Botflies: Pepper the Kitten

Botflies: What You Need to Know

By Brent Honcharenko

Cute kittens can sometimes become unwilling hosts to ugly parasites.

Fluffy little kittens are attractive and irresistible. But they’re not only irresistible to us, these cute little fur balls make easy hosts for nasty insects such as botflies. Botflies are abundant and common here in Minnesota and find small animals to use as unsuspecting hosts for their larvae to begin their life-cycle.

A botfly, also known as a cuterebra fly, warble fly or gadfly, uses a live animal such as a kitten, squirrel or a rabbit as a host for part of its lifecycle. How that occurs is a bit unsettling. The adult botfly captures a blood-sucking insect, like a mosquito, and lays its eggs on their bodies. Those egg-covered insects then spread the botfly eggs onto the fur or into the skin of the animals they bite. Larvae then grow from the eggs and burrow into the host animal through that bite opening, or the larvae can enter the body through the animal’s nose, eyes or mouth. Once the parasite is under the host’s skin it forms a cocoon, and to survive the larvae eats the animal’s flesh and forms a small open hole that can be seen from the outside on its host. The larvae continues to grow inside the skin cocoon for a few weeks until it reaches maturity, when it then crawls out leaving an open sore on the host animal. Although unappealing, the effects of a botfly infection doesn’t typically kill the host, and the sore where the larvae’s cocoon was eventually heals.

Here’s Pepper, the kitten with a visible botfly in her neck.

According to Ruff Start Rescue Veterinarian Dr. Hillary McCulloh, she typically sees botfly cases in August through early September, although occasionally as early as late July.

“In our area, I typically see cuterebra cases in kittens,” McCulloh said. “Treatment involves removing the larvae and in most cases treating with antibiotics. Depending on the size of the resulting wound, some wound care management may be necessary as well.”

McCulloh went on to say that the prognosis is usually good for the host animals. She said that sometimes the larvae can be difficult to find, but once located, removed and treated, the kittens heal well.

Graphic video warning. (It’s like watching a pimple-popping video, but worse!)

Such is the case with Pepper. Pepper was brought to Ruff Start Rescue (RSR) after she was found outside a farm home by a field near Stacey, MN.

Pepper is being fostered by Jolene Tourville, who is also a veterinarian, and who noticed Pepper’s botfly infection immediately.

“Most people think these botfly holes look like fight wounds,” Tourville said. “But if you look hard enough you see something moving and then you know what it is.”

Here’s Pepper lounging with her dog foster brother.

Tourville said this is common with kittens who live outdoors. She reiterated what McCulloh said about removing the larvae, cleaning the wound and treating with antibiotics.

“Pepper was pretty sick when I got her,” Tourville, who has been a RSR foster for about nine years, said. “She was host to four botfly larvae and one was really large. And, she also had some ticks.”

Tourville is happy to report, however, that since Pepper was found and treated, except for some minor scaring, she’s healed up nicely, growing fast and is a rambunctious little kitten waiting to go to her forever home.


Finding Felix’s forever home

By Brent Honcharenko

Felix had his ticket punched and was cleared for his transport from Houston, TX, to Princeton, MN. It was the end of March and it was going to be a new beginning in a new place for him.  But then he developed a cough. Precaution processes were followed and Lindsey Maresh, who had been fostering Felix in Houston, took him to the veterinarian to have him checked out.

“I had him for about two weeks,” Maresh said. “He was a typical puppy. He was playful and we were working on potty training, crate training, leash training, all the things he was ready to learn.”

Maresh was also preparing for a trip out of town and was working to secure a temp-foster for Felix when his cough developed. Thinking it was a case of kennel cough, she took Felix to the veterinarian to have him checked out and was sent home with some medicine.

Maresh took Felix and his medicine to the temp-foster on a Wednesday and left on her trip. However, just three days later, Felix was at the emergency veterinary clinic. After landing at the airport on Saturday, Maresh didn’t even go home first, she went straight to the clinic where Felix was.

“His breathing was so bad,” Maresh explained. “They ran several tests and had him on oxygen.”

Maresh said poor little Felix was diagnosed with “everything”. She said he had Distemper (a contagious viral disease that affects respiratory, gastrointestinal and the central nervous system), K9 Adenovirus (CAV-1: liver infection), and K9 Coronavirus (CCoV: intestinal infection). But, Maresh said luckily he did not have “parvo” (K9 Parvovirus (CPV-2): A widely-spread infection that affects the gastrointestinal system, lymph tissue, and bone marrow).

“Felix was in the veterinary ER clinic for about two weeks before I was finally able to take him home,” Maresh said. “By then he was acting normal but was still coughing a bit.”

Felix feeding tube

Fosters typically have rescues for only 10-14 days before they go to their forever home. But in Felix’s case, Maresh now had Felix for the better part of five weeks. Because of her travel schedule, Felix was transitioned to another foster in Houston for the last few weeks of his recovery.

Felix was part of Ruff Start Rescue’s foster-to-adopt (FTA) Program. FTA was implemented about two years ago, and according to FTA Placement Coordinator Lindsey Monroe, “The program has become huge.”

How the program works, Monroe explained, is that dogs rescued in Texas are put into foster homes there while they’re made available for adoption in Minnesota. Then, when they’re transported to Minnesota, they’re delivered right into the hands of their adopter. “It’s one less step in the process and one less stop for the dogs,” Monroe said.

While the rescued dogs are being fostered in Texas, pictures and biography descriptions of them are posted and potential adopters can apply for them. Monroe said the goal of the FTA Program is to have the dogs adopted before they even arrive in Minnesota.

“The success of this program takes a whole team of people,” Monroe said. “From the fosters to the adoption coordinators and those who facilitate the vetting process, to the bio writers and the social media and web support folks, it’s a process that takes a lot of work from a lot of people.”

Monroe said the FTA Program started with just five dogs on the roster and now there are between 25-35 dogs, twice a month.

Under the current circumstances, the potential adopters complete their adoption program interviews and training virtually. Once that is complete and successful, and when their new four-legged family member is about a week away from transport and arrival, the adopters are contacted as to when and where they can meet their new pet.

Since this is the first-time in-person meeting and the dogs are released directly to the adopters, the adopters and dogs are given 10 days to acquaint and ensure that they are a good fit for one another.

Monroe reiterated that Felix was originally scheduled for a March transport but was pulled due to his unexpected health set-back. Due to his on-going condition, Felix’s transport date kept getting pushed back. He was finally cleared for transport on July 9 and arrived in Minnesota on July 11.

Felix resting with cone

“Felix was actually rescued in March and adopted in April,” Monroe said. “I kept in touch with his adopter, Malori (Paplow), and we put her in touch with his foster, Lindsey (Maresh), in Texas. Thankfully Malori was understanding and patient. It was amazing that she kept waiting and remained willing to adopt Felix. Malori and Lindsey developed a relationship focused on Felix’s recovery and that really helped.”

Monroe was quick to offer a grateful shout-out to Maresh, too, who went above-and-beyond and continued to provide Felix with a comfortable, loving home while he recovered. Maresh has been associated with fostering rescued animals since she was a child. She said she was raised in a family that fostered, and except for a few years she was on her own, she’s always fostered. She fostered over 20 animals just last year.

Monroe also acknowledged RSR Large Dog Foster Manager McKenna Lorenz who took over Felix’s case after he arrived in Minnesota, just in case anything went wrong. But luckily it didn’t and although it took him nearly four months to get to Minnesota, he arrived safely.

Felix photoshoot

Felix now has a happy home with Paplow and she said despite the extended foster process and his turbulent health adventures, he is a happy, rambunctious, active young dog and is doing really well. She said he still has a little bit of a “click” in his breathing but it doesn’t seem to affect his demeanor or his personality.

“We’ve taken him paddleboarding and rollerblading,” Paplow said, “and he likes to go on walks, runs, and hiking with us. He also has a little kitty brother who he loves very much.”

Paplow was quick to say that all of the credit for Felix’s successful recovery and safe arrival goes to the Maresh and to the RSR organization.

“I didn’t do any of the hard work,” Paplow said. “I can’t thank the fosters and Ruff Start Rescue enough. They are the ones who made this happen.”

Paplow said the four months it took for Felix’s arrival really didn’t seem that long because of the wonderful communication job that Maresh and Monroe did. “They kept me updated and communicated with me regularly, and I am so thankful for that.”

Maresh is also happy this adventure has a happy ending and added, “Dealing with Ruff Start Rescue is fantastic. It’s been great seeing what this organization does and how they do it. It seems like they always have a plan in place and work together to achieve a goal.”

Speaking for Felix, he agrees and is happy that no one gave up on him; not Maresh, not Monroe, not Ruff Start Rescue, and especially not Paplow.

$100,000 Holiday Wishes Grant Campaign 2020

Share your story to help us save more lives!

2020 Holiday Wishes Grant Campaign

The Petco Foundation has launched its Holiday Wishes Campaign once again. This means that we need our amazing adopters to share their incredible adoption stories with the Petco Foundation. If your story is selected you win a Furrtabulous Petco shopping spree and Ruff Start Rescue could win $100K. You read that right: $100,000!

Whether you are an adopter yourself or a foster who can pass this along, we need your help. It will take a little time and effort on your part to complete, but the result could be a game-changer for the animals. Submissions allowed through Noon CDT on September 23rd.

How to Submit your Story:

  1.  Follow the link to the application:
  2. Click on the Submit a Story Tab
  3. Click on the Apply tab. If you do not have a Survey Monkey account you will likely be asked to register as well.
  4. Follow the steps to complete the application. You will be asked to write a 500-word story about your amazing, one-of-a-kind RSR alum. Make every word count! Now is your chance to put all the love you have your pet into words: All the ways, big and small, that your adopted pet brightens your life. Share your story, along with photos and/or videos, illustrating how your pet brightens your life each day. You can see examples of past winning stories here for inspiration.
  5. You will also be asked to provide info about the rescue. Here is what you need to know:

Submissions are due at Noon on Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020. We appreciate your contribution to this effort, as do the countless animals who could be saved with $100,000!

Sir Thomas Nubbs

Kindness Goes a Long Way: The Story of S.T. Nubbs

“Can you help?” asked the good Samaritan, holding a small orange tabby, clutching gently to keep the cat from wiggling out of her arms. “I found him on the side of the road, and I think he may have been hit by a car.”

Luckily, Alexia – a certified veterinary technician – was working at the emergency vet clinic that evening. As both a foster and Vet Tech for Ruff Start Rescue when she wasn’t at the ER, she was hopeful she could give the little kitten a fighting chance – but first, she needed to assess his condition to see exactly what she was dealing with.

Sir Thomas Nubbs' tail

The little kitten, probably around 10 weeks old, had decent vital signs. It was clear, however, he was dehydrated and in quite a bit of pain. After unwrapping the towel that surrounded the young cat, Alexia discovered two things: he had some mild abrasions, consistent with road rash, and his tail was a long, stringy, blackened strip. What once had probably been a lively tail full of soft ginger fluff was now entirely hairless. The skin and fur had been completely peeled back, exposing the muscles and tendons beneath.

Alexia and her fellow coworkers quickly got the friendly kitten hooked up to some IV fluids, rehydrating his tired body. They also began pain management and antibiotic medications to stabilize him and bring down his pain level. From there, the next portion of this little cat’s journey began: figuring out who would provide him the rest of the care he needed to survive.

A Ruff Start, Now Rescued

Despite everything he’d been through, the orange kitten was still in good spirits. Purring continually and rubbing up on the staff assessing him, Alexia knew this little cat deserved a chance. She contacted her coworker, Erica – Ruff Start’s Senior Medical Manager – and asked for permission to take him into rescue as a foster.

After a brief chat about the kitten’s medical needs, it was official: Sir Thomas Nubbs was being given a new life, courtesy of Ruff Start.

The Journey Continues

While the care Sir Thomas Nubbs was given at the emergency clinic stabilized him and provided him a good start on the road to recovery, he still had some pit stops to make on his way to being 100% healthy. After an assessment, it was decided that Nubbs would have surgery to completely remove his degloved tail, giving him the little nubbin that would soon become his namesake.

After the little kitten pulled through surgery, Alexia was cautiously optimistic that Nubbs’ hardships would be over – but there was a reason she was wary of celebrating too early. With any tail injury, there is always a risk of nerve damage that can extend all the way up to the rest of the body and cause issues with defecation and urination. Alexia waited patiently to ensure Nubbs would use his litterbox throughout the weekend, fully acknowledging how silly it probably seemed to be wishing so adamantly to clean up poop.

Sir Thomas Nubbs happy

A Loving Home

Luckily, Nubbs recovered. He used his litterbox continuously and made himself wholly comfortable in Alexia’s home. After he had been medically cleared, her children would swoop him up and carry him throughout the house on his back as he purred his affections for them loud enough it sounded like a freight train was passing by outside. He would roll on his back, exposing his belly, and then curl up with what looked like a smile on his face as he slept peacefully. 

Sir Thomas Nubbs sleeping peacefully

This, after all, had been his disposition since the day Alexia first met him. She had seen his potential from the moment he was presented to the emergency vet. Despite all the things he’d been through, he was still a young kitten, eager to live.

Sir Thomas Nubbs was sent to one of our adoption partners to find a family of his own and was promptly adopted. His story, which could have ended tragically, ended on the happiest note possible – all because of the kindness of one person who thought they could make a difference for a small creature in need.

RSR 2020 Auction

Online auction items needed!

We are in full planning mode for Ruff Start Rescue’s 10th Annual Online Auction! 

NOW officially accepting donations until 11.13.2020.

This is one of the biggest and most anticipated fundraisers of the year!

RSR 10th Annual Online Auction

You will find all sorts of donated goodies in the online auction including; gift cards/certificates, beer/liquor, sports memorabilia, gift baskets, homemade goods, pet supplies, and much more.

Do you have anything you could donate? All proceeds from the auction go straight to Ruff Start Rescue and to the animals in our care, providing vaccines, microchips, collars, food, and so much more.

We are ALWAYS open to new ideas and would love to use this as an opportunity to promote local businesses!

Contact us to make arrangements at, call at 763.355.3981, or send to: PO Box 129, Princeton, Minnesota 55371

RSR Surgical suite

Behind the Scenes of the Ruff Start Surgery Suite

When I started Ruff Start Rescue in 2010, I had a lot of big ideas that, at the time, seemed nearly impossible; like a vivid, feels-like-real-life dream, I knew they were achievable, but only if I could recruit a team that would work hard enough to make it all happen. One of those dreams? Hiring Ruff Start’s own veterinarian, providing specialized internal care to the animals the rescue had saved.

Since the beginning, we’ve solely relied on our partner veterinary clinics to provide the care that our foster animals need, like surgeries, health assessments, and annual vaccinations. But as the number of animals in our care grew, we found ourselves stuck: first, we were bottle-necked by our inability to get them seen by our veterinary partners due to cramped schedules, and second, our veterinary expenses were skyrocketing, quickly turning into the rescue’s largest annual expense – by far.

So, we put our thinking caps on and looked at our long-term goals. We knew our new facility was capable of becoming a space large enough for hands-on veterinary care; we purposely set it up with the intent of ‘eventually’ using it for that exact purpose. After much thought, consideration, and research, It seemed that ‘eventually’ had arrived.

Slowly, we began to build the “surgical suite” out into its namesake. We brought in multiple kennel banks to house animals when they stayed onsite for their appointments. We bought new medical equipment, like surgical packs and autoclave, and created procedures to document the care we wanted to give onsite appropriately. We enhanced our storage capacities and began filling shelves full of necessary supplies. And then, it was time! We conducted our first surgeries in March 2018, bringing a long-awaited dream of mine (and many of our supporters!) to fruition.

Kitten waiting in surgical suite

However, as time passed, we realized surgeries weren’t necessarily the only bottleneck we were experiencing. While sterilization was still an important part of the veterinary care we provided Ruff Start animals, we found that nearly 70% of our veterinary expenses were a result of routine care like clinic visits, vaccinations, and examinations – not to mention other tough medical cases kept popping up throughout the rescue, too. Leg amputations, heartworm treatments, eye removals, hernia repairs… we wanted to say yes to animals that needed us, but knew from a fiscal perspective working with our partner clinics on these matters time and time again was hard to justify. I don’t mean to speak ill of our partners, either; they all do such good and necessary work that truly helps further the lives of animals throughout the state of Minnesota. It’s just a hard fact that caring for hundreds of animals each month, even just basic routine care, is expensive. And as our numbers continued to grow, costs were adding up extensively. The only solution? We needed to do almost all of it ourselves.

Surgical suite tools
Dr. Jeremy Riddle and his wife, Cindy.
Dr. Jeremy Riddle and his wife, Cindy.
Erica Jusczak pictured with her pup.
Erica Jusczak pictured with her pup.

First, we hired Dr. Jeremy Riddle, a long-time friend of the rescue and fellow Princeton, MN business owner, to serve as our Medical Director. His job fine-tuned itself over time, but he serves as an advisor to our Senior Medical Manager, Erica Jusczak, for tough medical cases that require more than your standard veterinary care.

Together, they work out plans of action to treat our difficult and long-term cases, including but not limited to treating heartworm positive dogs onsite at our facility multiple days each week. Dr. Riddle’s personal practice, Northwoods Animal Hospital, continues to serve as a great partner clinic to the rescue just as it has for many years, so he was well-known to us and many of our fosters, making his transition to a staff member a very easy one.

Next, we hired Dr. Hillary McCulloh, a rescue advocate whose heart truly lies in shelter veterinary medicine. Dr. McCulloh has worked with other rescues and shelters in the past, specializing in high volume spaying and neutering, as well as serving on staff on a few local vet clinics; her knowledge and expertise is unparalleled. She increased the number of pets we could help in a timely manner exponentially – on an average surgery day, she was sterilizing up to 35 animals PER DAY! But our needs continued to grow and expanded into needing more intensive surgical care, which was luckily another one of Dr. McCulloh’s strong suits.

Dr. Hillary McCulloh
Dr. Hillary McCulloh

As a result, we decided to restructure our surgery days to include both spaying and neutering AND other elective and life-saving care, including:

  • Dental cleanings and extractions
  • Hernia repairs
  • Lump removals
  • Eye removals
  • Quill removals
  • Dewclaw removals (only if medically necessary)
  • Amputations
  • Vulvoplasty
  • Exploratories

With the help of our contracted surgery technicians, Mindy Rinkel and Alexia Heimbach, Dr. McCulloh now performs surgeries three days a week at our office: two days exclusively committed to spaying and neutering, and one for specialized surgical needs.

We’ve also grown our hands-on animal care capabilities by hiring another in-house veterinary technician, Katie Corns, enhancing the services we can provide onsite at the Princeton facility outside of our scheduled surgery days.

Mindy Rinkel, VT
Mindy Rinkel, VT
Alexia Heimbach, CVT
Alexia Heimbach, CVT
Katie Corns, VT
Katie Corns, VT

We offer the following services to our foster animals by appointment, sometimes even same-day – how’s that for turnaround time?

  • Heartworm & feline leukemia testing
  • Vaccinations
  • Deworming & flea/tick treatment
  • Ear cleaning
  • Nail trimming
  • Routine blood work
  • Anal gland expression
  • Microchipping
  • Fecal examinations
  • Skin checks
  • Symptomatic care for sickness, like upper respiratory and urinary tract infections, kennel cough, and parvo

While at this time we can only provide veterinary care for Ruff Start animals and NOT the general public, we do hope to eventually expand out our veterinary services to provide even more TNR (trap-neuter-return) for community cats as well as low-cost spay/neuter surgeries for our local communities. Both of these things will help further our mission, but the logistics and funding behind them can be tricky, and we need time to more fully establish our own veterinary capabilities before extending out into the world.

Surgical suite puppy exam
Surgical suite kitten exam

Being able to build out our veterinary care program like this has been an absolutely amazing experience that is now a reality thanks to our incredible donors. Many of you have watched, helped, and supported our progress to make all of this possible – especially over the past three years, when we first decided to really go for the expansion of our veterinary program. Because of your steadfast contributions, I felt it was important to give everyone the inside scoop on how our center is operating and introduce you to the fantastic team that has made such an incredible difference in the lives of Ruff Start’s animals. While it’s going well now, I know we’re just getting started, and I truly cannot wait to see what we do next!

Kids kits

Kids’ Rescue Animal Kits

Instead of bringing kids to the Rescue, we are bringing the Rescue to kids! To continue our efforts in teaching kids about rescue work and proper animal care, Ruff Start’s education committee is offering FREE take-home Kids’ Rescue Animal Kits! These kits are for kids of all ages to make dog and cat toys for the animals in Ruff Start Rescue’s care.

To receive your free Kids’ Rescue Animal Kits, email with your order. Once ordered, you can pick up your kits at the Rescue office in Princeton, Minn. Other options are available for those that can’t pick up their kits. 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 rescue animals!

Want to help the cause? Check out our supplies wishlist for needed items. You can also sponsor kits – please email for details.

Kids Kit
Kids Kit
Kids Kit

Maicoh’s Waiting Game

The Beginning

To the untrained eye, Maicoh was no different than so many of the other dogs that run free on the Reservation “rez” in western South Dakota. At the beginning of July, he found himself wandering the open plains and rolling hills in search of something. Water, shelter, food. Anything. He’d truly take anything at this point. The only stipulation? Whatever he found needed to be good.

He found something that would make due on the porch of an abandoned house: a mattress. It was white – or, at least, was at one point. It was now dirtied from the elements, much like himself. Exhausted from his seemingly endless search, he laid his severely mangy body on the mattress’s soft padding and settled in. For how long? He didn’t know.

Until something touched him! A hand. A human hand. He raised his head to look at the volunteer who was offering a gloved hand in his direction. After a quick survey of the world around him, he nudged that hand in a friendly gesture of goodwill. Although he didn’t know how exactly, he knew he had finally found what he was looking for: something good.

A New Life

After being found on the rez, Maicoh was transferred to Ruff Start Rescue, and subsequently into the care of Rhonda, his new foster mom. He arrived in her home on July 12, a Sunday, and her first thought was something along the lines of “this poor dog”.

Maicoh’s fur had not started to grow back yet from the mange he contracted while on the run. In fact, he now had a skin infection, and was dreadfully, uncomfortably itchy as a result. Open sores covered his body, accompanied by severe scabbing, and most of his fur was gone. He had lost so much of his hair that Rhonda distinctly remembered him looking more pink than white in color.

On top of his adverse skin condition, Maicoh was understandably nervous. Still friendly, of course; he knew these people, as strange as they were, intended to do good. But he had never been taken care of before by anyone kind, and as a result didn’t know how to communicate with them. He was very resigned and somewhat scared. Rhonda also noted that he was just so tired. Exhausted, as though he had lived multiple lives in his short one and a half years of living.

It was hard to really get to know Maicoh at first. He was somewhat machine-like in nature: he would eat and then just rest more than anything else. He never fell into a truly deep sleep, though; his body was always tense, like he was anticipating a new threat at any time. By nature, he was sweet, tolerant, and very gentle. But the rules were always different on the rez.

Maicoh missing hair
Maicoh patchy hair

A New Friend

Maicoh was deliberately kept separate from his foster’s resident animals at first. He crashed in her daughter’s room, a quiet and comfortable place designed to make him feel safe on whatever timeline he deemed appropriate. On his second night in Rhonda’s home he climbed up into her daughter’s bed to sleep. After that, he decided he needed to be with her always. She became his shield: his designated armor, protecting him from the unknown.

Once he chose her, he slept deeply and peacefully for the first time in perhaps his whole life.

The Transformation

A week passed in Rhonda’s home and Maicoh began acting like a real dog. The combination of being able to eat a healthy, consistent diet, receiving the appropriate medications to quell his itching and mend his skin infection, and being able to sleep soundly and frequently was working. He had begun to heal, both physically and emotionally. The transformation was beginning.

The sores that used to cover Maicoh’s body had scabbed over and begun to flake from his frame. He began to love being touched, often giving his own version of hugs by putting his whole weight on his human friends in the form of a full-body lean. He continued to choose his favorite people, hopping up next to them and tucking his head into their chests lovingly. It seemed to be his version of expressing the gratitude he felt in being so wholly rescued.

His hair had started to grow back.

Maicoh sleeping on the couch
Maicah resting


When Maicoh first found rescue, he had been waiting for something good. Now, although so much in his life has changed for the better, he is still just waiting. For a few things, actually.

First, he is waiting for the all-clear from our veterinary team regarding his skin issues. His care is constant and consistent and, most importantly, working. Thanks to donations that allow Ruff Start’s team the power to provide him with excellent care, he is healing – in more ways than one.

Second, he is waiting for his forever home to find him. He has a few prospects currently, and they’re good, but it’ll take a special family to truly win his heart. For now, he is happy to enjoy life with his constant companion, Rhonda’s daughter. She really is the best at fetch, after all.

And last, right now, Maicoh is probably waiting patiently to go on a walk. According to Rhonda, he absolutely loves walks and runs. Except this time, he has a destination in mind when he’s done walking. It’s good, too. It’s not an old, dirty mattress on an abandoned porch. Now, he actually has a place to be. Now, he has a home.

Animals like Maicoh need us. He was one of the lucky ones – one of over 1,800 animals we’ve had the pleasure of saving so far this year. But there are more just like him out there, and we can’t save them without your help.

Every part of rescue matters for animals like Maicoh. From the volunteers who help bring them into rescue to the donors who fund their veterinary expenses, each person involved paves the way for these animals to find their forever homes. However you choose to give, you’re an integral part of each and every Ruff Start rescue mission.

Today, you can save a life – so don’t delay.

Please, help us do whatever it takes.


A Transformation You Need to See to Believe

By Brent Honcharenko

Her name was Jackie-O, a name synonymous with a prestigious, famous and wealthy lifestyle, and who once lived in a place they called “Camelot”. But for this Jackie-O, her life, prior to arriving at Ruff Start Rescue (RSR), in no way resembled a glamorous one. In fact, this Jackie-O came from the complete opposite; she was brought to RSR from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She arrived emaciated, with severe mange all over her body, she had secondary skin infections, open wounds, and both of her eyes were infected. Her life and daily routine, before being rescued from the unforgiving environment and exposure she endured, consisted of simply finding a way to survive each and every day.

“She was really sick and in really rough shape,” RSR foster Shawn LaBarre explained. “It was bad and she wouldn’t have made it much longer out there on her own.”

Treatment began immediately in an effort to save Jackie-O. She not only had to be saved physically from her severe medical conditions, she had to be saved psychologically.

“She was physically and mentally shut down when she arrived,” LaBarre said. “We knew this was going to be quite the healing process.”

Not knowing what to expect, LaBarre took Jackie-O to her home and followed the veterinarian’s instructions; giving her antibiotics, applying medicated cream and bathing her one to two times a week.

Jackie-O sitting in a crate
Jackie-O's face
Jackie-O walking on a leash

Coming from the reservation, as far as LaBarre and the RSR staff knew, Jackie-O had never even been inside a building and they had no idea what her interaction with humans had, or hadn’t, been.

“It was scary for her the first time I brought her into the house,” LaBarre said. “I had to carry her in and you could tell she didn’t know what to think.”

From that point, LaBarre said she had to actually teach Jackie-O how to come in and out of the house, and then how to navigate the stairs.

“She was really timid at first, but she responded very well to encouragement and affection,” LaBarre added.

LaBarre, who has been a rescue foster for 11 years and a RSR foster for the past three years, explained that she has four other dogs in her home and they really aided in the process to help teach and guide Jackie-O how to be a good family member.

“Jackie-O learned a lot just from watching my dogs,” LaBarre said. “She watched how they interacted with one another, how they behaved in the house, how they interacted with me, and from that she learned how to become part of the family.”

When asked how she was so successful transforming Jackie-O, LaBarre said it’s actually quite simple; “First you earn their trust. You take it day-by-day and you follow their lead, but you also guide. It’s amazing how quickly they learn to trust you and they become comfortable with you in your home.”

LaBarre said Jackie-O, who is estimated to be just shy of one year old, arrived a very sick, shattered and quiet dog, but she left a happy, playful puppy. She added that Jackie-O really enjoyed living in the house and being around people, even when she had visitors, Jackie-O was always friendly towards them.

“Although one of her favorite things to do at my house was to sit out on the lawn chair in the backyard, I could tell by the time she left that Jackie-O wanted nothing to do with ever having to live outside again,” LaBarre concluded.

But, this wonderful story does not end here. Enter Jackie-O’s adopter, Chelsey Shoup.

Jackie-O sleeping in bed
Jackie-O relaxing in dog bed

Shoup and her boyfriend had been contemplating adopting a rescue dog for some time. They checked out RSR and the organization really appealed to them, so they completed the paperwork and became qualified to adopt.

Despite Jackie-O’s initial appearance, Shoup said she was attracted to her immediately, so they applied for her, but under the condition that she was “cat friendly”. It was already known that Jackie-O was good with other dogs and with people, but Shoup has cats, so they had to find out how Jackie-O acted around them.

Shoup said that LaBarre took Jackie-O to a neighbor’s house, with cats, to see how she interacted, and it was a non-issue. Then Jackie-O was brought to Shoup’s house and introduced her to her cats, and again, everything went great.

“She was so sweet and loving when we met her,” Shoup said. “After we saw how well she did with us and with our cats, we knew we wanted her. So we adopted her.”

By the time Shoup adopted Jackie-O, about a month after she arrived from South Dakota, she was in much better condition, but still needed routine medical attention and she continued on a good diet plan to help her gain weight.

In addition to a complete lifestyle change, Jackie-O also went through a name change after being adopted. Jackie-O is now Tater Tot.

“I’ve always liked pet names associated with food, and Tater Tot is such a Minnesota thing,” Shoup said. “It also sounds playful, like her, and a bit mischievous, like her.”

Chelsey Shoup and Tater Tot

Shoup said she was thankful for all the love, attention and training Tater Tot received at her foster home. Tater Tot arrived house-trained and very social. “She wasn’t even afraid of the vacuum cleaner,” Shoup added.

At the time of this writing, Shoup and her boyfriend have had Tater Tot for almost three weeks, and they couldn’t be happier. They go on walks every day. They go to the dog park three-to-four times a week. They’ve taken her camping, and they’ve even taken Tater Tot with to a local dog-friendly brewpub. Shoup said as much as Tater Tot loves being out-and-about with them, around other people, and around other dogs, she also really likes her own fenced-in backyard.

To say Tater Tot is unrecognizable today, compared to the day she was brought to RSR, is, in this case, the most complimentary statement that can be made.

“She really is just the sweetest dog we could ever imagine having,” Shoup said.

It’s almost certain that Tater Tot (formerly Jackie-O) is enjoying her new life with her new family, too, in her own version of “Camelot.”

Ruff Start Rescue