RSR Cats Community Initiative

Ruff Start Rescue’s Community Cats Initiative

Over the last several years, Ruff Start Rescue has been dedicated to helping community cats. These cats are often dumped on properties or show up as strays and can quickly multiple. Occasionally, property owners will try to help the cats by providing necessities like food and shelter out of the goodness of their hearts. However, without utilizing spay/neuter surgeries to help control the population, these groupings can grow exponentially! As the number of animals on the property begins to increase, it becomes more and more likely that nuisance behaviors such as fights and marking will occur and disease may affect the colony.

This is where Ruff Start Rescue steps in. In an effort to curb cat overpopulation and reduce stress on well-meaning caretakers, we have built a Trap-Neuter-Return program in which we live trap these cats, alter and vaccinate them at no charge to the caretaker, and then release them back onto the property. Additionally, we also offer community spay/neuter assistance for those who have pet cats they need to sterilize but may not be able to afford to do so. Since 2014, we have provided spay/neuter funding assistance to 865 cats in our local community and brought multiple cats and kittens who needed a little extra help into rescue – like some of the cats pictured here. This year alone, we were able to take in and rehome 30 kittens from a colony and helped to get the remaining adults cats sterilized. We do what we can to provide food for colony caretakers and offer rubbermaid houses when available to protect the cats from the elements.

Without the generosity of our donors, we would not be able to fund such necessary programs for our local community. Thank you to all who have helped us make a difference so far! Without you, many of these animals would not have gotten a second chance – and there would be many more homeless pets in the world.


A Major Case of Neglect

Since I started the rescue, I have gotten my fair share of messages regarding urgent animal welfare and neglect situations. I’ve seen a fair majority of animals in truly awful conditions and have been lucky enough to make a difference for many of them, but even after almost 9 years, these calls, Facebook messages, and emails still break my heart.

Recently, I’ve gotten quite a few messages like this, and luckily I – with the help of my staff and a team of dedicated and truly amazing volunteers who are always willing to do what it takes – have been able to act. Such was the case for an amazing dog named Major, who was lucky enough to be saved by Ruff Start just a few weeks ago.

I received a message from an officer in the Pine County area regarding a dog that had been living on someone’s property for a couple of weeks. After asking for more information from the finder, we learned that the dog had been in the area for quite some time and no owners had ever been located – although efforts had in fact been made. Following our established intake procedures, I requested photos of the dog in question in an effort to find a foster for him, and once I saw his condition I knew this had escalated from a typical found dog situation to an absolutely urgent matter.

In the photos, I could tell from afar that Major was in bad shape. His fur was matted and he looked dirty and forgotten. Underneath it all I was positive he was a gorgeous, loving dog, and it motivated me to get him into rescue as soon as possible as he needed the safety and security a foster home could provide.

Luckily, we found a foster and picked Major up a few days after we were initially contacted about him. The next morning, he was brought into a veterinary clinic to get a medical groom – our only option given the fact that a typical grooming would have been immensely painful and potentially impossible for him, given his condition.

Major’s matted fur was so bad, he needed to be entirely shaved. However, to get him comfortable enough to even be shaved, he needed to be sedated. Underneath the fur, he had around 60 pustules (skin blisters filled with pus) that needed to be popped and drained. The veterinary team taking care of him also found over 40 ticks on his body and, as they figured due to their findings, he tested positive for Lyme disease.

On top of it all, after he was shaved, we realized how malnourished Major really was. He clocked in at 96 lbs on the dot even though he should have been between 140-150 lbs to be considered healthy. He truly needed rescue and we were the ones lucky enough to provide it for him.

Now that he’s safe in a home, Major is, honestly, just learning how to be a dog. He is learning the simple delights like what a couch is and how comfortable it is to lay on, realizing how delicious a consistently full bowl of food is, and enjoying the benefits of love and affection. He is no longer a wet and smelly stray trying to find enough food to stay alive. He is lucky and he is loved.

Major is an example of one of hundreds of thousands of animals who are in need of rescue. Each year, we try our best to take in as many as we can, because we know that rescue is the only way to give them stability in a life full of uncertainty. Just last month (October 2018) we took in over 200 animals alone!

Major happy at home

However, the only way we can continue to save these animals is with your support. Donations of time, funds, supplies, skills… every single bit helps dogs like Major learn to love again after a life of neglect.

Please considering supporting our rescue today. They need you.


Colby the Cat: A Lesson in Perspective

On October 12th, I turned 32 years old.

Each year as I’m approaching my birthday, I do a lot of self-reflection. Both on the day of and in the days before the big day, I take careful time to look back on the previous year, my accomplishments, the ups and the downs. I think about how far I’ve come in both my personal life and my professional life. I marvel at how much the rescue has grown and impacted both my local community and, truthfully, the entire United States. I am grateful and I am motivated.

On October 11th, I was doing some of that reflecting. As I got ready for bed, I kept thinking about how, in approximately an hour or so, I was turning 32 years old. How I’d been running the rescue since I was 23, pondering where on Earth the time had gone, dreaming of what would come next. I had a fleeting thought I maybe could have done more in those nearly 10 years and questioned if this was where I was supposed to be in my life. Then my phone rang.

The call was from Colby, one of the rescue’s younger volunteers. Colby had been driving home from work and saw a cat laying on the side of the road not far from my house. The cat had been hit by a car. When he checked on her, though, she was still alive, and was very beat up and broken.

Saving animals like Bonnie has always been my favorite thing in the entire world.
Saving animals like Bonnie has always been my favorite thing in the entire world.

As I listened to what Colby was saying, I knew that I had to make a split second decision with the little information that was available. I also tried to think through each scenario so I could make the right choice. What would happen if we saved this cat? What would happen if we tried to help her but it ended up not working out? What would happen if I said no? This cat’s life seriously depended on my answer.

The thing with rescue in this situation is that there are potential repercussions for our actions no matter how you flip the coin. For all we knew, this cat could have been somebody’s pet, and we’d be assuming financial responsibility for her before her “stray hold” (the period of time that must pass before a found pet can be made available for public adoption, in an effort to find their previous owner) was up – which was a gamble within itself. We could help her and run the risk of spending thousands of dollars on her just for her to not make it through the surgery, depending on what her diagnosis was. Or, we could save her life and keep her comfortable and safe and then find her a home – perhaps the first one she had ever had in her life.

No matter the cost, I said yes. Let me explain why.

First and foremost, I’m an animal lover, and saving them all is, truly, in my blood. From the first time I realized a stray cat was a cat that didn’t have a home to when I encountered injured wildlife in my parents’ backyard, I knew I wanted to do whatever it took to save them. I knew that, in that moment, I had the power to save Colby’s found cat. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

But secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I remember being in so many similar situations to Colby when the rescue didn’t exist yet. Nearly identical, in fact. Like when I was 16 and I picked up a cat on the side of the road who had also been hit by a car and was still alive. Because I was young, didn’t know where to go, and didn’t have the funds to bring it to the emergency vet, I cared for it overnight with the intention of bringing it into my local veterinary in the morning. But when I woke up the next morning, the cat had passed away.

The cat our volunteer, Colby, found on the side of the road, safe in a kennel.
The cat our volunteer, Colby, found on the side of the road, safe in a kennel.

I remember the personal agony, guilt, and helplessness that came with wanting to help but not being able to or not knowing how. I remember that gut-wrenching feeling that settled in my stomach when I couldn’t save them, and how much I could only hope someone else would find them or could do something to save them. I remember it all too well and I didn’t want Colby to feel even a second of it.

In that moment – the moment right before I told Colby we’d help him save this cat’s life – I thought of one of my life goals. It’s a quote and, while it seems simple, it’s important. I try to live by it every day. “Be the person you needed when you were younger.”

Colby, the cat, at the emergency veterinarian after Ruff Start agreed to save her life.
Colby, the cat, at the emergency veterinarian after Ruff Start agreed to save her life.

When I was 16 and I found that cat on the side of the road, I needed someone like myself now, at 32. Colby needed me in this moment; so did the cat he was hopeful to save. The cat who passed away when I was 16 may have lived if someone like 32 year old me had existed.

So, I said yes, of course we will save her.

Colby dropped everything and drove the cat to the emergency vet clinic in Blaine. He tried to keep her comfortable and still, unaware of the damages done to her body, while in a bit of a hopeful panic. I called the vet clinic and told them to expect Colby and the found cat, giving them the OK to treat her and consult on what she needed to be healthy again.

Once she arrived, the cat received IV fluids, pain medication, an initial exam, and x-rays. She also had her wounds cleaned and treated. Unfortunately, the x-rays revealed a worse than we were hoping for prognosis: she had an awful hip fracture and her tail was splintered into multiple fractures as well. The emergency veterinarian advised we get a professional surgical consultation to help make the best decision on how to care for her moving forward, but hinted that the surgery that would entail was not going to be easy. However, our patient was a purring machine, in good spirits, and was young – young enough that she had a good shot at recovering if she had surgery.

After hearing all this, I knew it was going to be expensive saving this cat’s life. The things I have to consider in a situation like this are, unfortunate as they are, are important. Like, how many other cats could we save with the amount of money that we were potentially going to end up spending on this one cat? Will we even be able to raise the funds to pay for this cat’s medical expenses? But by this point, I wasn’t going to give up on her. I KNEW there had to be individuals out there who would want to help me save her and would make it okay for me to say “Yes, let’s move forward and do whatever is needed to help her”. She was lucky to have been saved by Colby and she deserved a shot at a good life. She was a fighter and she showed us immediately that she was grateful. The least we could do was try to give her the love she deserved.

After the surgical consult we received grim news, as we expected. She had an obvious dislocation of the left joint in the pelvis, her right hip was in multiple pieces, and her tail would never function again due to the fractures. She would need a double FHO (double hip surgery) and a tail amputation. When the veterinarian checked for function in these places to see if there was a shot at her living a normal life again, there was still a sign of function. It showed there was possibility.

Without much doubt at all, we said “of course” to her reconstructive surgery. She went in for surgery on October 16.

Colby at the vet
Colby post-op

Her surgery went as well as we could have hoped. On a healthy dose of pain meds, she is pulling herself around a little more than she was before, is constantly purring, and says “thank you” to her foster mom as best as she can every chance she gets. She will go in for a recheck next week and we are anticipating 8-10 weeks of healing time to get her back on her feet.

So now, thanks to a late night emergency phone call an hour before my birthday, I have entered my 32nd year of life knowing what I’m doing is truly what I was intended to do. I know I’m living that quote to its fullest each time Ruff Start Rescue says they’ll do whatever it takes for one of these hard cases. I’ve created a place that can give animals like Colby – named for the sweet volunteer who gave up his entire evening to save her life – a chance at health and happiness. But we can’t do it without you.

Colby’s emergency vet bills were $563. Her surgery bill came in at $2,076. Once she is healthy enough, we’ll need to get her altered and vaccinated per our protocols – which is an additional couple hundred dollars or so. If you want to put a dollar amount on what we will end up spending to save Colby and give her the life she deserves, she will cost the rescue nearly $3,000 – provided she heals up perfectly, which is our hope but not a given.

When I was 16, the thought of paying $3,000 for one animal’s care was astronomical and far-fetched. Now, while still very challenging, it’s more like a lesson in perspective and gratitude. Now, I have access to a multitude of people who also want to be the person who says they’ll do whatever it takes to help. I now have the ability to pool the things they’re so heartwarmingly willing to donate – things like money, time, and talents – so we CAN save these animals instead of just hoping someone else will.

Ruff Start Rescue is a true place of rescue for animals just like Colby. Only by a stroke of luck will they find us – and oh, I truly hope they do.

If you’d like to donate to Colby’s care, you can donate online or send a check to the rescue at:

Ruff Start Rescue
PO Box 129
Princeton, MN 55371

All donations are appreciated and absolutely necessary to continue our mission of saving the lives of animals in need or at risk.

Lexie Marie

A Trip to Houston, A Commitment to Change

For many years, I’ve heard talk of dog overpopulation in the southern United States. I’ve seen pleas and sad photos of animals in need come through my emails. I’m embarrassed to admit that after over 8 years in the rescue world, I thought I understood what it all meant. I thought Ruff Start Rescue was helping in the best way we could by taking a van load full of roughly 20 dogs from our Houston shelter partner, Harris County Animal Shelter, each month and finding them wonderful forever homes in Minnesota.

However, on Thursday, September 6, I began my journey to realize the hard truth: we weren’t doing enough. Nobody was. Nobody is. This is an epidemic.

Julie Lessard (RSR’s Director of Programs), Lexi Johnson (RSR’s Intake Manager), and I flew to Houston, Texas, that Thursday. We were there for five long days. In that time, we toured many overcrowded shelters, visited known public animal dumping grounds, and met with countless animal lovers who are advocating for change in their communities and around the country. My eyes were opened to this devastating problem and how it exists on a day-to-basis. Sadly, very few are aware of its extent.

RSR Express
A grateful puppy gives Ruff Start Rescue’s Intake Manager, Lexi Johnson, kisses after arriving in Minnesota after a long journey from Harris County Animal Shelter.

Throughout our time in Houston, I constantly felt torn between crying and wanting to load our rental car full of dogs. Luckily, we were able to help area rescues pull dogs and cats out of the shelters and get them into foster homes. This effort calmed me and made me feel like we were, at least, making some sort of difference during our time there. Then we met Lexi Marie.

In the midst of meetings and tours, we drove to a place called Melrose Park. It’s a notorious dumping ground and a common spot to see more dogs than humans lining the grassy areas intended for family use. Over the years, we’d taken dogs from Melrose Park and heard these stories about how bad it was, so I was familiar with it to some degree – but I wanted to find out exactly how bad it was, firsthand.

First sighting of Lexie Marie
Our first sighting of Lexie Marie.
Director of Programs, Julie, befriending Lexi Marie to get her to drink water.
Director of Programs, Julie, befriending Lexi Marie to get her to drink water.

From afar, Melrose Park looked like any other ballpark. It’s a park for humans, after all. Within 30 seconds, we spotted dogs. All around us, anxious, agitated, panting, pacing dogs.

One of those dogs was a frail boxer mix, a young female, who was pacing and obviously distressed in the 90 degree heat. Instantly, we jumped out of the car and went to tend to her. We fished a styrofoam container out of the trash to fill with water, as we didn’t have any rescue gear in our rental car. We encouraged her to drink after patiently convincing her to approach us. She gratefully wagged her tail, yet still seemed weary. She sent us signals that we may have been one of the first people to treat her with respect and kindness in her young life.

As we were tending to her, a family of dogs entered the park from across the street, checking out the place in an effort to defend their territory. Right before our eyes, the female dog – obviously a new mother with nursing puppies based on her appearance – attacked Lexi Marie.

After they rustled around for awhile, the other female retreated and Lexi Marie was able to get away. Instantly, we jumped out of the car and I went to grab her. Right after the attack, when she could’ve lashed out in her anxious and highly-alerted state, I put my arms around her and picked her up. Yes – twenty minutes before our next meeting, after we told ourselves we couldn’t do anything to help and were just there to scope out the situation. I put myself in a situation where I could’ve very well gotten badly bitten by a scared dog. My rescue brain was in full force, I guess. I know by now that just because these dogs have been through trauma and failed by humans, doesn’t mean they don’t long to love and be loved.

exi Marie enjoying our company and the air conditioning.
exi Marie enjoying our company and the air conditioning.
Bringing Lexi Marie into the vet clinic, as she was too nervous to walk on a leash.
Bringing Lexi Marie into the vet clinic, as she was too nervous to walk on a leash.
Me telling Lexi it is going to be OK and she will be in Minnesota soon!
Me telling Lexi it is going to be OK and she will be in Minnesota soon!

We were able to get Lexi Marie into our rental car, which most definitely didn’t allow animals, and we cranked the air conditioning full blast to cool her off. We quickly rescheduled our fast-approaching meeting. Then we all pulled out our phones to call the different foster-based rescues in Texas we’d previously met with and plead for them to take her in for a few weeks before we could bring her to Minnesota. Luckily, Adore Houston agreed to help, and started lining up a foster home. Instantly after getting a rescue lined up, we took Lexi Marie to a vet clinic in the city. We wanted to get her care as soon as possible – especially after the dog fight we witnessed just a few minutes earlier.

Lexi Marie’s story is, inherently, good. While she lived a sad life as a stray before we found her, she had the good fortune to be found by humans like Julie, Lexi, and myself; people who have devoted their lives to saving animals just like her. But what about these other animals that aren’t so lucky?

The city of Houston, like most of Texas, is overrun with animals. Places like Harris County Animal Shelter are trying their hardest to help. However, they are simply overpopulated, underfunded, and facing the sad truth: that few people in Texas wants to adopt these animals. Layer that with the fact that HCAS is only one of hundreds of shelters in the state dealing with these issues and you get resulting statistics like this one: Texas shelters euthanize anywhere from 30-70 animals every day with total euthanasia of around 220,000 animals a year.

So what can we do to help these poor animals? That was all I could think about as I walked through huge runs of kennels that contained up to five cats or dogs each. I took pictures of all of them, talked to them in soothing voices, and told them it was okay. But it wasn’t okay. I’m pretty sure that maybe 20% of the animals I have photos of on my phone are still alive today. Every moment someone came in and dumped off their animal at the shelter, a new name was added to that day’s euth list. Not everyone can make it out alive.

Shelter dogs in Texas

To make a long story short, I don’t entirely know what will change the overpopulation problem in Houston. I have some ideas, but they’re going to take more than just one rescue in Minnesota to implement. I believe that stronger laws are needed to protect animals, education about spaying and neutering should be at the forefront of animal care, and perspectives about animals being ‘property’ or lesser beings need to change.

In the short term, we’re trying to do more for these animals by increasing the number of dogs we take in with each Houston-based transport. We’re sending supplies and support down to the shelters and volunteers managing Melrose Park so they have additional resources to function and provide for these animals.

We’re working on longer term plans too, so we can really start to improve the conditions down there. We have big dreams, and we’re hopeful we can find advocates who want to join us in our mission.

Volunteers, fosters, donors, adopters, and partners are all needed to help us keep helping others. We need like-minded people to join forces with us to save more animals because they need us. Is that you?

Lexie Marie and Volunteer

As for Lexi Marie, she is starting over. She began her journey to Minnesota on Friday, September 28, because we saved her life. She arrived on Saturday, September 29, and went to a home that committed to caring for her forever even though they hadn’t even met her. She had multiple people apply to adopt her just based on her story and photo! Her story is a true testament to why we do what we do and why we need to save other animals just like her – animals who are highly adoptable and will find homes here in Minnesota if they could just get here. So let’s save their lives.

Ruff Start Rescue