It all started with Hope.

Our History began in January 2010, Azure Davis was a 23-year-old studying business at a local university when she saw a dog named Hope living in a shelter in Ohio. Hope, a pitbull mix, was heartworm positive, extremely emaciated, and nearly out of time. Feeling a tug in her heart, Davis knew she needed to act quickly to save Hope’s life.

Hope being received from air transportation

Davis told the Ohio-based shelter that she would take Hope in as part of a newly developed rescue in Central Minnesota. She then contacted Pilots N Paws, first arranging ground transportation from Ohio to Illinois and then air transportation from Illinois to the Princeton, MN airport. Once the plane touched the ground, Ruff Start Rescue had officially taken in its first rescue dog.

Despite her condition, Hope arrived in Minnesota in good spirits. She was placed immediately in with a foster family who showered her with the love and attention she needed to heal. After watching her miraculous transformation, her foster family decided she was already home and adopted her shortly after she became healthy. 


Since its inception, Ruff Start has made large strides as the sole resource for animal welfare and rescue in its hometown of Princeton, MN. The rescue quickly outgrew its primary residence – a small office space in downtown Princeton – and decided it was time to move on to bigger and better things to better accommodate its volunteers, fosters, and staff members.

In 2018, we made the leap by purchasing a 5,400 sq. ft. facility. This facility has become our new home over the last several years, housing a veterinary suite, onsite grooming station, storage for foster animal supplies, and adequate office space for staff. Learn more about our current facility.

Hope was the first companion animal saved by Ruff Start Rescue in our history, inspiring the rescue of over 25,000 animals since she touched down in Minnesota in 2010. The rescue also provided a gateway to a career for Davis, who still acts as the rescue’s Founder and Executive Director. Under her exhilarating leadership, Ruff Start has emerged as a figurehead of the Central Minnesota animal welfare community and has served as the Princeton area’s sole non-profit 501c3 animal rescue organization since July 2010. Learn more about our history below.

Our History

The Story Of Hope


Founding: Azure Davis founded Ruff Start Rescue in March 2010 with a passion for saving animals and an initial budget of $26,800.

Early Success: By the end of 2010, the rescue had saved 146 animals with about 13 animals in care at any given time.

The First Office


First Employee: Azure became the first paid staff member, operating out of a 600-square-foot office.

Office Expansion


Office Expansion: Ruff Start expanded to a total of 1,200 square feet by acquiring additional office space.

Setting Roots


Wellness Clinic: Held the first Dog and Cat Wellness Clinic, providing discounted veterinary care to 129 pets.

Education Program: Launched a program to educate the younger generation on animal care, compassion, and responsibility.

Foster Network Growth: Reached 224 foster homes.

Hitting Our Stride


Volunteer Milestone: Reached 100 approved volunteers in March.

Record Intakes and Adoptions: Brought in over 1,000 animals, with 1,072 intakes and 1,113 adoptions.

Spay/Neuter Program: Started offering low-cost feline spay/neuter services, later expanding to free services for neighboring counties and feral cats.



New Office: Purchased a new 5,400-square-foot office building, moving in 2017.

Community Support: Began donating pet food to local food shelves.

Setting Plans


Staff Growth: Grew to eight paid employees.

Grant Support: Received a $25,000 grant for low-income and free cat spay/neuter surgeries.

Partnership: Began a partnership with Villalobos Rescue Center (Pitbulls & Parolees).



Certification: Achieved Service Enterprise Certification, which continued through 2020.

Education Impact: Reached 1,000 people through the Education Program by June.

TV Feature: Featured on an episode of Pitbulls and Parolees in August with Hilda the Miracle Dog.

Reaching Milestones


Volunteer Engagement: Had 500 approved volunteers by January.

Vetting Services: Started performing own vetting services.

Rescue Rebuild: Partnered with Greater Good Charities to build cat spaces.

Revenue Milestone: Surpassed $1,000,000 in revenue.

Adoptions: Achieved over 2,000 adoptions, with a total of 2,016.

For the good of the Animals


TNR Surgeries: Began offering TNR (trap-neuter-return) surgeries.

Major Grant: Received a $100,000 grant from Pedigree for dog adoptions and launched new adoption support services.

Wellness Clinic: Hosted a clinic serving 502 animals.

Setting records


Record Intakes: Reached the highest intake number in March with 351 animals.

Trademark Program: Trademarked the Lone Star to North Star Rescue Relief Program.

Transport Van: Purchased the first transport van for the Texas-Minnesota program.

Adoption Record: Hit the highest monthly adoption number with 351 in December, exceeding 3,000 yearly adoptions for the first time.

Foster Network: Grew to 1,081 approved foster homes.

Recognition: Azure received the “Young Professional of the Year” award from the Elk River Chamber of Commerce.

Volunteer Network: Ended the year with 900 approved volunteers.



Rebrand: Underwent a rebrand with a new logo and website.

Surgery Shuttle: Launched the foster surgery shuttle for better vetting transport.

Revenue Growth: Achieved $2,000,000 in revenue for the first time.

Awards and Partnerships


Small Business Award: Named “Small Business of the Year” by the Elk River Chamber of Commerce.

Arkansas Partnership: Partnered with Best Friends Arkansas to transport dogs to Minnesota.

Grants: Secured a $15,000 Pedigree grant for a shuttle driver and an additional $5,000 grant for onboarding new fosters.

Biggest Year Yet


Staff Expansion: Grew to 36 paid staff members (half full-time, half part-time).

Animal Rescues: Saved 3,296 dogs, cats, and critters.

Community Giveback Day: Donated over 2,500 pounds of pet food and 4,200 items.

Fundraising Success: Raised over $220,000 on Give to the Max Day.

TNR Program: Altered 116 feral and community cats.

Ruff Start Rangers: Launched an education program to promote responsible pet ownership among youth.

Foster Network: Reached 1,396 approved foster homes.

Special Events: Participated in puppy parties with Ed Sheeran’s touring crew and the Minnesota United soccer team.

Ruff Start Rescue