July 27, 2016

From Rescue to Rehab: Belle’s Story

Bell's Story
Photo courtesy of Sammy’s Hope.

For some dogs, the passage from rescue to recovery is smooth, an obvious and welcomed transition from the horrors of abuse or neglect. But for Belle, a young Shepherd mix, the process was a struggle that took months.

Belle’s journey began in an overcrowded shelter in Lawrence County, Alabama, where she and 300 other animals living in deplorable conditions were rescued by the ASPCA and the Moulton Police Department last summer. Following a month-long stay in a temporary shelter, Belle and more than 200 other animals found homes during a two-day, community wide adoption event.

Sadly, Belle’s adopters had no choice but to return her to two days later. She was fearful and unable to acclimate to her new home. The ASPCA made arrangements to transfer Belle to the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in Madison, New Jersey. 

“It takes a while for some dogs to come out of their shells,” says Kristen Collins, Senior Director of ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Behavior Rehabilitation. “And that was certainly the case with Belle. She was inhibited, afraid and under-socialized—she couldn’t do much but just sit and crouch, sometimes trembling.”

Belle at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center
Belle at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center

Though startled by unfamiliar sounds and nervous in her kennel, Belle began to show signs of tentative and partial social behavior. Within a few days, as Kristen and her team made attempts to approach Belle, they got a peek at the dog underneath the fearful exterior. “We were excited to see that she was motivated to come to us,” Kristen recalls.  “There were glimpses of playfulness and social behavior, a little at first and more as she progressed. She showed signs that gave us hope.”

The entire treatment team worked with Belle: Rehab Coordinators Lauren Zverina and Renee Dunaway, Counselors Jill Giovannetti and Cheryl Suydam, and Enrichment Coordinator Katherine Good. By the end of October, Belle was receiving 15 minutes of treatment five days a week, which included five minutes each of leashing and leash walking work, remedial socialization and handling.

Belle enjoyed being close to her handlers and romping and playing with other dogs in a grassy pen outdoors. She learned to come when called. But being leashed and going for walks was difficult, as was petting. “Belle didn’t flee but was concerned and tense,” said Kristen. “Then she decided she liked it and would seek out touching.”

After nine weeks of steady progress, just before Christmas, Belle was ready to graduate. She’s now one of more than 200 dogs who have been through the Rehab Center. “The dogs in our program have to be able to develop social relationships with people and tolerate leashing and handling by unfamiliar people,” explains Kristen. “Once Belle had that under her belt, we felt pretty confident she could cope with another change in environment.” Belle’s next stop: Sammy’s Hope, an animal welfare and adoption center in Sayreville, New Jersey.

Belle and Cassandra
Belle with Cassandra and Steven. Photo courtesy of Sammy’s Hope

“With her sweet face and gentle demeanor, she immediately became a volunteer favorite,” says Lora Muckin, Shelter Manager at Sammy’s Hope. “She was also a terrific helper dog to other shy pups, and often led them on walks through the outdoor trails.” Less than three weeks later, Sammy’s Hope placed Belle in a new home with a family who saw her on Petfinder.

“When I saw Belle I knew we wanted her,” says Cassandra K., a juvenile counselor who lives in Franklin, New Jersey. She and her boyfriend, Steven T., brought their German Shepherd, Jackson, to meet Belle before adopting her.

Once home, however, Belle wouldn’t move from her bed. “It was a struggle to get her out of the house,” recalls Cassandra. “But one day she turned the corner, imitating Jackson and following him outside, where she really came out of her shell.”

Belle with her new “BFF,” Jackson
Belle with her new “BFF,” Jackson

Today, Belle is a “pro” at fetch, and is so fond of snow that she plunges into it head first. Indoors, she nuzzles and a cuddles, and Jackson, 105 lbs. to Belle’s 45, lets her sit on him. “They’re BFF’s, really good together,” says Cassandra.

“Belle has come a long way, literally and figuratively, from her life in Alabama,” adds Jessica Rushin, ASPCA Partnerships Senior Manager, who helped coordinate Belle’s transport from Alabama.

“There was a sweet dog in there for sure,” says Kristen. “It’s been wonderful to see her blossom.”

Bell running outside