In May 2021, the ASPCA assisted in the rescue of over 90 dogs from a single-wide, dilapidated trailer in Shadyside, Ohio. Many of the dogs were found with untreated medical conditions, some were pregnant and many were extremely fearful. Among these fearful dogs was little mixed-breed, Talia.
Like many animals that come from situations of neglect or overcrowding, Talia was fearful of humans. So much so, that she was transferred to the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center (BRC) in Weaverville, North Carolina. The first of its kind, the BRC is dedicated to providing behavioral rehabilitation to severely fearful dogs.
“Talia was moderately fearful the majority of the time,” says Lisa Marvin, Behavior Rehabilitation Specialist and Talia’s case worker at the BRC. “She paced in her kennel, vocalized and was grumbly towards handlers when we would come to her kennel. She was also evasive for leashing attempts and wasn’t very food motivated.”
Often times our Behavior Specialists use food to help associate good things (like yummy treats) with the things these dogs fear, like humans or leashes, but since Talia wasn’t food motivated, Lisa had to try a different route.
“Helper dogs and social competition made all the difference for Talia in her behavior towards people,” explains Lisa.
Helper dogs provide confident canine support to fearful dogs like Talia. Helper dogs can act as guides and can often give fearful dogs the confidence and reinforcement needed to interact with people and their environment.
“Talia would jump in our laps if another dog was soliciting us and we were handling and paying attention to the other dogs as if to say, ‘Wait a minute, I want all the attention now!’” Lisa tells us.
Lisa also used this tactic when it came to working on getting Talia familiar with a leash. Having likely never been on a leash or even seen one before, Talia, like many dogs that come from a situation like hers, was very afraid of it. So, Lisa started small.
Lisa began with slip work to get Talia out of her kennel. Slip work is using slip leads, which are like a collar and leash all in one except these don’t have buckles. Instead, they just slip over the dog’s head. Lisa then progressed to grabbing onto her collar, a feeling she’s likely never felt before. Once comfortable with collar grabs, Lisa moved to clipping the leash to Talia’s collar.
“We would make sure a helper dog was present because Talia would get excited, become a little more confident and allow us to leash her, which then progressed to walking,” Lisa explains. “She really enjoyed walks and sniffing the environment. She started building relationships with her familiar people and started interacting with novel people.”
By the time Talia was nearing the end of her treatment, she was a whole new dog compared to the one Lisa and her team had first met.
“She showed the most fear in the kennel context but would get excited as soon as she exited. She was allowing all kinds of handling and was quite solicitous and a very, very fun dog!” Lisa says. Now, more confident and trusting, Talia was ready to find a loving home and experience the life she was once deprived of.
In order to find Talia the right home, our staff worked with Pet Helpers, one of our partner shelters in South Carolina. Talia was transported to Pet Helpers shortly after her graduation from the BRC where she would have the best chance at adoption.
Finding Her Person
Joanna B. first saw Talia on the Pet Helpers website and thought the was adorable but wasn’t quite sure if adding a second dog into the mix was right for her. Joanna then saw Talia again on social media, and while she didn’t make the move to adopt her, she kept thinking about her.
A month later, Pet Helpers posted again in search of a home for Talia.
“I hated that she hadn’t been adopted yet and wanted to meet her,” explains Joanna. “I looked up the BRC and the case that she came from, and I realized how much she had gone through.”
Unable to keep pushing fate out of the way, Joanna realized she was ready for a second dog and finally decided to adopt Talia.
Life as a Pet
When Talia first arrived at her new home, she was nervous, and rightfully so after all she had been through. While she ended up having lots of accidents that first day, Talia settled in almost immediately.
“Since that day, she’s caught on to potty training so easily and hasn’t had many issues at all,” says Joanna. “I was really worried that she would have intense issues that I couldn’t handle after living in such bad conditions and then going through such a big transition. But now that she’s settled in, you’d barely even know!”
Talia can still be a little nervous and doesn’t like when people reach down at her quickly, but the moment Joanna sits with Talia, Talia’s all over her!
“She’s one of the cuddliest dogs I’ve ever met and seriously loves getting attention,” Joanna tells us. “Every time I sit or lay down, she’s right on top of me and is my little shadow following me around all the time. Safe to say she’s obsessed. And so am I.”
Talia and her new canine roommate, Meeko, are still getting used to each other, and can be a little jealous of one another. However, they’re making strides.
“Talia loves cuddling with Meeko when she allows it,” says Joanna. “Talia has provided exactly what I was hoping for in another pet. Meeko isn’t super cuddly, and Talia more than makes up for it. Talia loves cuddles, treats, wet food, long walks and being the center of attention!”
Having now settled in and gotten used to this new life, Joanna offers some advice for others thinking about adopting a shelter dog.
“Give it all time. Take time to know whether or not getting a pet is something you want to do. And definitely take time to let your new pet adjust and get comfortable. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when Talia first got home; she was still timid, having lots of accidents and lacked some manners. But now that she’s settled in, she’s a sweet little angel!”
Joanna’s not the only one proud of Talia’s massive behavioral improvements. Lisa and her team are still beaming.
“She deserves to be in a loving home and living the life a companion dog deserves,” says Lisa. “She had such a devastating start to life and knowing we were able to rescue her from that life, help her work through her fears, learn to trust people and love interacting with people to the point that she is thriving in a home is what this job is all about. We’re all so passionate about what we do here that it doesn’t even feel like a job sometimes! It’s just an absolutely amazing feeling.”
If you’re thinking about adopting a dog like Talia, check out our adoptable dogs at the BRC!
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