Dog laying on porch

Part One: Helping Minnesota

One of the hot button issues in animal rescue today is the process of out-of-state transportation. Whether you’re highly involved in the world of animal rescue, support it when you can, or simply love animals and want to see a better world for them, you’ve probably heard at least one opinion about rescues and humane societies taking in and rehoming animals from other states, primarily from the south.

Some reactions to out of state transports are positive:

  • “Thank you for saving the lives of these sweet souls. Rescue knows no zip codes!”
  • “All animals deserve a fighting chance, no matter their origin!”
  • “Southern states are drowning under the weight of all these animals who need a savior and [insert rescue name here] can BE. THAT. HERO!”

Some reactions are negative or skeptical:

  • “What about the animals here in our state that need to be saved?”
  • “Rescues who take in animals from out-of-state only care about increasing their adoption numbers, they don’t actually care about saving lives!”

Examples of animals needing our help both locally and from out of state partners

These are all valid responses that come from a place of good intention. Out-of-state  transportation is a process that’s existed in the rescue community for years and has gathered supporters as well as challengers based on the information and reasoning offered for it. I understand both sides of the opinion, and I’ve seen it being debated firsthand. Plus, I have always been a big advocate for transparency in sharing both Ruff Start Rescue’s beliefs as an organization as well as my own.

So, you may be wondering, what is my – and Ruff Start Rescue’s – stance on out of state transport? How does the rescue decide which animals they save and where do they come from? Does Ruff Start Rescue still help locally-based Minnesota animals?

Before I shift into these specifics, it’s important for me to state that both Ruff Start (as an organization) and I value and appreciate opinions that differ from our own. Animal rescue is complex and organizations are free to focus on whatever aspects they find important. Having the ability to question organizational practices is a necessary component in maintaining transparency between the organization and individual, especially for supporters. As the total number of nonprofit animal rescues in states like Minnesota continues to grow, with little-to-no regulation, accountability is of the utmost importance. That’s why I’m sharing this information with you today; this is one of the hot topics in rescue here in Minnesota, and I think more people should be discussing it professionally and respectfully to further the future of animal rescue.

The Ruff Start Rescue Policy

Since the rescue was formed in 2010, we have been committed to helping local animals and their people. But over the years, I began to sense a shift in the number and nature of animals in need here.

Animals we saw during our trip to Texas

As a result, Ruff Start Rescue is a huge proponent of out-of-state transports. Roughly three to four weekends each month we bring 20-60 dogs up from Texas, Oklahoma, and/or Louisiana. Sometimes the number of out of state transports we participate in increases rapidly during times of natural disaster or special circumstance.  Before the dogs leave their initial location to come to Minnesota, they receive vaccinations, general veterinary care, and a health inspection by a USDA accredited veterinarian. Each animal enters our care with a certification of health, ensuring they’re healthy enough to travel to find their forever home. The transporting of these animals is a cause we care about deeply.

We care about it so much that we’re in the beginning stages of implementing a new rescue initiative called “The Lone Star to North Star Rescue Relief Program™”, in which we are focusing on making a greater long-term impact in Texas. The idea sprang from my visit to Harris County Animal Shelter in September 2018, during which I learned firsthand the dangers and struggles these animals in the southern US face due to lack of support, resources, and animal welfare education.

So, yes. Ruff Start Rescue does believe whole-heartedly in out-of-state transports and acts upon these feelings and the sad facts surrounding them every month. In October 2019, we brought 101 dogs from out of state into rescue and gave them a chance at a better life.

What about local animals?

Although we speak adamantly and openly about the animal welfare issues prevalent in southern states and how we plan to create initiatives to further assist, there are still animals here that need us too. Our local impounds, humane societies, and animal controls still house cats and dogs in need of second chances. Owners surrender pets, animals are found as strays, and puppy and kitten mills continue to contribute to overpopulation issues. According to current data, Minnesota is not a no-kill state.* Minnesota has tremendous strides to make in saving lives.

While we are committed to making a substantial contribution to positively impact the lives of animals in need in Minnesota, many animals in southern states often face a more imminent threat. 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.

By the numbers

Of the 246 animals we took into the rescue in October 2019, 101 were out of state animals. Only 41% of our animal intake came from our out-of-state partners.

October 2019 Animal Intake Origin

I monitor fluctuations and patterns in our monthly and yearly intake numbers. These evaluations show that the number of animals from out-of-state is growing rapidly. Yes, the number of out-of- state animals grows to a larger percentage of our overall intake, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are helping fewer local animals or decreasing our rescue efforts locally. Fifty-seven percent of the animals we cared for in 2018 came from the state of Minnesota.

Animal Intake Origins since 2010

Local animals we have recently taken in

Community outreach

Although our animal care program (both in Minnesota and out of state) is a significant part of our mission, we also provided outreach services to our local communities:

  • TNR (trap-neuter-return) and community spay/neuter efforts are a large need in Central Minnesota. We have been able to offer free and/or highly discounted services to community members and their cats for several years.
  • Each year, Ruff Start hosts its annual Wellness Clinic in April, providing low-cost vaccinations, blood testing, and services like nail trims to those who need it in the community.
  • When possible, we donate surplus  food and/or pet supplies to the Princeton Pantry as well as other local food pantries to help those in our community who sometimes struggle to provide for the pets they love.

Identifying when (and who) we can help

When we encounter highly emotional rescue issues, we examine context and practice empathy. While it’s easy to think there’s always something we can do to help, we must consider many factors before we are truly able to provide aid.

In many shelter and impound cases, the health and behavioral issues of an animal weigh heavily on the decision to euthanize or to transfer the animal to a rescue. When a dog or cat is struggling, the conversation begins: Would a foster home help this animal flourish? Are the animal’s issues so severe and chronic that rehabilitation would not help or be feasible? Would we be putting the community at risk by releasing this animal?

It’s often hard to answer these questions when the animal is in a shelter environment where there are a variety of stimuli that can influence temperament and health. While we have volunteer impound representatives who assess animals both medically and behaviorally in the local shelters we partner with, it can be difficult to determine whether a foster home environment with behavioral training and intensive veterinary intervention would benefit the animal. Sometimes our representatives meet an animal and decide that, for the safety of our foster families and the rescue, we cannot work with that animal’s specific needs. Other times the representative may feel an animal is an ideal candidate for a home setting, but no foster home is available or equipped with the necessary experience to assist. One of the flaws in being a foster-based rescue is that we can’t help every animal in need. We hear the cries for help from volunteers and animal lovers who are rightfully concerned about an animal’s well-being, and do what we can to help with the resources we have available. This is one of the reasons we continue to seek out ways to expand capacity and modify the rescue’s programming.

Examples of highly adoptable animals we have taken in from our southern partners

In contrast, animals in southern states end up in shelters for other reasons beyond major medical or behavioral issues. There, an animal’s quality of life is different. Responsible pet ownership is not as highly emphasized. Adorable mix puppies who are the result of accidental breeding end up on the euthanasia list in a few days’ time. Shih tzus, schnauzers, boxers, and shepherds—four highly adoptable and sought after breeds in the midwest—are commonly seen throughout shelters in the south.

Otherwise healthy and behaviorally sound animals are at-risk in places like Texas. Fortunately, we are well equipped to provide support and solace for them. So we, and other animal welfare organizations, use a country-wide support system like Houston PetSet or Best Friends Animal Society to transport these animals north to help them find their forever families.

The Lone Star to North Star Rescue Relief Program™

Animal overpopulation and irresponsible pet ownership are two huge realities that we fight against every single day. We feel strongly that Ruff Start is doing what it can to supplement these needs in Minnesota, and we can help more where it will make a larger long-term difference: particularly in Texas, the state with the highest animal kill rate, where over 114,000 pets were euthanized last year alone.

In my next blog post, I will write about our current rescue efforts in Texas, as well as our long-term vision for how we can continue to make a difference in countless human and animal lives. I truly believe that rescue knows no zip codes and an animal who travels across state lines is worthy of living, no matter their birthplace or origin story.

Thanks to supporters like you, we’ve been able to save over 11,500 lives – many from Minnesota, Texas, and beyond – since Ruff Start’s inception in 2010. Let’s continue to save more.

Lone Start to North Star logo
Azure and her dog Lance
Me & my Texas boy, Lance, who joined Ruff Start Rescue from Harris County Animal Shelter in Houston, Texas.

Want to help animals in need? We are always in need of fostersadoptersdonors, and volunteers to help drive our mission. The more humans we recruit to further our work, the more animals we can help – so we truly can’t do it without you!

Twix shaved

Four Dogs, Four Stories, Four Surgeries

Twix, a 3 year-old chow chow mix, came to us from our friends at Lightshine Canine. Twixxie, as he’s known in rescue, was found as a stray out on the ‘rez’ in South Dakota and was seen being picked on by other dogs. We knew when we brought him in that he had a shattered front left leg, but had no idea how it had gotten to be so broken.

Once we got Twix’s x-rays back, though, we realized the damage was caused by bullet fragments that lined his leg. Immediately, we knew that surgery to amputate the leg was absolutely necessary. Twix’s leg was removed and he was neutered at the same time.

However, Twix suffered a surgical complication during his neuter procedure that involved extreme swelling of his genitals, and had to go back under to have the excess tissue removed.

Twix dirty
Twix in a sweater
Twix yappy

Please consider making a donation today to help cover the expenses for animals that need extra care. And right now, you can double your impact! Every donation from now until March 31 will be matched, dollar-for-dollar, up to $1,000, by our friend Paul Morrison, a RE/MAX Results agent in St. Cloud!

Maggie was surrendered to us because she didn’t do well with the cat in her previous home. After a foster stepped up to take in the 4 year-old American Staffordshire Terrier, we received vet records that stated she might be a bit of a tougher-than-usual case due to previous ailments that prevented her from exercising for long periods of time. We discovered that she had a torn ACL that had never been fixed and knew she needed to see a veterinarian to assess the damage.


Maggie visited our partner vet and the diagnoses was disheartening: she needed surgery. ACL tears are serious and the only way to give Maggie the quality of life she deserved was to have surgery. Her procedure went as well as to be expected and she is now recovering in her loving foster home.

Sometimes, when animals come to Ruff Start, all they need is routine vetting like vaccines and microchipping (and a loving home, of course). Other times, like in the case of Twix and Maggie above or Trip and Blue Ivy below, they need much more attention like extra testing, special medications, and unfortunately, major surgery. Ruff Start depends on community donations to cover expenses above and beyond routine vetting. Donations of any amount are so important so that together, we can save more animals’ lives.


Trip, a 3 year-old yellow Labrador retriever, came to us from one of our partner shelters in Texas. When Trip arrived in Minnesota, he was quite obviously in pain, continually limping on his left rear leg. We had him checked out at a partner clinic and x-rays confirmed he had a healed femur fracture as well as an ACL tear. The only way to fix these issues was to perform a TPLO (tibial-plateau-leveling-osteotomy) surgery to stabilize his joint(s) after the ruptures and long-term degeneration that weakened his ligaments over time.

Ever the fighter, Trip went in for TPLO surgery as well as his routine neuter and is healing, at the time of this posting, as well as we could hope. We believe he will continue to have a slight limp due to his previously fractured femur healing on its own, but are already seeing much better movement in his leg thanks to the surgery.

In all, Trip’s surgery cost $1,911.84. On top of this, Trip was also heartworm positive. His treatments are not yet completed but are expected to incur at least another $300.

Remember, every donation we receive between now and March 31 will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $1,000! Perhaps your donation will be what helps pay for Blue Ivy’s expenses.

Blue Ivy, a 7 year-old American Pit Bull Terrier, came to us from Minneapolis Animal Care and Control after being surrendered there with her puppy. Her previous owner could no longer care for them as she was moving to care for a family member. Immediately, Ruff Start stepped up to bring both Blue Ivy and her puppy who has since been adopted into rescue.

When Blue Ivy entered her foster home, it was obvious that she favored her left hind leg and showed signs of pain when touched. After a radiograph, the cause of her suffering was discovered: she had a luxating patella, meaning her patella continually popped in and out, causing severe pain.

Blue Ivy

Blue Ivy went to one of our partner clinics for surgery to repair an extracapsular (bone fracture near a joint) and luxated patella. She is recovering favorably but still has a long way to go.

Twix, Maggie, Trip, and Blue Ivy are not only surviving, but THRIVING after getting a second chance at life thanks to the quick and meticulous work of our vetting staff, the constant love provided by these dogs’ amazing foster homes during their recovery period, and our wonderful vet partners, who offer us discounted services in an effort to give back to these animals that need us most. These four pups are enjoying an improved quality of life because generous, animal-loving people like you choose to support Ruff Start. We are so grateful to our wonderful supporters. And don’t forget – any size gift made between now and March 31 will be matched dollar-for-dollar!

Tesha sleeping with cone

An Old Lady’s Story: Tesha the St. Bernard

While I tend to hate small talk about the weather, it’s hard not to discuss what’s going on outside right now. Each week, it seems, snow is building up and clogging main roadways, wind is causing white-out conditions, and cold snaps make going outdoors for more than a quick puppy potty break seem unbearable. Even as I write this, snow is falling and I’m already growing nervous about my drive home at the end of a hard work day.

Wintry conditions make life difficult for animals and people alike, and it’s an exceptionally difficult time to be an animal rescuer. People who are looking for lost pets pray their animals won’t succumb to the elements, animals who live outdoors showcase signs of hypothermia and decline as temps drop, household pets struggle with ‘cabin fever’, and we all wish for the warmth of the sun. In times of such frustration and personal strife, I lean on the story of Old Lady the St. Bernard to bring hope and light to dark, snowy days.


If you haven’t heard Old Lady’s story yet, I’d honestly be a bit surprised. The 10-year-old St. Bernard came to Ruff Start Rescue after being saved from a puppy mill, where – for the entirety of her life – she was kept in a barn with little-to-no human contact. Forced to birth litter upon litter of highly sought after puppies, Old Lady was only given up to rescue when she proved no longer useful to the breeder who kept her in such horrific conditions. The day she came into rescue, she had been freshly shaved on large portions of her body and was so shy she would tremble at small movements. We knew right away she would be a special dog but had no idea how much sadness and pain she had yet to endure on her road to recovery.

As a result of how neglected she was, the second her paws hit some newly-fallen snow on the pavement, she spooked. The sound of the crunch frightened her so much that she ran for her life, causing her foster – who was diligently holding onto her leash – to fall and be dragged before letting go of the leash. Old Lady disappeared into the woods of the Sherburne Wildlife Refuge, leash still attached and dragging.

After 17 days of sporadic sightings, brutally cold temperatures, and multiple attempts to lure her with humane live traps, Old Lady was found by a few people hiking a trail not far from where she disappeared. Her leash had been entangled on a branch while she ran and hid away and, by some sort of miracle, the branch had gotten caught in a heavily wooded area she was attempting to hid in. We partnered with The Retrievers to get her back into the safety of our facility after an hours-long, intensive rescue mission.

After we found Old Lady, stuck in a wooded area.
After we found Old Lady, stuck in a wooded area.
Coaxing Old Lady was very difficult and time-consuming, but Executive Director Azure Davis was able to free her from the tangle.
Coaxing Old Lady was very difficult and time-consuming, but Executive Director Azure Davis was able to free her from the tangle.
Despite taking our time, Old Lady was still terrified of us when we tried to move her. Here our Director of Programs Julie Lessard leads her to freedom.
Despite taking our time, Old Lady was still terrified of us when we tried to move her. Here our Director of Programs Julie Lessard leads her to freedom.

Featured on The, and in both local and international publications, her tale of perseverance and survival quickly became a worldwide phenomenon. Old Lady inspired animal lovers everywhere with her strength and ability to fight for the good life she so rightly deserved and helped raise awareness of the healing powers of hope and love.

While it’s easy to say that Old Lady is a living example of a modern fairytale, her story didn’t tie up quite so nicely in a bow as the papers may have led you to believe. The process of rehabilitation for a neglected animal is long for both animal and human. Puppy mill and hoarding situation survivors especially are almost permanently scarred by their past, either physically or emotionally, and Old Lady is unfortunately no exception.

Caroly and Tesha touching noses

We didn’t know what we were signing up for when we initially said we’d take Old Lady in. We knew that; the rescue is lucky to have amazing fosters who agree to take in these animals regardless of their backgrounds and promise to rehabilitate the best they can. We know high stakes problems like medical and behavioral issues are possible, and we take a risk when we agree to take in an animal whether their history is known or not.

In the case of Old Lady, we’re continuing to learn more about the care she needs to become the best version of herself at 10 years young. To this point, she’s received some of the best care we can provide from both our partner vet clinics as well as her new mom, a Retrievers volunteer who has valuable experience with both St. Bernards and puppy mill dogs and assisted in her high stakes rescue. But her laundry list of issues is still there.

We initially weren’t going to spay Old Lady due to her age and the fact that surgery could be risky, but after several veterinary assessments, we were assured that she could undergo the procedure safely. Since she needed 9 teeth (including all 4 canines) removed anyway and she was healthy enough, she was spayed, effectively ending the possibility that she could be used for breeding purposes again. She also underwent entropion surgery – an eyelid surgery that fixed a persistently bothersome eye problem where her eyelids ‘rolled’ inward and continually scratched/irritated her eyes. She was brought up to date on vaccines, too. To top it all off, during one of her veterinary appointments, it was discovered she had a mammary tumor which was then removed. After days of anxious anticipation for the results, we are happy to report that the tumor was found to be benign and did not show signs of cancer.

Tesha cuddling with blankets

To date, Old Lady the St. Bernard has cost the rescue over $1,000. Despite her celebrity status and ability to capture the hearts of millions, only $200 has been directly donated to her care – leaving quite the deficit for our small but mighty rescue.

While we know she is worth it, we need your help to get Old Lady – now known as Tesha – entirely healthy so her fairytale can complete. Can you help contribute to her rags-to-riches story and allow her to truly live for the first time?

To stay connected with Tesha, visit her Facebook page run by her mom, Carolyn! It’s full of heartwarming updates, including photos and videos of Tesha learning how to be a dog… who is finally loved and respected. You can find her online at

Burned But Brave: Lexi Ann’s Story

I can’t imagine what it would be like to see or feel a fire overtake my entire house. It’s one of my worst fears, actually – especially when I am away from home. The thought of flames engulfing my belongings, ripping down the walls that protect me and my family from the elements… immeasurable heat that has more physical power than I will ever have, mercilessly trying to destroy everything I’ve ever loved.

While this scenario has, for me, never become a reality, it has for others. It happened last week for a family in the greater metro area whose entire house burnt to the ground. It sounds like something that only happens in movies, not real life; but it happened, and there were – as there would be if it happened to you or me – real world consequences, too. While I’ve never met this family, my heart hurts for them when I think about it. That sort of pain is not something I’d wish upon anybody; I can’t imagine how it feels to see everything you worked for and called home collapsing into charred remnants, nothing left to show for your previous life but piles of ashes on ground.

Lexi burned

You might be wondering how, while this is a terribly sad story, this story involves animals. This is where I will tell you that the house that burnt down caught fire with all the animals in the home inside. Two cats, two dogs, a litter of puppies. And as saddening and upsetting as this is already, a spoiler alert for you: most of those animals died. None of them survived, except for one of the dogs. Her name? Lexi Ann.

Lexi was in a plastic kennel in the home when it went up in flames. I can’t fathom what it felt like for her, to feel that gradual heat slip into the room and continue climbing, flames twirling around the kennel she thought she was safe in while she slept. The plastic of the kennel began melting, burning her hair and piercing her skin. This is a horrific thought, yes, but in truth, it’s the only reason she survived and it’s, weirdly, something I am grateful for. After enough of her kennel burnt down into a melted puddle of plastic, Lexi broke free and was able to exit the home, joining her human family outdoors while they all watched the house get taken down by flames. I’ve been told that her family had to physically restrain her from entering the burning home again as she tried to go back into the house to save her puppies, which breaks my heart into a million pieces. All this happened while she bled and blistered from her wounds herself.

In the immediate aftermath of such an awful experience, Lexi was unfortunately in for more. After losing their home and all possessions, Lexi’s family felt emotionally and financially unable to provide her with the care she needed to heal from her wounds. As such, they brought her to a veterinary clinic to euthanize her. Luckily, one of the vet techs at the clinic fell in love with Lexi and asked if she could take the poor dog in instead of putting her to sleep. Lexi’s previous family agreed.

Knowing full well she wouldn’t be able to fund Lexi’s ongoing care herself, the vet tech who saved her precious life reached out to Ruff Start for help. With little hesitation, we said we’d take on her expenses. Most dogs would deserve that sort of a second chance, but this dog was even brave enough to survive a burning building and try to save her own puppies. Who would be more deserving of a chance at an extraordinary life than her?

Lexi in dog cone
Lexi in dog cone
Lexi in dog cone

Now, in rescue, Lexi’s hair – what’s left of it, anyway – is singed and frayed. She has dozens of horrible burns covering her entire body, including her face. She has a large ulcer over one eye. Yet her tail still wags and she is quiet in a kennel, grateful to still be alive and comfortable despite her wounds and the intentions of others.

Right now, Lexi’s first veterinary expenses have totaled $1,100. We have no idea what her upcoming vet bills will entail at this time but I can’t imagine they’ll be cheap. I do know that she is worth it, though, and we will do whatever it takes to make her healthy again. I’d say happy, too, but she seems to be that already.

Please consider helping fund Lexi’s veterinary care. With your help, we will be able to rehabilitate this poor girl and find her a home deserving of her loyalty and love.

We’ll continue to update you about Lexi’s story via email, blog, and the rescue’s social media channels when possible. Her foster family has also created Lexi an Instagram for her journey. You can follow her at @lexi.gets.better.

Rez pups in rough shape

Rez Pups in Ruff Shape

As winter approaches, the number of requests our intake team receives regarding animals in need skyrockets. Strays living in unheated garages during the summer months begin to seek more permanent refuge and local impounds fill with animals brought in by good Samaritans trying to save them from succumbing to frigid temps. Rescue is pretty intensive 365 days a year, granted, but wintertime brings a special stir of crazy to our already buzzing organization.

Some of the things I love most about wintertime – like getting snowed in and cuddling with my pups or starting a new series on Netflix with a glass of wine at the end of a long hard day’s work – involve me getting away from the elements and hiding out indoors. And, when I think about animals in need this time of year, I think about how they don’t have that luxury. Thousands of animals throughout the United States right now are unsafe: unsure of where their next meal will come from, fighting the elements in an attempt to survive each freezing cold night, living off the barren landscape of the Midwest as the snow falls.

The Pine Ridge Parvo Pups

Some of those animals that we know need immediate help during the frigid months are those living on reservations. Ruff Start Rescue works to alleviate the number of stray animals found on local reservations like Mille Lacs in Central Minnesota and partners with LightShine Canine, based in South Dakota, which prides itself on being a “rez dog rescue”. LightShine focuses on rescuing unwanted and stray dogs and cats from the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian Reservations, two reservations that are heavily burdened by abandoned animals in need of a second chance. Over the past few years we have been able to help hundreds of dogs in need of rescue from these poverty-stricken areas but, despite our and our partners’ best efforts, the need is still great.

In honor of that need, I wanted to share a few stories today highlighting two recent rez dog cases we’ve taken in. These pups’ stories showcase what it means for a rescue to be a light in a usually dark place and how we truly do make a difference for these animals that so desperately need us.

n early December, five shepherd-mix pups arrived at Ruff Start, transferred to us from LightShine after being found as strays. Only a few months old and sickeningly adorable, we had no idea of any sort of background on these pups but knew any new arrivals needed to be monitored closely for signs of distress or sickness per our protocols.

After a few days with their new foster, Abner – one of the five – started displaying typical symptoms of a major illness. He was lethargic, had diarrhea, and was vomiting intermittently, among other things. He wouldn’t eat, drink, or do any other typical puppy things like playing or roughhousing. Almost immediately, Abner was taken in to see a veterinarian and tested positive for parvo, a common virus among young puppies that have not received their routine vaccinations yet.

Abner, getting cuddles from his foster mama while sick.
Abner, getting cuddles from his foster mama while sick.
Abner liked to cuddle this toy when he was feeling down.
Abner liked to cuddle this toy when he was feeling down.
any of the supplies the parvo pups’ foster needed to care for them while they were sick.
any of the supplies the parvo pups’ foster needed to care for them while they were sick.

To get him on the road to recovery, we started Abner on symptomatic treatment. We began his care by getting him started on injectable medications at the clinic and then brought him home, where his foster gave him fluids under the skin multiple times each day. When we found he still wasn’t ready to eat, we began force feeding him multiple times each day as well. Quickly after that, we saw his condition improve greatly. After a few days of intensive care by a dedicated foster as well as a loving and committed veterinary team, Abner got to the point he was no longer vomiting, was eating and drinking well on his own, and had a little life in him to even attempt playing!

Shortly after Abner started showing signs of improvement, though, his siblings began exhibiting parvo symptoms as well. Knowing what had worked for Abner, we put his four siblings on the same path to health by getting them started on medications and staying with our partner veterinarian who was closely monitoring their progress. With this supportive but costly care, all of the Pine Ridge Parvo Pups are starting to act like playful puppies again and are on the road to their forever homes!

No matter how down these pups were feeling, they were ALWAYS absolutely adorable.
No matter how down these pups were feeling, they were ALWAYS absolutely adorable.
Don’t worry – these guys have gotten a lot better since this photo was taken.
Don’t worry – these guys have gotten a lot better since this photo was taken.

A Mop Dog from Millie Lacs

Two weeks ago, our intake team received an inquiry regarding a small, intact male dog running around the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation. One of our fosters had seen him wandering the area multiple times and, in an attempt to find his owner, had started asking people in the area if they knew where his home was or if he had any people looking for him. When we followed up, we found out he had also been posted on Lost Dogs MN for over 10 days but no one recognized him or wanted to claim him. With his stray hold over and no one there to claim him, we agreed to try to catch the pup and bring him into rescue.

The foster who had found him saw him running around again and finally attempted to approach him in an effort to get him out of the cold. To her surprise, he happily went up to her, eager to be cared for in what was obviously the first time in awhile.

Wookie, when his foster caught him and brought him into her car.
Wookie, when his foster caught him and brought him into her car.
It was obvious nobody had been caring for Wookie for quite some time, based on his appearance.
It was obvious nobody had been caring for Wookie for quite some time, based on his appearance.

The dog, whose hair was so severely overgrown and matted that he looked like a mop, was named “Wookie” in honor of his messy-haired appearance. His foster worked to get some of the mats out of his fur shortly after bringing him home, getting him groomed and turning him into a completely different dog in the looks department! She also worked on socializing him heavily, bringing Wookie into work with her to capture the hearts of all her coworkers with his friendly personality and handsome grin.

After a good groom, this handsome pup looks like a brand new dog!
After a good groom, this handsome pup looks like a brand new dog!

In just a few short weeks, Wookie has made a complete turnaround from the life he used to live on the rez. While we don’t know much of his background because he was found as a stray, it was obvious he was entirely neglected and, without the concern of the foster who brought him in from the cold, may not have made it through the impending harsh winter. But thanks to Ruff Start, he will be up for adoption shortly and will continue to experience love for the rest of his life.

With your continued help, we’ll be able to help give dogs just like these Christmas miracles all year round. If you can find it in your heart this holiday season, please donate today in honor of these rez dogs who so desperately deserve a second chance – and are getting one thanks to the hard work of our fosters and volunteers.

Mr. Murray

Meet Mr. Murray!

Found as a stray by one of our fosters, Mr. Murray obviously had a pretty rough last few months. When we brought him into rescue, we knew that he had painful wounds on his back and tail – but we didn’t know how bad they were until we could shave him down!

Only a few days after being brought into rescue, Mr. Murray was shaved and put on antibiotics and pain medication. We still aren’t sure how he got such painful wounds – they could be bite wounds from a fight in the wild or ruptured abscesses. Many strays probably have so many stories they could tell us if only we spoke the same language.

Mr. Murray's rough back
Mr. Murray trying to take off cone

Thanks to the heroic efforts of the foster who found him and the quick work of our rescue, Mr. Murray is no longer in pain and is on the mend. Plus, he’s available for adoption just in time for his feature today! Apply to adopt him here:

If you donate today, you are helping animals just like Mr. Murray receive the care they need to start over. Thanks to your generosity, these animals are given the opportunity to heal and find the love and comfort they truly deserve.

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