Education Program

Ruff Start Rescue was founded with the intention of not only rescuing animals but also educating the general public about animal welfare and advocacy. Our education program was established in 2013 with the mission to help children and young adults become responsible, compassionate, and empathetic pet owners by educating them on pet care, adoption, and safety. Since the inception of our education program, our message has reached more than 5,000 individuals throughout the entire state of Minnesota.

Our education committee is responsible for the coordination and presentation of our mission. This committee consists of volunteers that meet once a month at our office in Princeton. They create and coordinate all events, review feedback of recent visits, and brainstorm ideas to increase the impact of Ruff Start Rescue’s messages.

Ruff Start’s education program focuses on educating younger generations in:

  • Animal welfare basics
  • Making adoption your first option
  • Importance of spaying and neutering

Since 2013, the education committee has presented to many audiences, including elementary through high school-aged students, daycares, scout troops, and senior citizens.

When able, presentations include two rescue representatives (a presenter and a facilitator); Ruff Start Rescue’s (costumed) mascot, Ruff; and a rescued pet. Participants will typically receive goodie bags and visual aids.

Presentations can be catered to specific groups with timing and content. Presentations will need to be scheduled in advance.

Pack Pups Program: This program helps children and young adults become responsible, compassionate, and empathetic pet owners by educating them on pet care, adoption, and safety. Each year the education program grows, focusing on ways to better the future of animal welfare right at the source: our youth.

Jr. Volunteer Events (Day Camps): Each quarter, our education committee hosts a day camp that presents children and their families with an opportunity to volunteer their time and talents at Ruff Start Rescue by creating arts and crafts. These activities benefit the animals in our care and allow us the time to educate on varying animal welfare topics. Past projects include: creating dog and cat toys and beds, and feral cat houses.

Corporate Educational Opportunities: Corporate entities and businesses that are interested in learning more about Ruff Start Rescue or would like to create items for the animals in our care are encouraged to reach out to our committee via email at

Business Expos and Community Outreach: In a typical expo setting, volunteers will set up a booth and educate participants about Ruff Start Rescue and the work that we do.

Foster-Based Model

We are committed to providing refuge to pets through a home-based foster model, relying on volunteers to offer their homes as a temporary safe place for animals in need of rescue. We believe this is the most beneficial model for animals’ safety, security, and health while they await their forever family. At this time, we have over 400 active foster families.

No-Kill Initiative

Ruff Start Rescue is committed to ensuring that all healthy and treatable animals leave our rescue alive. We believe every animal deserves a chance to find a loving home. We do everything possible to treat the animals in our care and save them regardless of their age or associated expenses.

Around 733,000 homeless dogs and cats are killed annually in America’s shelters. That means about 2,000 animals are killed every day. They are being killed simply because they don’t have safe places to call home. (Source: Best Friends Animal Society)

What Does No Kill Mean?

The debate over what constitutes a no-kill shelter is a hot issue in the animal welfare community. Many people do not understand what no-kill means or what must happen for an organization to achieve such status. Part of the confusion is that there are different definitions of no-kill. 

Euthanasia Only as Act of Mercy

The most widely accepted definition of a no-kill shelter is where all adoptable and treatable animals are saved and where only suffering or non-rehabilitative animals are euthanized. And where no animal will be transferred to another shelter to be euthanized

Ruff Start Rescue adheres to this definition. We believe every animal deserves a chance to find a loving home, and we do everything possible to treat the animals in our care—regardless of age or expense. 

However, we recognize and accept there are times when euthanasia is the most humane option, such as irremediable suffering from injury or disease or age-related infirmities. Additionally, we will never knowingly place a seriously temperamentally unsound animal in an adoptive home. In the extreme case where an animal is deemed dangerous or unpredictable and for which no safe and humane management option exists, we may also choose humane euthanasia.

Euthanasia for All Animals Considered “Unadoptable” 

Most shelters, however, consider themselves no-kill if they are not killing animals that are considered adoptable. Tens of thousands of “unadoptable” dogs and cats are euthanized in these self-proclaimed no-kill shelters every year. Animals are considered unadoptable if they exhibit anything that may be considered unappealing to potential adopters, such as:

  • medical conditions
  • physical injury
  • behavioral issues
  • age issues

Adoptable vs. Unadoptable

Because of the subjective nature of what is and isn’t considered adoptable, this latter definition is a very hotly debated and controversial issue. However, it is by this definition that most local human societies can proclaim no-kill status. For this reason, they may not accept dogs or cats who are considered unadoptable. These pets are turned away and go instead to municipal shelters to be euthanized.

Learn More about the No-Kill Movement

Best Friends Animal Society is leading no-kill efforts worldwide through lifesaving programs designed to help stop the killing of animals in shelters. These programs include national advocacy initiatives focused on shutting down puppy mills, fighting breed-discriminatory legislation, and keeping community cats safe and out of shelters.

Adopt a Shelter Dog Month 2020

Adopt a Shelter Dog – From a Foster-Based Rescue!

Happy Adopt a Shelter Dog Month! Most animal rescue and welfare organizations – both foster-based and not – are celebrating shelter dogs all October long in an effort to raise awareness about the fact that nearly 4 million dogs are awaiting their second chances in shelters each year.

Over the course of Ruff Start’s existence, we’ve been privileged to be a partner of shelter-based organizations like Animal Humane Society, St. Paul Animal Control, Minneapolis Animal Care & Control, and more. Our partnership is relatively simple: when an animal in their care is showing signs that it may do best in a home environment, Ruff Start (and other foster-based organizations) is contacted in hopes of a transfer. When an available foster is found, the animal is transferred to the rescue, and it enters its foster care program.

This type of partnership provides an opportunity for animals that would otherwise not have a chance to blossom to grow comfortable in their own time, in a healing environment. It works exceptionally well for animals that experience stress as a result of prolonged kenneling, social isolation, and/or increased reactivity to the hustle and bustle found in a fast-paced shelter environment. Many times, if these animals were not given a chance to open up in a home environment, they would continue to regress until they were deemed unadoptable and would subsequently be euthanized at no real fault of the shelter in question.

However, not all animals that come to us from shelters are severely shut down. Ruff Start also saves the lives of many animals that are perfectly adoptable through the shelter system but are in need of medical rehabilitation before adoption. Animals that are at-risk of euthanasia due to spatial constraints in shelters also make their way into our foster homes. Additionally, Ruff Start takes in animals surrendered by their owners who can no longer provide them adequate care due to lifestyle changes, medical need, financial restraint, and more.

For many families, shelters and humane societies provide the best possible environment for adoption. Their open-door policies, immediate turnaround time, and the ability to meet multiple animals at one time equals the ultimate recipe for love at first sight. These places conduct many successful adoptions each year and further the future of animal welfare just by existing and placing so many animals in need. I appreciate their existence greatly! However…

Dog in crate
Adopted kitten and owner
Adopted dog and boy

When I created Ruff Start, I knew from the start I wanted it to be foster-based. To me, there were so many positives and possibilities surrounding the model of relying on the love and care of families that were willing to temporarily house animals in need. Many who adopt from foster-based rescues agree; it’s part of why, by the end of September 2020, we were able to save the lives of over 2,500 animals this year alone. So what are those benefits, you may ask?

First off, when you adopt an animal from a foster-based rescue, you’re actually saving two lives. The first is the animal you adopt, of course; you’re their hero! The second is the next animal that your pet’s foster family brings into their care. This continuous cycle opens up a kennel space at a local shelter, meaning more lives can be saved.

Second, many adoptive families feel they need a more complete history of the pet they bring into their homes. When households are looking to add their perfect pet, they usually have a lot of questions about their personality, traits, and ideal home environment. Does Fred get along with young kids? Is Mona potty-trained? Can Trudy be left alone uncrated for an entire workday?

Many times, shelter pets don’t have a known history, and there’s no real way to test them outside the parameters of the shelter setting. Many humane societies and animal controls will do something called “temperament testing,” where the new animal is introduced to other animals in an attempt to understand their individual reactivity levels. This testing is helpful for placing the animal in an appropriate home, as many potential adopters have other animals already. However, this testing does not extend very much further than being introduced to one or two other animals in an already stressful environment and does not always accurately assess how an animal will feel when in an adoptive home due to the constantly changing factors that are present in a shelter.

The beauty of adopting an animal from a foster-based rescue is that it has a family and is living in a home environment already, so these traits are more easily known. Of course, all animals go through a transition period when being shuffled around, and may regress when in a new environment. But much of the guesswork is taken out of the equation by a family who has already gotten to know the dog or cat in question and has exposed them to these factors that may be deal-breakers for potential adopters.

So, this October, I encourage you to celebrate shelter dogs (and cats!) by adopting from a foster-based rescue. There’s never been a better time to adopt!

On average, Ruff Start saves eight animals per day. Your new best friend is waiting!


Love, Hazel

To my mom, Shelby.

If you’re reading this, I have fallen asleep for the last time. But since I couldn’t tell you in words before, I wanted to tell you now all about how you gave me the best year of my life.

Confusion struck the moment I was abandoned along the side of a road in January. I don’t know why I was left. And I don’t know why no one came looking for me; I know I’m a good girl. Although it was hard, I believe, as you’ve told me yourself, that everything happens for a reason. I was relieved yet terrified to find myself in a shelter. It wasn’t a scary place itself, it was just scary that I was left by my family whom I loved and now I was in a small enclosure, confused as to what it all meant and what would happen next. The people there, I could tell, cared about me. Like they wanted me to find somewhere wonderful to go and not let this be my final stop. I recognized the sense of urgency emanating from these nice people to find something called a “Rescue” to take me out of this place and find a warm home for me to sleep in. It took weeks, but they seemed determined. That determination paid off. Finally, I met a wonderful woman named Leslie. I heard her talking with my caretakers that she was from somewhere called Ruff Start Rescue. She said that I had a foster mom waiting to take me. I was elated! Little did I know I would end up with someone who would show me a world I didn’t know existed.

After an exhausting few weeks, I was about to meet you. I heard you pull up to Leslie’s home, heard your car door open, and heard you talking to Leslie as you came in. Your voice was warm. I could tell you were nervous. Eventually, I would come to find out you hadn’t had many fosters before me, and you had never had a senior with as many issues as me! But without knowing you, I could tell you were up to the challenge no matter what. I hopped into your car, and our 10-month adventure began.

It started with one of my most memorable and meaningful moments; when we arrived at your home, you let me up on your couch, which I was hesitant to jump on, but you insisted. That’s all I remember. You told me literally days later that I just slept. And slept and slept and slept. I was introduced to my first fuzzy blanket and felt like I was being softly tickled while wrapped in a warm hug. I had never felt like this before. Your other furry kids, who I have built strong loving relationships with, would cycle through to both, I feel, check in on me but also check me out since I was new. It didn’t take me long to settle in; it’s like I was always meant to end up here, with your family.

Hazel posing for the camera
Cat sleeping on Hazel
Hazel wearing a lifejacket on a boat

Mom, I wrote this to remind you of the amazing things you introduced me to. Our journey allowed me to play my favorite game of fetch, explore our neighborhood in my stroller, travel to countless state parks while strapped to your back, go on boat rides in my life jacket with more loved ones, see the North Shore… and the list goes on. You gave me the tools to see the world for what it is; not what I grew up thinking it was.

You always told me you wanted to show me more; you had big plans… some of which we couldn’t complete. But you need to know that the most important times spent with you, were just that; just being with you. For a while after my passing, I have no doubt you will look for me whenever you leave the room as I have always looked for you; expecting to hear my nails on the kitchen floor trying to catch up to you as you go to the bathroom, check the front door, or go upstairs. It became almost comical, didn’t it? Visiting guests or Dad would laugh about you leaving the room and me springing into action to follow. Even in my last days, when my legs didn’t work as well, I never let you get far before I was under your feet. The silence will be hard, but know that now I’m able to follow you wherever you go without pain.

Mom, I wrote this because I want you to remember and focus on how unbelievably happy you made me. I don’t want you to be sad when you look under your desk and I’m not there. I don’t want you to be sad when you see the sunlight moving across the floor and I’m not basking in it. I don’t want you to be sad when you lift up my favorite blankets and I’m not under them. Instead, remember that you gave me the opportunities to do these things. Little pleasures that I never thought would be possible in my life.

Hazel getting scratched on the head
Hazel resting on a cat
Hazel receiving a piggyback ride from her owner

Mom, I wrote you this because I want you to go and tell everyone my story; about how important it is to care deeply about all animals in every stage of life. I want more people to stand by the side of an animal that enters the hospice program. For them not to be scared of what’s inevitably coming.

Mom, I wrote this to tell you that I wish I found you sooner. However, our time together wouldn’t have been as meaningful as it was if we came into each other’s lives any other way. I always wondered why you chose me; a hospice dog with not long to live. Why would you put yourself through the pain I know you’re feeling? But you told me the day you let me go that you felt a hot blaze take over your heart when you first saw my picture while Ruff Start was looking for a foster. You said the need to bring me home was instantaneous and overwhelming, like you felt an immediate connection. I want you to know that when I met you, I felt all of these things, too.

Mom, I wrote this to tell you I love you and will always love you. Thank you for letting me see and experience the good of this world. You, Dad, Sully, Loki, Freyja, and Kvasir changed my life. The strength it took to make this decision must have been hard to muster. But I need you to know you made the right one. You said your heart was shattered into pieces; if you give me a piece of yours, I’ll give you a big piece of mine. That should help mend it. Thank you for holding me until the end. Until my last breath, you were on my mind and in my heart. I can’t wait to see you again.


We were able to say “yes” to Hazel because of support from animal advocates like you. Make a gift today so we can continue to save the abandoned and neglected and help find them loving forever homes.

Hazel had ten beautiful love-filled months with her foster family. She experienced warm snuggles, boat rides, and adventurous hikes (where she got to hitch a ride in her foster mom’s dog backpack). She was able to retire in peace, knowing she was fiercely loved to the very end.

Please consider supporting Ruff Start Rescue this holiday season to help animals just like Hazel live out their lives with dignity and love. Thank you!

RSR Transport: October 10, 2020

Ruff Start Rescue Transport Ride Along: October 10

Ruff Start Rescue is inviting you to ‘Ride Along’ with us as we transport companion animals from partner shelters and rescues across Minnesota and the United States to Ruff Start through the end of the year. We want you to be able to see our mission in action and give you a sneak peek into the world of rescue.

Over the next three months we’re going to share with you the who, what, where, when, how, and most importantly WHY we do transports.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and/or Instagram to get real-time updates! Each transport will also have their own blog page on our website so if you don’t do social media, you can still follow along!

Before you check out the details of our transport happening this week, we have some exciting news to share with you: after months of fundraising and shopping around, Ruff Start FINALLY has our very own transport van (crying so many happy tears)!

Thank you to everyone who donated toward our new van! We’re so excited to get all the bells and whistles added to make it a super comfortable ride for the pups. We’re going to wrap the van with Ruff Start branding in the coming weeks, too, so keep an eye out when you’re driving – you may just see us!

Our new van’s maiden voyage takes off TODAY! Two volunteers hit the road earlier this morning from our Princeton, MN office, and will return bright and early this Saturday, October 10th along with 23 dogs from Houston, TX!

Some of you are probably wondering, why rescue from out-of-state? While we are committed to making a substantial contribution to positively impacting the lives of animals in need in Minnesota, many animals in southern states often face a more imminent threat. At this rate, every other animal that ends up in a shelter will lose their life. They do not have fosters, volunteers, or nearly as many rescues and help as we do here.

Because of this, Ruff Start Rescue maintains a “rescue knows no borders” philosophy. We will always do what we can to assist our fellow animal welfare advocates and the animals they so dutifully serve, no matter their location. We take in dogs of all shapes, sizes, ages, ailments, behaviors, and medical conditions.
RSR October 10th Transport Team
RSR October 10th Transport Team

So we invite you to “Ride Along” with us as we welcome 23 pups from Houston this Saturday. You’ll get to meet a number of cute pups, including Mario who was less than 2 hours away from being euthanized when Ruff Start Rescue stepped in and said YES to bringing him up north.

We’ll be posting real-time transport updates on our FacebookInstagram, and Blog, so be sure to follow us and “Ride Along” with Ruff Start!

October 8, 2020

Our volunteers are making progress! Several gas stops and quick power naps later, they made their way across the Texas border at around four this morning. The couple will stay overnight in a hotel this evening and load up all 23 furry pals tomorrow to make their way back to the north!

We hope you continue to “ride along” with Ruff Start for more updates coming soon!

Ruff Start’s transport volunteers are all checked into their hotel in Houston, TX, and ready to relax before their big day of rescue tomorrow! Tune in now until Saturday, October 10th, and “ride along” with Ruff Start to see how the remainder of this adventure goes!

Final preparations for tomorrow, happening now! Kennels are going up, and the excitement is building!  Friday and Saturday are big days for this transport, so make sure you continue to “ride along” with us and meet a few of the 23 brave souls and hear their stories.

Our volunteers, a husband and wife duo, are making sure they are taking the proper precautions by wearing their masks and social distancing when they can! It has been a bit of an adjustment, but we are happy to keep these transports rolling, even through a global pandemic!

October 9, 2020

Meet 1 of the 23 dogs getting a second chance.

Less than two hours from euthanasia.

That’s what makes this compact pup’s story so amazing. Mario, a former stray, immediately shut down in the animal shelter, not responding to anyone or anything. He was terrified, landing him on the euthanasia list because countless animals need help, and there’s not enough space or time for them all.

Once Ruff Start’s team was alerted to his possible fate, we asked for him to be dog tested (this means he was taken to an enclosed outdoor play yard with another dog). He did GREAT and became a completely different dog – wagging his tail, running around, and engaging in play. As soon as we saw his transformation outside of a kennel, we knew he deserved a chance at a long and happy life. Tune into Ruff Start’s Facebook page for a Livestream tomorrow morning around 8am to meet Mario and the other 22 pups!


Ruff Start Rescue is committed to doing whatever it takes to help animals just like Mario and we could use your help. Please consider making a donation today to help us say yes to saving even more animals. Together we’re able to do big things. There are 23 dogs on their way to Minnesota right now that proves that as a community, we can make a difference in the lives of companion animals.

The transport room is prepped and ready to care for the animals on this transport.

Transport room
Transport room
Transport room
Transport room

October 10, 2020

The animals and volunteers have arrived! Check out the videos we recorded of the experience.


Nine Lives Needed: Kittee’s Rez Rescue

As a Ruff Start Rescue intake volunteer, Jenni receives a lot of emails. Her position is a hefty one: she oversees the rescue requests from Ruff Start’s rez transport partner, LightShine Canine, as well as international transports for DMT (dog meat trade) pups. As a result, she knows there are a lot of animals in need all over the world that might show up in her inbox at any given moment. Many of them have crazy stories from their past lives; some have no known history at all.

While each animal that needed rescue was special and deserving of a second chance at a happy life, Jenni felt a certain spark when she received a message about a five or six week old boxer mix pup that urgently needed to get off the rez.

Ruff Start to the Rescue

Kittee's gunshot wound

The message Jenni received was a simple request about a not-so-simple situation.

We have a five week old puppy that’s been shot, she read. Either with a high caliber gun or a pellet gun. Can Ruff Start take her on this week’s scheduled transport?

There’s something in a rescuer that just knows when you, specifically, need to save an animal. Something in their eyes or story that attaches itself to your soul and tugs – hard. Jenni knew this; she’d felt it before and she was feeling it again now. Without hesitation, she reached out to Mckenna Lorenz, Ruff Start’s Large Dog Foster Manager, and Erica Jusczak, Ruff Start’s Senior Medical Manager, to get the okay to take on a little pup with potentially large problems.

“Honestly, I don’t really know what her medical status is,” Jenni said, knowing the rescue was full of tough cases and might not be able to take on another big question mark.

Mckenna’s reply was straightforward and passionate.

“Just get her here.”

A Gunshot Survivor

When Jenni and her daughter picked up the lucky pup at that evening’s transport, she was full of wiggles from her snout to her tail. What a happy little thing, Jenni thought, wondering how dogs could be so full of good when humans were sometimes so full of bad. Her daughter scooped the pup up after her constantly wagging tail had made it apparent she wanted a good snuggle first and foremost from her new temporary family.

“What do you want to name her?” Jenni asked as her daughter admired the small pup, dragging her fingers delicately through their new foster’s tanned fur. She was staring directly at the bullet marks on each side of the puppy’s abdomen.

Kittee being cuddled by a rescuer

The young girl laughed incredulously, beaming from ear to ear after hearing Jenni’s question. “Why, Kittee, of course! Because she definitely has nine lives.” Her proclamation was instantaneous and without any hesitation until she got to the punchline.

“Well, eight, now.”

Nine Lives Needed

Kittee relaxing in bed

After bringing Kittee to the vet for assessment, Jenni waited on bated breath to hear the news of her recovery. Was Kittee going to need surgery? Were her organs impacted at all? Was she going to be okay?

The report that came back from the doctor was mystifying. After careful examination, it was abundantly clear that Kittee had been one of the lucky ones. The bullet had traveled straight into one side of her body and out the other in a completely clean manner. It hadn’t lodged itself into her ribcage or any of her internal organs, although it came dangerously close given how small her little weeks-old puppy body was and the distance at which the gun was probably fired.

It was a miracle to all except to Jenni’s daughter, who already knew Kittee had nine lives to spare.

The Perfect Pup Goes to the Perfect Home

From the get-go, Kittee was an ideal puppy. She never made a mess in her kennel or crate. From big dogs to tiny kiddos, she loved everyone she met. Her favorite things were to play in the yard with a big soccer ball and dash around the house with her foster sister, former Ruff Start alum and DMT survivor Emeree. After she grew more sure of herself, she started adventuring out to several softball games, stealing the show every time and winning the hearts of all the humans who encountered her – including her new family.

Jenni didn’t know how anyone could have shot at a dog at all – let alone one as perfect and sweet as Miss Kittee. Even now, weeks after the adoption was finalized and Kittee went to her new home, she still didn’t really understand it. But she could accept it – at least a portion of it – the way only a rescuer can. That acceptance hit her when she watched the reaction video Kittee’s new family had filmed of her new human siblings finding out the perfect puppy they’d met only a few weeks prior was now their own to snuggle and play with.

“Mommy!” yells one of the twins, an excited five year old running down a hallway, the loud pitter-pattering of footsteps echoing until she reaches the camera’s frame. Her brother follows closely behind, his eyes wide as saucers once he stops. Each holds a plastic air guitar in hand. “What did you get us for a toy?” They both stare at the camera in disbelief as their mom replies brightly and knowingly.

“You got us Kittee?” The girl’s young voice is so sweet it almost sounds syrupy. She flings her air guitar to the side, galloping out of frame toward the young pup. The camera focuses now on her brother, who triumphantly raises the guitar into the air, proclaiming loudly while jumping up and down: “We got a dog!! We got a dog!!”

Kittee saying hello to her dog sister in a basket

“Hey hey hey-” their father says sternly, face out of frame, holding his hands up near his chest in an effort to control their excitement. The video cuts off abruptly as the jumping and hooting continues.

Jenni could accept Kittee’s journey only because whatever happened to the sweet pup in her first life had led her to Ruff Start, and, subsequently, her new family. She gives thanks each day for the fact that Kittee luckily had nine lives, and that she didn’t need to use them all to find her perfect home.

Kittee on a walk

Ruff Start Rescue is passionate about saving animals just like Kittee, who have endured so much in their lives it’s entirely possible they do possess magical powers. The rescue’s ability to save lives is fueled by volunteers and fosters just like Jenni and her family, who give so much to animals that need them.

With each donation – whether it be time, talent, or money – Ruff Start is able to provide care, shelter, and a chance to rez dogs, surrendered critters, and found felines every single day. We offer many thanks to our supporters for helping us do whatever it takes in their honor.

Brushing a golden retriever's teeth

Pet Oral Health

By Brent Honcharenko

When Manny, a senior miniature poodle, was brought to Ruff Start Rescue (RSR) and placed with his foster, Sue LaBore, she said the poor condition of his teeth was the first thing she noticed when she lifted his little cheek. LaBore, who has been a foster for over two decades, said she called RSR’s small dog manager and a veterinarian appointment was scheduled.

“His teeth were terrible and his breath was horrible,” LaBore said. “They had to remove all but two of his teeth.”

According to RSR Veterinarian Dr. Hillary McCulloh, routine oral health care is extremely important for our pets. She said it’s just as important for them as it is for humans.

“Plaque and tartar contain a lot of bacteria, and since there is such a great blood supply to the mouth, this bacteria gets into the bloodstream very easily,” Dr. McCulloh explained. “Once in the bloodstream that bacteria affects the overall health of all the major organ systems, especially the heart and the kidneys.”

Simply put, Dr. McCulloh says if your pet’s teeth are left untreated, it can potentially lead to serious health effects including heart and/or kidney disease.

Manny pre-operation

“Oral health care includes regular teeth brushing, ideally daily as plaque reforms on the teeth every 24 hours, and regular Comprehensive Oral Health Assessments and Treatments (COHAT) by a veterinarian,” Dr. McCulloh added. “While your veterinarian will examine your pet’s teeth at each annual exam, a COHAT is a procedure performed under anesthesia. Most pets need their first annual COHAT after about 2-3 years of age, but some of the smaller breeds may need them done as early as 6 months and repeated every 3-4 months for optimal health. At home, routine teeth brushing decreases the frequency that these procedures need to occur.”

Dr. McCulloh is passionate about this type of pet care and further explained that if oral health care is neglected, inflammation of the gums will occur due to the presence of the bacteria. She said as the gums become inflamed they start to pull away from the tooth roots and the exposed roots become infected. This process is called Periodontal Disease and it is very painful for your pet. If left untreated, the disease will continue to progress until the animal’s teeth will either fall out or need to be extracted. In some cases, especially in small breeds of dogs, this can eventually lead to them losing all of their teeth.

The left side of Manny’s mouth, pre-op.
The left side of Manny’s mouth, pre-op.
The right side of Manny’s mouth, pre-op.
The right side of Manny’s mouth, pre-op.
Manny’s mouth, post-op.
Manny’s mouth, post-op.

But don’t forget about the cats. Cats also have a unique disease where the inflammation from the Periodontal Disease, causes the body to attempt to resorb the teeth. Dr. McCulloh said this is a very painful process as it is slow (occurs over several months to a couple years) and involves the slow formation of holes in the teeth.

An unfortunate but real-life example of Periodontal Disease is Manny. When asked how Manny adapted to not having any teeth, LaBore said he ate soft food and had a wonderful appetite. LaBore said she’s fostered senior dogs in the past who have little to no teeth, so this wasn’t a new experience for her.

From who knows where, to an animal shelter in St. Paul, to RSR, and then to foster LaBore’s house, Manny just needed a soft, comfortable, permanent place to land, and he found that with his adopter Marian Norberg. Like LaBore who fosters small, senior dogs, Norberg has a history of adopting senior dogs, and Manny fit that bill.

“I’ve had senior dogs before with no teeth. With the proper type of food, they do just fine. Plus, Manny has a great appetite. He eats soft, canned food and he likes the chicken and vegetable mix. He also likes the salmon, but it really stinks,” Norberg said, laughing.

Here’s Manny in his forever home sporting a blue bandana.
Here’s Manny in his forever home sporting a blue bandana.

Manny was part of RSR’s Seniors-For-Seniors Program. This program lets seniors adopt senior animals for only $65. Norberg likes to adopt senior dogs because, she said, they need a good final home and she enjoys them. She added that senior dogs are easier for her, too, because they’re slower (she laughed) and already trained.

Despite his poor oral health condition, it’s RSR’s pleasure to report that Manny is in a good place with Norberg and is doing well. He definitely found his soft, loving landing spot.

To the rest of us, Dr. McCulloh reminds us to begin a daily oral health routine with our pets. It is that important.

Kids working on RSR animal kids at the dining table

Fun & Educational: Kids Rescue Animal Kits

One of my favorite things about Ruff Start is the fact that it enables me to bring quite a few of my passions to the forefront of my professional life. The most obvious one is, of course, saving the lives of animals in need. But one of the underlying reasons I wanted to create a rescue was because I wanted to use it as a spearhead to further the future of animal welfare. I’ve always thought the best way to change the future is by educating the future – as in, kiddos!

Thus, the Ruff Start Rescue Education Program was born in 2013 – just three short years after the rescue officially launched. The program has blossomed over the years and still has lots of growth ahead of it thanks to the Education Committee’s devotion to this cause which is so near and dear to my heart. However, as a result of the pandemic, many of the activities we put on for local groups were put on an extended hold. As a result, the current committee had to get creative to still make a difference in the lives of pets and kids all throughout the state.

Their solution? Instead of holding in-person junior volunteer events, we’ve been giving families the opportunity to bring those activities into their homes by creating Kids Companion Animal Kits!

Children learning about RSR in a classroom.

Kids Companion Animal Kits are fun kits designed to make it easy for kids of all ages to make toys for dogs and cats at home or on the go. Kits are available for pickup at the Ruff Start office in Princeton for free and are an excellent enrichment tool for the companion animals in our care – or yours! Shipping options are also available for a small fee if you are not local to the Princeton area but would like to partake in this fun activity that benefits both children and companion animals.

While we do not require the completed toys be mailed or brought back to the rescue, the dogs and cats in our care do appreciate receiving goodies after experiencing a ruff start to their lives if the kids want to give back. Sending kits back creates a good learning opportunity for children to understand the importance of rescue and how they can positively impact the lives of companion animals just by being kind.

We also offer our assembly kit instruction PDFs free of charge on our website so you can create the kits in your home after purchasing the items needed. Kit construction is also an awesome activity for daycare groups and scout troops, as well as past adopters – the possibilities are endless as long as littles who want to help animals are involved.

Kids Companion Animal Kit
Kids working on Kids Companion Animal Kit

Once you receive your kits, please tag us and use the hashtag #RuffStartRescueKidsKits so we can see your kids in action bettering the lives of our rescue animals!

To date, we’ve had just over 100 requests for these kits and would love to make this a long-term option for groups that want to participate in the future. As a result, we’re always looking for people (including businesses, organizations, and corporations) to sponsor a kit! Supplies are available on our Amazon wishlist if you’d like to donate to the cause. Each kit costs roughly $5 in materials, but the joy it brings our animals and the education opportunity incentive for young children who are involved are truly priceless.

We anticipate these kits will only continue to grow in popularity as families delve deeper into distance learning and colder weather increases our likelihood of staying inside. Get yours by emailing our Education Committee at or visiting today!

Foster-to-Adopt Program

Foster-to-Adopt (FTA) Program

Is the animal you’re interested in listed as ‘foster-to-adopt’? Here’s what you need to know:

  • Ruff Start Rescue is a foster-based rescue, meaning that all animals in Ruff Start’s care stay in foster homes.
  • Animals in the FTA program (foster-to-adopt) don’t have everything they need to be adopted yet, such as spay/neuter surgery and medical treatment.
  • Most foster-to-adopt animals have an arrival date in their name and bio as they are not in the Rescue yet—for example, Fluffy arriving 1/27/21. Foster-to-adopt animals need to be picked up by their foster at the office in Princeton, MN, on this specified transport date.
  • Ruff Start’s foster-to-adopt program helps the animal acclimate faster when they are already in their adoptive home while they finish up what they need before officially being adopted.
  • If the foster decides the animal is not a good fit for their household, we require that they continue to foster them and work with Ruff Start’s application team to review and approve applications to help their foster find a great home.
  • Fosters need to drop-off and pick-up their foster animals to any necessary general vetting appointments and surgical procedures on specified dates at the Rescue office in Princeton, MN.
  • Fosters need renters insurance if they rent their home.

Can’t find an animal to adopt? Sign up to foster! Here are the perks:

  • You’ll complete a virtual training to ensure you have everything you need to successfully foster an animal.
  • You’ll join a community of other fosters to share tips and tricks, ask questions, and post pictures and videos of your foster (our favorite part).
  • Supplies are covered by the Rescue through supply houses across Minnesota.
  • Fosters get to see all the animals that can join the Rescue in a closed Facebook group, so foster families always get to pick the animal they foster.

Foster-to-Adopt Process

Watch Ruff Start Founder + Executive Director, Azure Davis, explain the foster-to-adopt process.

Ruff Start Rescue