Before they’re ready for adoption, rescued animals often require help. We talked with three area animal welfare organizations offering rehabilitation services, shelter, medical help and adoption placement to animals in need.

Coalition for Animal Rescue and Education (C.A.R.E)

C.A.R.E. accepts animals rescued by citizens and volunteers and also supports shelters, animal control units and other rescue organizations. “The need is greater than ever since the economy crashed—donations are down about 35 percent, and so are adoptions,” says president Carole Pitzer. The organization’s 155-acre, no-kill facility in Hillsboro, Mo., is literally overflowing. “We recently rehabilitated a little pit bull puppy that had been used as bait in a dog fight,” she recalls. “He nearly bled to death. Animals abused to that degree present a real challenge—reach toward them and they duck. All they’ve ever known is anger.”

Most puppy mill dogs and other neglected animals haven’t been socialized, Pitzer adds. “So, when it comes to basics like house-training, leash-walking and interaction with humans, we’re basically starting from the ground up. They don’t know how to function outside a crate, which is where most of them have been stuffed their entire lives. Some barely know how to walk.” Trainers approach them gently and talk softly, breathing deeply and evenly. “To an animal who has been beaten and abused, erratic breathing means anger,” she explains.

How long does it take to rehabilitate an abused animal? “It varies, and sometimes it’s impossible—an animal who has been stuck in a crate can be difficult to house-train completely,” she admits. “Others take to it right away.” Either way, gentleness and persistence are equally important. “There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing a cringing animal learn to romp, play and trust.”

Mid-America Horse Rescue

Mid-American Horse Rescue, located in Milstadt, Ill., rescues and rehabilitates about 75 race horses a year. “We prepare them for adoption, a dignified retirement or a ‘second career’—many of them become part of our equine-assisted therapy programs for mentally and physically challenged kids and adults,” explains executive director Margo Sutter. “Race horses who aren’t retrained aren’t suited to a life off the track, so if you take them to a sale, chances are they will be sent to Canada or Mexico for slaughter.”

Even though most racing horses haven’t been abused or neglected, rehabilitation is a long, complex process. “These are magnificent, fine-tuned athletes who are accustomed to a rigorous schedule of training and running,” Sutter says. “Many come to us with ligament and tendon issues or broken bones that can take up to 18 months to mend.” Some need to be mentally rehabilitated, as well. “Former race horses are highly reactive. Before they’re ready for a new career as companion animals, we need to calm them down so they no longer react so skittishly to loud noises and movements close to their head.”

Trainers put the animals on a long lead rope and have them walk calmly. “If they get spooked by a noise or sudden movement and start to move toward us, we use our body positioning and voice, or we jiggle the rope gently, to get them to walk back. They need patience, praise and plenty of affirmation.” It’s time-consuming and expensive, she says. “But when they look at you trustingly with those big brown eyes, you’ll do whatever it takes to get them the second chance they deserve.”

Humane Society of Missouri

“Our goal is to help each animal find a loving home,” says shelter animal behavior manager Linda Campbell. “We also have an obligation to the public, to make sure the animal won’t hurt them. Animals don’t develop behavioral problems overnight, and they can’t be cured overnight. Many of them, especially those we rescue from puppy mills or other abusive or neglectful environments, are so terrified of human contact that even petting and hugs are perceived as threats. Some can’t even make eye contact with human beings; others are overly aggressive because they figure the best defense is a good offense.”

Campbell, a registered veterinary technician and one of only seven vet tech specialists in animal behavior in the U.S., has been with the Humane Society more than 30 years. “Being in a new environment, even one with good food, clean bedding and loving care, is traumatic for abused animals, so retraining takes time.” After medical problems are dealt with, a thorough behavioral assessment begins. Trainers give animals as many options as possible, so they feel in control. “For example, if they won’t take a treat from our hand, we drop it and walk away. We don’t force it.”

It’s important to establish and maintain a stable routine so the animal knows what to expect, Campbell adds. “We feed and clean them and administer medical treatments at specific times every day, and try to have the same staff work with them. We keep the environment as stress-free as possible by playing classical music.” Sometimes animals respond positively in as little as two or three weeks; others never come around. “The less responsive animals often do well in certain environments—say, in a home with no kids, or with adoptive ‘parents’ who don’t mind a more low-key animal.” The decision to put an animal down is never made lightly. “We’re always guided by what’s best for the animal. We want them to enjoy a good quality of life.”