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.

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.

Animals we saw during our trip to Texas

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Photo Courtesy of Nicole Haugen, Nicole Ashley Photography

Me & my Texas boy, Lance, who joined Ruff Start Rescue from Harris County Animal Shelter in Houston, Texas.

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.

Want to help animals in need? We are always in need of fosters, adopters, donors, 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!

*Note: Best Friends Animal Society defines no-kill as a 90% or higher live release rate (e.g., adoption). BFAS  is compiling data from multiple shelter agencies nationwide to form the country’s first comprehensive no-kill map, detailing save rates that can be broken down from nation to state to community to specific shelter. Only 55% of local shelters in Minnesota have given data to Best Friends at this time, skewing the actual number of animals saved in MN each year.