- Associated Press - Monday, April 30, 2012

Snarf was underweight with a heart murmur and a possible ulcer when he was rescued from a Kentucky puppy mill. He had hookworm, fleas and ticks, infections in his eyes and ears, red skin and patchy hair.

The 10-year-old Japanese Chin wasn’t house-trained and didn’t know how to play with people. He hardly seemed like anyone’s idea of a pet.

But thanks to several months of rehabilitation, he is.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals set up a rehab center for Snarf and the other 117 dogs rescued in October from the puppy mill.

The ASPCA is the only national animal welfare organization with a behavior team dedicated solely to rehabilitating victims of cruelty and disasters. Last year, the anti-cruelty behavior team coordinated rehab for more than 1,200 cats and dogs.

Many pets that end up in rehab are victims of abusive owners who have been arrested for dogfighting, hoarding or puppy-mill violations. Other animals survive natural disasters.

Snarf had been crated, isolated and used for breeding all his life before his six months in rehab.

His medical conditions were treated, and he was taught how to socialize and play with humans and animals, how to walk on a leash and to urinate outside of his crate.

Hoarded or mill dogs have been trapped in small spaces and denied human contact, so they lack social skills and often are afraid of sights, sounds and experiences, said Pamela Reid, an animal behaviorist and vice president of the ASPCA’s anti-cruelty behavior team.

Can rehab save every animal?

” ‘Saving’ depends on your definition. We certainly save them from cruel and inhumane situations,” Ms. Reid said. “There are medical cases where it’s more fair to the animal to euthanize than to attempt treatment or treatment is not possible.”

Dogfighting and disasters can be more challenging. Fighting dogs might show aggression toward other animals but appear sweet and friendly with people. Disasters bring their own kind of fear.

Ms. Reid’s behavior team watches how each dog reacts to pleasant greetings and unpleasant greetings. The behaviorists watch as workers clip an animal’s nails, pull a burr from its fur, give it a toy and food and take those things away. They expose the dog to a toddler-size doll and a life-size dog mannequin, scold it and watch it interact with other dogs.

Behaviorists look for eye contact, posture, the dog’s tail and ears and what it does when it sees a person it knows.

A dog has to do well with the doll before behaviorists will recommend it for a home with children, Ms. Reid said.

With puppy-mill, hoarding and disaster dogs, the emphasis is on new or frightening experiences.

The behaviorist might put food down and then open an umbrella nearby. He or she watches the dog to see how long it takes the dog to recover and get back to the food or leave the food and go to the umbrella.

“Either is OK,” Ms. Reid said. “Those that go into a corner and shut down are the ones we are concerned about.”

Whatever their problems, you just have to keep working with animals, she said.

As for Snarf?

In March, 65 of the rescued dogs, including Snarf, were sent to the Kentucky shelter. Almost all have been placed, Ms. Blair said.

Scott Franke and his wife, Andy Kyle, from New Albany, Ind., saw Snarf’s picture on the shelter’s website. “When we went and saw him, it was love at first sight, and we had to have him,” Mr. Franke said.

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