One Email Helped Bernal Find a Home for the Holidays

November 29, 2022

Adam P. has been a supporter of the ASPCA for years and receives our emails regularly. While he doesn’t necessarily open all the emails, in early December 2021, he happened to open our special edition News Alert email featuring animals in need of homes for the holidays. What he didn’t know was that opening this email would soon change his life and the life of a very special senior dog, Bernal. 

Adam, who already had two rescue dogs, Barney and Peanut, had been considering growing his family by another dog for quite some time. 

“I’d wanted to adopt one who might be overlooked for a variety of reasons, be it health, age or something else,” Adam tells us. “So, as I scrolled through the email, I came upon this cute little hound with a bit of a tough start to life. He needed an understanding, patient and loving home, and with a face like his, I just had to inquire.”

A Ruff Start 

In May 2021, we helped rescue more than 90 neglected dogs from a property in Shadyside, Ohio, many of which were found with untreated medical conditions. Of these 90 dogs was seven-year-old hound-mix, Bernal. 

Like many dogs rescued from hoarding situations, Bernal was extremely fearful. In order to help him, he was transferred to the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center (BRC) in Asheville, North Carolina. The BRC specializes in providing behavioral rehabilitation for severely fearful dogs, who, because of their intense fear, make adoption challenging or impossible.

When Bernal first arrived to the BRC, he showed no social behavior, was terrified of being handled—so much so that he would urinate when being leashed or handled—and would attempt to escape by trying to climb up the walls of his kennel. When staff would try to walk Bernal, he wouldn’t move and would need to be carried and any time he was in a room, he would try to escape. Overall, Bernal was terrified. 

After some time, the BRC staff soon realized that Bernal showed more social behavior when in open spaces and with other dogs. 

“For all of our dogs, we try to pair good things with people and new places” explains Jenny White, a Behavior Rehabilitation Specialist at the BRC and Bernal’s case worker. “Bernal warmed up to the Behavior team rather quickly because we were getting him out of his kennel, allowing him to play with his other beagle friends and going for walks where he could sniff to his hound heart’s content.”

Bernal soon felt comfortable with certain Behavior staff, which meant we could pair those people with new things to help him through his fear. Jenny and her team also found that teaching Bernal to get up on the couch made things less scary for him as it prevented people from looming over him. 

After nearly 17 weeks in treatment, Bernal had finally graduated from the BRC a new dog. And while he still displayed a bit of fear around new people—especially when it came to handling—he’d learned new skills to help work through the fear, like hopping onto a couch to be leashed by a new person!

Now ready to find a loving home, Bernal was made available on the ASPCA website, and was promoted in the special edition email where he caught Adam’s eye. 

Expanding the Family 

Though he lived roughly six hours away from the BRC, after learning more about Bernal, Adam found himself, Barney and Peanut in the car on their way to meet Bernal just four days before Christmas. 

“We first met outside in their play area, and Bernal and my boys had the chance to meet, sniff and acclimate,” says Adam. “They were all curious at first but soon started following each other around the play area. We took a nice walk around the facility, me with Bernal, and Jenny was nice enough to walk both of my guys.” 

Giving Bernal some time to decompress, the group took a break and then reconvened inside to allow the three dogs to interact in a closed room.

“I was able to give each of them treats, and Bernal surprised us by moving between me and the wall to take treats from me—for a timid boy, this was astonishing to me and very encouraging,” remembers Adam. “Despite being timid, he was curious and brave at times and his willingness to take treats from my hand showed as much promise as possible. So, I made the decision to expand the family by one cute little hound.” 

Showing His True Colors 

In the days and weeks after arriving to his new digs, Bernal came to realize he was home. He became Adam’s “permanent shadow,” his anxiousness began to fade, and his goofy, exuberant personality shone through.

“He lights up a room, and he makes everyone at the park smile,” Adam tells us. “We all revel at just how much he’s come into his own—all he needed was love, patience and a few things to interest his nose.” 

Though once living in fear and horrific conditions, Bernal now goes for walks in the park every day, and occasionally at the river. He has found a love for all forms of treats, but cheese is the clear winner. 

Adam has rescued three dogs prior to Bernal but says that Bernal is the most affectionate and loving boy he’s had yet. 

“He made it clear right away, from his picture and story in the email, to the rest of his profile, and of course his irresistibly cute face and eyes, that we were all meant to be together.”

Adam is also glad to have found the BRC. 

“It’s not really possible to give enough praise to Jenny and the team at the BRC. Not only am I ecstatic with and for Bernal, but when it comes time to open my home again, I know exactly who to call. Barney, Peanut, Bernal and I hope you’ll make that call too because every dog you adopt absolutely knows they’ve found a good home, and they make sure you know it too.”