Our work at the Humane Society family of organizations impacts millions of animals, through public education and media outreach, litigation, corporate social responsibility reforms, and supporting regulations that govern the treatment of animals or legislation that protects them.

This work is vitally important, and many animals we will never see or meet benefit from those efforts. And since we don’t get to meet most of the animals impacted by this progress, we often get a boost of energy from meeting the animals we care for directly. I’m always so grateful and humbled when I can visit the animals at our care and rehabilitation center in Maryland, where animals who have been through the worst of the worst get a chance to rest, to learn that the world can be kind, and to find their way to new loving homes.

The animals who pass through that facility have been rescued by our team from truly horrific situations, whether they were saved from disasters, suffered abuse or neglect, were sent into the ring to fight one another, raised to be slaughtered for food or bred to be used in research. All animals are evaluated upon arrival for any medical or behavioral concerns, and those who are ready for new lives quickly make their way to one of our shelter and rescue partners for adoption into loving homes.

Some have been so psychologically scarred by their pasts, however, that they need a little more time and attention. I’ve written about our Maryland care center before, but it’s made such an impression on me that I wanted to share a little more about the philosophy behind our work there—and what it means for the animals, mostly dogs, who spend time there.

Our expert veterinary behaviorists, certified trainers, care managers and veterinary technicians work hard to set a regular schedule, and our dedicated volunteers help feed and provide enrichment for the pups (not to mention keep their kennels clean, a particular monumental task when we handle major disaster cases or rescues!). This provides the dogs with a predictable schedule so that they know what to expect—especially important as most of them have experienced trauma and instability.

Within that comforting framework, our team carefully introduces new sights, sounds and smells. For example, the enrichment program includes sound boxes that play different sounds every day. Dogs might hear birds chirping, city sounds, ocean waves or the sound of fans running—all to help them adapt to the variety they may experience in their new homes. Scent-related enrichment serves a similar purpose; some days the dogs experience sandalwood or cedar scents, and every evening they get a lavender scent to help them relax—turns out dogs may be calmed by many of the same scents we are!

All pups deserve playtime, and the dogs in our care receive toys smeared with food in the morning and evening, as well as “busy boxes,” cardboard boxes that they can rip apart to find treats hidden inside. Some of the dogs are still very timid, unwilling to tear the boxes, and our care team leaves the boxes open for these still-tender souls. Predictably, others relish destroying the boxes and devouring the treats.

All this work helps to build the dogs’ confidence and prepare them to succeed in a home environment. They get regular behavior assessments, and our experts work with each dog’s individual needs. Training happens on the fly, too. During a recent volunteer session, one of our staff members watched as a pup rescued from an alleged dogfighting situation became so excited to see his favorite HSUS caregiver that he raced up and jumped on her. She patiently stood still while the dog jumped with excitement, begging for a treat, and eventually he sat down. That’s when she rewarded him with the treat. A positive, patient approach is crucial for animals who have experienced trauma, and it’s the only type of training our team uses.

In a perfect world, our care and rehabilitation center wouldn’t exist, because no animals would suffer from cruelty, neglect, painful tests and so on. We’re working toward that future on many fronts: legislation, law enforcement, policy, education and more. But until that day arrives, we’re honored to provide care and comfort to the creatures who have been through so much.

If this work speaks to you and you’d like to play a part in helping these worthy animals on their way to loving homes, we’d love you to join our team of volunteers! Learn more here.