Two puppies in an outdoor dog house

Winter Warning: Adequate Shelter for Animals in the Cold

This time of year, it’s hard to be an animal lover. From stray cats darting across icy roads to dogs being left outdoors for long periods of time, animal advocates have a lot to be frustrated about when the snow starts to fall.

Like people, animals – especially those that typically spend their nights sheltered from outdoor conditions – are accustomed to the warmth that comes from a roof over their heads. The common misconception that their fur protects them from big threats like frostbite and hypothermia is just that: a misconception.

I personally see cases of animal neglect more often in rural areas. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in more urban areas, but it’s so much more frequent in these areas for a few reasons. There’s an old-school mentality that dogs and cats can survive out in the cold because they have fur, that’s how it’s always been on the farm, that’s just how animals live… you name it. But outside in dangerous weather? It’s a very common form of animal cruelty; the most investigated by police and animal control agencies than any other form of animal abuse, according to the Humane Society of the United States. I most commonly see dogs left outside regardless of the weather – a simple decision that can prove exceptionally fatal on days when the temperature begins to fall.

Proper Outdoor Shelter for your dog winter brochure

Minnesota state law requires you to at least provide a warm, dry shelter and plenty of water and food if you can’t bring your pet indoors during the winter months. Just check out MN Statute 343.40 regarding dog houses. So why do so many animals have to fight to survive the winter when November rolls around?

In my mind, two things: a lack of supervision and education.

According to the MN Statute, the shelter provided to an animal during the winter months needs to be moisture- and wind-proof and be built with solid and durable materials. It must also include a windbreak at the entrance. The floor of the structure needs to be at least 2 inches off the ground, with bedding materials. I recommend using straw as bedding material because of its hollow construction. While hay and blankets are nice in theory, straw retains heat better than either, and is not susceptible to freezing from condensation from the animal’s breath. Hay also breaks down much faster and develops mold more quickly.

It’s true that every animal is different and, depending on the size and breed of the animal, they each need individualized care in the winter. A common myth I’ve seen is that all large-breed dogs can easily handle the cold because of their size, but the fur on a heavily-coated animal like a husky or malamute is much different than that of an american pit-bull terrier, boxer, pointer, etc. Cats, too, are even smaller than dogs, so it’s best to keep them indoors for the entirety of the winter unless they are already accustomed to being barn cats. Even then, it’s important that they have a place to escape the harsh weather with plenty of food and water, as their bodies will work harder and use more energy to regulate their body temperature in the cold.

Cold weather chart for dogs

If you’re unsure of how to tell if an animal needs to come indoors, there are numerous signs that show they’ve been in the cold for too long. The most frequently seen warning signs are the animal curling up into a ball to retain body warmth or holding their feet off the ground in discomfort. Plus, chances are if it’s too cold for a person to go outside, it’s likely animals don’t enjoy it either. If animals must be outdoors, they need to be monitored closely to ensure they do not develop conditions like hypothermia or frostbite.

So, what do you do if you see animals purposely left outside on an extremely cold day? The best thing to do is call law enforcement, so they can be made aware of the issue. Be sure to reference MN Statute 343.30 regarding dog houses if they need supplemental information. From there, law enforcement should contact the owner and discuss things with them. They’ll also be able to issue a warning should the conditions warrant one.

But if the issue is recurring, the next call you place should be to the Animal Humane Society and/or Minnesota Federated Humane Societies, where further action can be taken and law enforcement can issue a citation.

If you see an animal being neglected and left out in the cold, please: speak out. Their owner may no necessarily have sinister intentions and might not realize how much the animal is suffering at their hands, but it’s important to educate them before it’s too late. That phone call may very well save an animal’s life!

Adapted from “Winter not just tough on people” published by Shane Carlson in the Princeton Union-Times on December 12, 2018.



By Sam Sommers

One day, a restaurant full of patrons in South Korea were surprised when a Jindo with no collar or tags trotted inside and circled around the tables just looking for some love (and some snacks). The pup was sweet, but most Koreans are not used to seeing such a large stray dog wandering around, and some people were a little alarmed.

The restaurant owner came out to see what the buzz was all about and immediately recognized the stray as one of the dogs from a nearby dog farm–where dogs are raised like livestock for their meat and fur. This beautiful dog that wandered into the restaurant must have been clever enough to escape from that scary place! Thankfully, the restaurant owner does not believe in serving “gaegogi” (dog meat) and decided to contact a local animal rescue for help.

The volunteers at Last Chance for Korean Dogs gladly stepped up and took the dog in. They named her Rain-Kae or just Rain for short. Rain was spayed, microchipped, vaccinated, and she passed her temperament test with flying colors. Unfortunately, large dogs like Rain cannot be placed in local animal shelters for adoption as they risk being euthanized for space or risk being “adopted” by unsavory people who will turn around and sell them for their meat or their fur.

Thankfully, Ruff Start Rescue was able to help.

Rain in her dog crate

With this rescue commitment, a wonderful, anonymous sponsor paid for Rain’s flight from Seoul to Chicago, where Rain stayed with a temporary foster before making the final trek to Minnesota (thanks to a volunteer driver) and officially into Ruff Start Rescue’s care.

Rain is now in a loving foster home in Minnesota, enjoying daily walks, ear scratches, belly rubs, all the chew toys she could ever want, and romping around in the snow in a large, fully fenced yard.

Rain chewing on her toy
Rain playing in the snow
Rain taking a nap

Over the last 10 years, in partnership with Last Chance for Korean Dogs and other rescue partners such as Save Korean Dogs, Band for Animals, and K9 Global Rescue, Ruff Start Rescue has saved close to 100 dogs from South Korea. Stories like Rain’s are a testament to how it truly takes a village to save these animals, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to offer these dogs the chance of a lifetime—to have a loving forever home here in Minnesota.

A few notes about the dog meat trade:

Yes, eating dogs does happen in certain countries. According to Humane Society International, about 2.5 million dogs are raised in South Korean dog farms each year. About 1 million dogs are killed for their meat or fur, and the rest are used for breeding, or the dogs simply don’t survive due to the farms’ high mortality rate. The numbers are significantly higher in China. In some cases, the conditions of these farms are horrific.

Rain relaxing in bed

Let’s be clear, though… most people in China and Korea do NOT eat dogs, but there are certain times of the year when this becomes more common, such as hot summer days or even certain festivals in more rural parts of these countries. Animal rights activists and rescue groups are doing a fantastic job at spreading the word about these issues, and the numbers of cases are going down.

You can help meat trade dogs by adopting, fostering, volunteering, or donating. To learn more, visit



A freak accident broke this puppy’s neck.

Fresita was playing with another dog and ran into a wall. This collision left her disoriented and in pain. She couldn’t even open her mouth without crying. We brought her to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with a fractured vertebra after a CT scan. Fresita stayed at the clinic over the weekend, immobilized in a neck brace, but she desperately needed surgery. Otherwise, she’d be in tremendous pain for the rest of her life.

Fresita resting on a pillow
Fresita going on a walk
Fresita sitting pretty for the camera

The surgical team at BluePearl used pins, screws, and bone cement to stabilize the C1-2 region of her spine. Her post-op CT scan looks promising, but we’re not out of the woods yet if she’ll make a full recovery. She’s in a splint for extra stabilization as her fracture heals, and she’ll do extensive physical therapy. Fresita has a long road ahead of her.

Despite this challenging injury, Fresita has remained in good spirits and can stand and take a few steps independently. She receives assistance for anything further to prevent falls. If she continues to improve, her gait may return to almost normal.

Fresita’s surgery and post-op care are estimated to reach between $9,000-$11,000. This procedure was very complicated, and we are so grateful we could do whatever it takes to save Fresita from a life of suffering. If you can, please donate to our animal care fund to help Fresita and animals like her.



Poor, poor Petal.

This little one-year-old Chihuahua mix from Texas joined Ruff Start Rescue this past October. We had no idea the road she was about to travel.

Once she arrived at her Minnesota foster home, her new fosters reported that she couldn’t keep any food or water down, and they were distraught. She was taken to one of our partner clinics, where she had x-rays taken. The news was grim. The x-ray showed little. Petal was suffering from megaesophagus and excess tissue surrounding her aortic arch. Megaesophagus is when the esophagus is wider than it should be and doesn’t ‘push’ the food down towards the stomach like it should. The aortic arch issue caused a band of tissue around her esophagus to constrict, exacerbating her megaesophagus.

It was determined that Petal would need surgery to remove the excess band of tissue. But before surgery could happen, the veterinarian needed to do a CT scan to find out which side of her body, the excess tissue was on.

Petal sitting in her dog bed

Once the tissue was located, the surgery took place. They ended up going in through her chest to remove the tissue band surrounding the aortic arch. She spent two days at the vet hospital recovering before heading back to her foster home.

She’s been healing really well from her intense surgery. Usually, dogs that have this procedure end up needing to be on a mush/slush diet for a long time, but Petal is already eating both wet and dry food, although the dry food does need to be softened a little with water. She’ll also need to eat sitting up for the rest of her (hopefully) long life and always eat under the supervision of her humans to prevent choking.

Petal’s bloodwork, CT scan, surgery, and recovery costs totaled $6,000. If you can help this little fighter, please consider donating to our Animal Care Fund. We take in thousands of dogs every year and rely on support from animal advocates like you to do whatever it takes for the dogs, cats, and critters in our care.


Diamond in the Ruff

Before Thanksgiving last year, some staff and volunteers took a trip to Texas to visit our rescue partner Harris County Animal Shelter. No matter how much we know about what life is like for the animals down south, it is always shocking seeing it in person. There are countless animals there with their own stories, but there is one that we need you to know. His name is Diamond.

A young man was hobbling along the sidewalk, heaving this wire crate back and forth. Inside the crate was an exhausted dog, not more than a year old. You could see the fleas jump off of him. His skin was raw from the mange. He was utterly defeated and willing to accept his fate at the shelter.

We couldn’t leave him there. He was our Diamond in the Ruff.

Our partners at Harris County work tremendously hard to get the animals in their care into loving homes, but they are always over-capacity. And a dog like Diamond, with his health issues and training needs due to him living as a feral dog for his whole life, likely wouldn’t have made it out of there alive. They are stricken continuously with that painful decision.

From what we know, Diamond was roaming with a pack of dogs in the countryside in Texas. He struggled to find food, water, and a dry place to sleep. He never felt safe. It is clear to us that Diamond has never lived in a home or experienced love from a family. That all changed when we brought him to Minnesota.

He was placed in a loving foster home that gave him the time he needed to adjust to living indoors and trust that humans can be good. After months of patience, training (with treats, of course), and love, Diamond found his forever family.

There are hundreds of ‘Diamonds’ out there that need our help. We can save more of them with your help. If it’s in your means, please consider making a donation to Ruff Start Rescue this Giving Tuesday.

Ruff Start Rescue 2020 Holiday Gift Guide

Holiday Gift Guide

Want more ways to support the animals at Ruff Start Rescue?

Whether you shop from our online store or through our partners, you can help pets in need while completing your holiday shopping list. Listed below are some of our favorite items. Shop now while supplies last!

Please email with any questions.

For the Pets

Dog harness lead

Harness Lead

Take the worry out of walking your pup with an escape resistant harness lead! We trust these leads with the most scared Rescue pups. Leads come in S/M and M/L sizes and are available in seven colors.

Wisdom Panel Dog DNA Testing Kit

DNA Test

Curious about your pet’s past?

These DNA tests can help unravel a dog’s unique breed history and provide DNA-based insights toward optimizing their overall care and training needs.

Yeowww! Catnip Stocking

Catnip Stocking

Don’t leave your cat out this holiday season! (We know your dog has too many toys to count.) This Yeowww! catnip holiday stocking is guaranteed* to keep your cat’s attention for at least one minute before they find some garbage to play with instead.

*We can’t actually guarantee this. Cats are wildly unpredictable, but we love ’em anyway and look at how cute these are!

For the Humans

"Life's Ruff Up North" Tee Shirt

Life’s Ruff Tee

Life’s ruff. Especially now. Especially up north. Show others how you really feel with our Life’s Ruff up North Tee made with super soft fabric and lots of love. Pair this with your favorite flannel shirt for the perfect midwestern look.

Ruff Start Rescue Crewneck Sweatshirt

Ruff Rescue Crewneck

These crewneck sweatshirts are one of our most popular styles. They are warm, cozy, and lightweight. Perfect for lounging around the house or stepping briefly outside to yell at your dog for chasing a squirrel.

Stocking Stuffers

Ruff Start Rescue Facemask

Face Mask

The pillars of Ruff Start Rescue are adopt, foster, volunteer, donate, educate, advocate, and most importantly, rescue animals! Show the world what you care about with our 3-layer facemask. Sewn and printed in the USA.

Ruff Start Rescue Campfire Mug

Campfire Mug

RSR’s ceramic campfire mugs can handle any beverage. You’ll feel double the love sippin’ on a hot cuppa’ joe when you know that buying one of these helps animals in need! They are dishwasher and microwave safe.

Ruff Portraits

Twin Cities Caricatures

Ruff Start has teamed up with Twin Cities Caricatures to create one-of-a-kind ‘ruff’ portraits of your pride and joy in a traditional drawing or digital art! This artwork is a purr-fect personal gift that helps animals in need just in time for the holidays! Ruff Start receives a portion of each artwork sold. To get yours before Christmas, order by December 15. ⁠

Shop Our Local & National Partners

BarkBox logo

For every new Bark Box subscription, you will receive a discount on your purchase and Ruff Start Rescue will receive a $25 donation.

Chewy logo

If you are a new customer, Chewy will donate $20 back to Ruff Start Rescue from your purchase.

Grounds & Hounds Coffee Company logo

When you use the code RuffStartRescue at checkout you’ll receive 15% off your order. Ruff Start gets 10% from new orders and 5% from recurring orders.

Ranger's Homestyle Fudge! logo

Ruff Start Rescue receives 10% of all sales when you add RUFF to the customer information phone field when purchasing.

Rum River Automotive logo

When you spend $250 with Rum River Auto, you’ll receive a $20 discount and $5 will be donated back to Ruff Start Rescue. When you spend over $500, you’ll receive a $25 discount and $10 will be donated to the Rescue.

Princess and Chip

Princess and Chip

Princess and Chip were ten weeks old and ready to be spayed and neutered at the Rescue’s office in Princeton. But with an exam prior, we discovered that Princess and Chip were blind. You certainly couldn’t tell looking at them. Chip was the runt of the litter but would still run and play – although clumsily, while Princess had gorgeous icy blue eyes and seemingly got around just fine. We were all shocked, including their foster parents, Mary and Matt, who are veteran rez (reservation) dog fosters.

During their appointment with an eye specialist, Mary sat on the floor, holding Princess’s paw with Chip by her side. When they got the news that Princess and Chip had congenital retinal detachment, Mary was shocked and devastated.

Their retinas couldn’t surgically reattach, and they were both destined to have painful glaucoma, with Chip already suffering from it at a few months old. It was an agonizing decision, but the best option for Chip and Princess long-term was to remove their eyes. Mary and Matt said goodbye to the faces they were so familiar with and prepared themselves for a challenging recovery post-op.

Princess and Chip, with their foster sibling before their procedure.
Princess and Chip, with their foster sibling before their procedure.

With supplies, medication, and emotional support from RSR staff and volunteers, the couple tended to every whimper and excruciating howl that exited Princess and Chip’s mouths. The puppies didn’t understand what was happening. They couldn’t hear or smell while wearing their cones, which they heavily relied on to function. 

Princess and Chip, with their foster sibling before their procedure.
Princess and Chip, with their foster sibling before their procedure.

While Matt and Mary were seasoned caregivers for pets with special needs, this was something that they hadn’t experienced as they looked at their beloved foster puppies with big stitches where their eyes used to be. As they persevered, keeping the puppies comfortable, they knew without a doubt that this would be the best outcome for the rez puppies.

The couple quickly realized that Chip and Princess belonged in their home as part of their family. They have four other rez dogs and one international dog that already took in the puppies as their own. The pack was just waiting for Mary and Matt to catch on.

Princess, months after her surgery.
Princess, months after her surgery.
Chip, months after his surgery.
Chip, months after his surgery.
Princess and Chip working on obedience training.
Princess and Chip working on obedience training.

Finding the perfect fit

Princess and Chip fit in seamlessly like it was meant to be, giving each other confidence as they live their lives without sight. They have a whole acre of fenced-in yard to play in, a pile of toys to shred, and a pack of dogs to show them the ropes of being top-notch pups. Having them stay just made sense for Matt and Mary.

Chip tilts his head back and forth, and Princess’s ears straighten even further when the couple sings to them. Plus, Princess and Chip are the best students in their puppy classes, where they get weird looks, but their upbeat attitudes quickly dampen that. Mary and Matt put in a lot of effort and tears caring for Princess and Chip with the help of Ruff Start Rescue. They could lean on each other and experienced a bond they weren’t expecting through caring for them. More often than not, we see that fostering impacts people as much as it does pets in need.

Princess and Chip with their foster parents.

Ruff Start’s mission is to save the lives of at-risk animals, and we’ve done just that since 2010, saving over 14,000 in need. Please join us in this life-saving work by donating! Your support makes saving dogs like Chip & Princess possible.

Why We Do What We Do at Ruff Start Rescue

Why We Do What We Do, by Azure Davis

Mission Statement: Ruff Start Rescue is dedicated to saving the lives of at-risk animals. We also collaborate, communicate, and educate about the importance of animal rescue and welfare.


Vision Statement: We strive for a world where every companion animal has a safe and loving forever home.

Since I founded the rescue in 2010, our mission and vision statements have continually flooded my thoughts. Ruff Start has remained vigilant to those sentences throughout its existence, something I am wholeheartedly proud of every single day. Now, ahead of Give to the Max Day, I wanted to remind you just how we showcase our mission and vision every single day.

How Does Ruff Start Fulfill its Mission?

We show up for animals that need us.

Each year, over 625,000 animals are euthanized in the United States, according to Best Friends Animal Society. (By my estimation, that number is extremely low, considering not every shelter reports their data to Best Friends at this time. If I were to guess, I’d guess the more realistic figure is closer to 1 million or more.) These pets are usually healthy, highly adoptable animals who are lost due to overpopulation, spatial restraints, and other completely avoidable reasons. Ruff Start shows up for these animals: we save, on average, eight animals a day and have rescued over 14,500 since I founded the rescue ten years ago.

Jackie-O before, rescued June 2020
Jackie-O before, rescued June 2020.
Jackie-O after, now known as Tater Tot
Jackie-O after, now known as Tater Tot.

We give people an opportunity to use their passion to change the world.

With the help of hundreds of volunteers and fosters, Ruff Start has placed thousands of animals with families who will love them while literally saving innocent lives in the process. These volunteers and fosters have all come together to form a tight-knit community dedicated to creating a better world for animals. Without Ruff Start, the ability to give back to the animals – their cause of choice – would not exist, and thousands of families would be without their favorite furry and feathered family members.

Rosie before, rescued July 2020
Rosie before, rescued July 2020.
Rosie after, in her foster home turned forever home
Rosie after, in her foster home turned forever home.

We educate those who will eventually create a drastic change in animal welfare.

Education is one of my biggest passions, because guiding people to do what’s right is the only way we will build a better world for animals. Ruff Start’s education committee frequently presents to people of all ages, teaching them the importance of our life-saving work – especially focused on children, because they will one day grow up to be the future generation of animal rescuers.

Kittee before, rescued August 2020
Kittee before, rescued August 2020.
Kittee after, in her foster home
Kittee after, in her foster home.

We serve as a resource for both people AND pets.

Between our consistent donations to local food pantries, the ability to provide veterinary care for community cats through our trap-neuter-return program and the capability to take in both stray and owned animals, we are proud to help both people AND pets.

Pepper before, rescued August 2020
Pepper before, rescued August 2020.
Pepper after, in her foster home
Pepper after, in her foster home.

While animal rescue and welfare have dramatically improved since Ruff Start first launched, our work is not done. We won’t stop until there are no longer animals that need us; until children no longer need educating; until laws that punish animal abuse and neglect are strong, enforceable, and standard. We still have so much work to do. And we can’t do it without your help.

This Give to the Max Day, I urge you to remember Ruff Start.

Remember how we’ve lived our mission and vision since day one.

Remember how we’ve navigated this pandemic, despite losing our entire year’s worth of event revenue, with grace and strength, and have saved more lives than ever before.

Remember how each year, we raise 20% of our veterinary expenses on this day alone, and build next year’s budget based on one special day’s donations.

Remember how much good we do every single day for animals like RosieKitteeJackie-O, and thousands of others who rely on us for a shot at a life worth living.

Remember how much we need you and your donations to continue this lifesaving work.

Stevie, Fetty, and Chuck

Stevie, Fetty, and Chuck

Three kittens remained from a forgotten litter with their mom nowhere in sight. They meowed helplessly, crawling through grass and mud, unable to see. Their bodies slowly became dehydrated and malnourished as they tried to survive while battling terrible upper respiratory infections. The four-week-old kittens didn’t have much time left.

The kittens’ first night indoors.
The kittens’ first night indoors.

Thankfully, a friend of Ruff Start found the kittens just in time. They immediately received medical attention, but our team wasn’t sure if their eyes would improve. Stevie, Fetty, and Chuck were finally safe and cared for in a foster home. Unfortunately, the infection ravaged the boys’ eyes.

Despite medical treatment, we couldn’t save Stevie’s eyes while Fetty lost one eye, but you wouldn’t believe how resilient these kittens are. After the antibiotics, ointment, and surgeries corrected the wrongs that these kittens endured, they turned into “super cuddly purr machines,” according to their foster. It didn’t take them long to adjust either. Now they are as healthy and feisty as ever. Fetty is in his new home, but Stevie and Chuck are bonded and available for adoption on our website

Stevie and Fetty post-op.
Stevie and Fetty post-op.
Stevie and Chuck snuggling on a scratching board.
Stevie and Chuck snuggling on a scratching board.
Stevie stalking his Golden Retriever foster sibling.
Stevie stalking his Golden Retriever foster sibling.

We’re hoping to raise $100,000 on Give to the Max Day this Thursday, November 19, to offset the roughly $500,000 in vetting costs we’re set to incur by the end of this year. We’ll continue doing whatever it takes to help animals in need. Please join us in this life-saving work by donating! Your support makes saving kittens like these possible.



The seven-month-old pup couldn’t open her mouth more than an inch, making eating, drinking, and playing nearly impossible. We’re not sure how long she experienced this discomfort, and the cause is unknown, but it’s likely a miracle she’s made it this far. Rainy needed jaw surgery as soon as possible to improve her quality of life.

Thankfully, we knew who to call.

The procedure is complicated and requires special care, but Dr. Jackson, with BluePearl, is a pro, which eased our worries. He removed part of her mandible and zygomatic arch, less than what he was expecting to do. Rainy stayed the night at the clinic to make sure all was well before she returned home.

Can you imagine the relief she felt opening her jaw all the way and smiling for the very first time?

Rainy followed a strict physical therapy regimen post-op to avoid any complications, although Rainy’s body seems entirely made of Energizer bunnies. Keeping her still was a challenge, but otherwise, she recovered well and is ready to live her life to the fullest.

Rainy smiling in her e-collar

Every day, Ruff Start changes the lives of animals like Rainy. A dog who may not have lived much longer had her condition not been treated. We need your help to continue this life-saving work. This Thursday, November 19, we’re fundraising for Give to the Max Day with a goal of $100,000! We hope you’ll join us and help us reach our goal.

Ruff Start Rescue