and started showing us that we were breaking through with her,” says Monica. 

Each day, Cindy took a step forward in her journey to recovery, leaving past trauma and fear behind her. 

Making the Grade

Cindy graduated from our rehabilitation program as a completely different dog than the one we had met months earlier. She showed social behavior and was much more trusting of people and her environment. She had truly come a long way. 

“Seeing the dogs thriving is really what this job is all about,” Monica explains. “Our mission is to take these dogs who are otherwise unadoptable and show them how to be really wonderful companion animals.” 

After Cindy graduated, Monica fostered her while we worked to find placement with a shelter partner. To our knowledge, it was the first time Cindy experienced life in a loving home.

Cindy with a cat

Cindy enjoying playtime in her foster home.

Our Relocation team transported Cindy to Rescue Village in Geauga County, Ohio, where she would await a family to adopt her.

Finding Home

Karen P. has been a foster parent for rescue dogs for many years. She adopted rescue dog Mindi from Rescue Village and was considering fostering or adopting a second dog when she saw Cindy on Rescue Village’s website. 

“The description said something to the effect that she was in need of a special home with a calm environment, possibly with another dog to help Cindy settle in,” Karen recalls. 

She knew her family could provide just that and decided to stop in and visit her. “Cindy was beautiful with gentle eyes but would only look at me from the bed in the back of her kennel.” 

Staff explained Cindy’s journey at the BRC, remarking that allowing Cindy to approach new people in her own time would be beneficial. Karen was hopeful and on her second meet-and-greet, she brought Mindi to meet Cindy—the two hit it off right away. Karen knew that their newfound friendship would help Cindy feel right at home. 

Cindy and Mindi playing in the snow

New siblings Mindi and Cindy playing together in the snow.

Mindi became Cindy’s guide as she learned all the ins and outs of her new digs—including meeting the “treat man,” also known as Karen’s husband.

Cindy began to feel more comfortable and even made new friends. “Cindy took to my granddaughters quickly due to their ability to patiently wait for her to approach them when first meeting,” Karen explains.

Cindy and Mindi with Karen's granddaughters

Mindi and Cindy get hugs from Karen’s granddaughters.

Today, Cindy is miles away from that fearful puppy we met in New York City. Her long journey has finally come to the ultimate place—two loving pet parents, a best friend in her canine sister and a large fenced-in backyard for her to romp around in. 

“I have a hard time imagining the household without her,” Karen tells us. “We feel blessed to have had the chance to bring Cindy into our home and family.”

Looking Ahead

“Seeing the joy that the adopters get from their dogs is just so rewarding. It’s a thrill seeing these dogs become family members.” Monica says.

Every day at the BRC, our incredible team is proving that so many dogs can overcome fearful behavior that stands in the way of adoption. Using expert treatment, we’ve helped hundreds of dogs like Cindy recover from trauma and find loving homes.


Through our Learning Lab program, we’re sharing our findings and collaborating with other animal welfare organizations throughout the country to help save more lives. Together, we are transforming unadoptable homeless dogs into beloved companion animals.

“We learn as much from these special dogs as they do from us,” Karen explains. “The time spent helping this special shelter dog fit into your family will come back to you in love, loyalty and compassion from your new four-legged best friend.”

Create Second Chances.

Behind every animal rescued and every happy ending at the ASPCA is a generous friend like you. Please help us find loving homes for animals—and make more second chances possible—with your special gift today.