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.

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.

The Pine Ridge Parvo Pups

In 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.

Many of the supplies the parvo pups’ foster needed to care for them while they were sick.

Abner liked to cuddle this toy when he was feeling down.

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.

Don’t worry – these guys have gotten a lot better since this photo was taken.

A Mop Dog from Mille 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.

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!


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.