Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Shadow side of animal rescue

About two months ago I received an email from Karen Good, founder of Red Lake Rosie's Rescue (where my sweet girl Ahnung was originally rescued from) ... it was a plea to her fellow animal rescuers in the community to help with a situation:

"Dear Friends:  Do we have any ideas how to help the poor dogs out of Cass Lake- Leech Lake Reservation?  (Karen then references the email she receives from a woman named Lisa). She (Lisa) has been trying to  do this on her own for past 6 months and could use our help. Ideas?

Could any one volunteer from the Cass Lake area to clean the impound kennels and walk dogs?

Thank you all- I know how she feels- it is exactly how we felt here at Red Lake before we got all your help. We just have to help these Cass Lake dogs- I heard about them from other people, and their dire need right now.

Thank you for any ideas or help for them.

Sincerely, Karen, RLRR"

In Lisa's email to Karen she shares the following ".... They are so poor up there they don't have access to computers and such. I bring up food and bones when I come. Anything to help them. This place is so disgusting it's cold, dark and they sleep in their own feces. I think they get out of this small kennel maybe 10 min a day if lucky.... I would appreciate any direction or guidance you could offer me. I can't turn my back on what I see up there, but I can't do all this myself anymore. Karen you are very well known and respected by the rescue organization for all you do and have done. So I'm asking the best of the best for some advice."

A couple days later Karen sends out an email that a volunteer Jenny F has agreed to organize an effort to assess the situation up at Leech Lake reservation. I have always had the utmost respect for Karen Good and will forever be indebted to her for saving and bringing my sweet girl Ahnung to me. A plea from Karen is all I need to drop whatever I'm doing and to respond (Karen was the recipient of the Kare11 Volunteer award ... click here to watch a video of the incredible work she does, and to see Ahnung's TV debut!). Jenny and I begin communication about the dogs up at Leech Lake reservation and a new partnership is formed to help these dogs suffering horribly up at the reservation. The impound only has 10 small kennels. They have no access to a veterinarian. When the impound is full the dog who has been there the longest is shot. The current animal control officer up at the reservation is an amazing and compassionate person. He has done so much for the dogs in the short time that he has been there .. desperately reaching out to rescues and shelters in hopes of finding homes for these dogs. He does not want to have to shoot another dog. He has also drastically improved the living conditions of the dogs in the impound.
Boots who had a broken pelvic bone
He had surgery at AHS and is recovering
in a foster home for 8 weeks

As a board member of the animal welfare coalition Minnesota Partnership for Animal Welfare (MnPAW) I suggest to Jenny that we work with the coalition to help save as many dogs as possible. Foster-based rescues are very limited in the number of dogs they are able to take. We need to work with the Animal Humane Society (AHS) here in the cities (last year 36,000 animals passed through their shelter doors). They are one of the founding members of MnPAW and will be the shelter that can help the most. I arrange for a meeting for myself, Jenny, Lisa (the woman who originally sent the email to Karen G) and AHS (we meet with the Director of Animal Services, Kathie, who is both an animal rescue/welfare colleague and a friend ... and Jen F, the Community Relations Manager). Open, honest dialogue and discussions begin and two hours later a foundation is being built. 

Since the original email that came out from Karen in late April, 34 dogs have been transported down from the reservation: 19 were placed with five different rescues (one rescue took in a pregnant St. Bernard who had 11 surviving puppies) and 15 were taken in by AHS/MnPAW. My friend Vicki who is with Act V Rescue & Rehabilitation took in two dogs (Boots and Buddy) with injuries. Buddy had a gun shot wound to his shoulder and Boots had been hit by a car. Vicki took him and saved this sweet 6 month old border collie mix from having his leg amputated. AHS took in another dog (also named Boots by the impound up at Leech Lake) with a broken pelvic bone. He had surgery and is now in foster care with AHS for 8 weeks and then will be placed up for adoption. 

On June 18th, Jenny and I and another volunteer (John) drove up to Leech Lake reservation to transport 12 dogs back to the cities: 9 went to AHS/MnPAW and 3 went to a rescue [click here for pictures from that trip]. Of the 9 dogs, six have already been vetted (including being spayed/neutered) and adopted; one is in their behavior modification program and just yesterday we were informed that two of them (Cass and Pepper) have some serious health issues. Pepper has arthritis, incontinence and most likely some metabolic disease; Cass has a large firm mass under the tongue between the mandible bones along with a smaller mass in the upper lip. I consulted with my friend Vicki (who is a vet) about both Cass and Pepper and also talked to my vet at Lake Harriet Veterinary. Letting them go would be the most humane thing to do. I knew that in my gut, but needed to also hear that from people I respect deeply and who are also vets. Even though my head knows it's the right thing to do, my heart still breaks. Pepper struggles to even get around. They are both around 6-7 years old. All of yesterday I was haunted by both Cass and Pepper.  All I could see were their faces, their soulful eyes. My head knows that we can't save them all ... my heart still wishes we could. 

Pepper will go on to rainbow bridge on Thursday. Both Jenny and I will be with him when the time arrives and we will hold his paw. And I have asked for his ashes as I would like to create a memorial garden/space in my backyard for the dogs who touch my heart and bless me with their soulful presence.

With Cass, I have made arrangements for him to come stay with me for 24 hours. I have friends who will take care of two of my dogs (Missy and Mister) so that I can bring Cass home with me on Thursday. I want for Cass to experience the comfort of a loving home before he crosses over rainbow bridge. He and Ahnung will get to lounge in my big backyard and just bask in the sun. Then on Friday I will bring Cass with me to my vet (Lake Harriet Vet) where I will hold him as he gently crosses over the bridge [thank you Lake Harriet Vet for donating your services and for your kindness and compassion]. I have cleared my calendar for Thursday and made arrangements for Missy and Mister to be with friends (thank you Laura and Diane) so that I can give Cass all the love and attention he deserves. He was in a home up at the reservation where he was not wanted. They dropped him off at the impound and somehow he got out and walked 7 miles to find his way back home, only to be taken back to the impound. These incredible spirits and souls love humans, despite the abuse and neglect they endure. If I can just give Cass a glimpse into a world where he matters and he knows that he is loved and cherished, then maybe, just maybe it will make it easier for me to let him go. Or maybe not.

Thank you Cass and Pepper for blessing me with gift of your soulful, pure, innocent presence. Thank you for touching my heart. On Friday night when I look up in the night skies, I will know that the skies are a little brighter because of two new stars. Just know that you are loved and you are special and you matter.


  1. Sweet Pepper and will never be
    forgotten. You have etched your pawprints into
    our hearts forever. We love you both.

  2. Marilou, I don't know how you do it but thank God that you do!! Love, Anne