hen she arrived at the Madi-
son ASPCA center in Sep-
tember, Mabel, a mottled
brown shepherd mix with
sad eyes and soft fur, was paralyzed
with fear. She remained immobile and
crouched in the corner of her kennel run,
trembling whenever anyone approached.
When the trainers tried to coax her out,
she was unable to interact.
Like many dogs in her situation, it
looked as though Mabel was doomed to
languish in a shelter, or be euthanized.
Mabel had been rescued from an
animal shelter in Alabama that was shut
down after allegations of abuse. More
than 300 animals were removed from the
shelter. Many, including Mabel, had been
neglected and mistreated.
Now, after about 10 weeks of painstaking rehabilitation by experts at the
ASPCA’s Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in Madison, Mabel is able to walk on
a leash and take treats from a stranger’s
hand. She even kisses her trainer.
Launched in March 2013, the Madi-
son center is the only facility of its kind
in the country dedicated to providing be-
havioral rehabilitation for former strays
and dogs that have been victims of cruelty.
Some have been confiscated from puppy
mills. Others have been subjected to dog
fights and other abusive situations.
“Once we started, we realized that
the dogs we didn’t think would recover
would make these amazing changes,”
says Kristen Collins, an animal behavior-
ist and senior director of the center. “It’s
surprised us how well the dogs have been
doing and how relatively quickly they’ve
been able to be adopted. We thought we’d
have a 50 percent success rate with these
dogs; it’s been closer to 90 percent.”
Only physically healthy but fearful,
behaviorally damaged dogs that have
been rescued are eligible for treatment
at the center, located within St. Hubert’s
Animal Welfare Center. The intensive re-
habilitation program focuses on contact
with human trainers and fellow canines
and on acclimating the animals to sights
and sounds they may fear. Once the dogs
graduate, they are transferred to partner
shelters, including St. Hubert’s, for place-
ment. (Those that cannot be helped are
“We’re trying to give these dogs
behavioral tools to help them explore
A rehab center in Madison trains mistreated
dogs for a new life. BY JACQUELINE MROZ
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRISTOPHER VILLANO