Friday, November 25, 2011

Why we gave Thanksgiving to the dogs

RedRover Responders volunteers in Hot Springs, Arkansas are happily spending their Thanksgiving holiday caring for the dogs and pups rescued from a puppy mill.

Kevin Boyle, from Dallas, Texas, gave up Thanksgiving at home because, “I have a simple love animals.” Taking care of animals who have been so let down by humans drives these RedRover Responders.
RedRover Responders volunteers give this rescued Chihuahua some special care this Thanksgiving.

After yet another long day tending to the rescued dogs, volunteer Dyann Solsar said, “This is the hardest job you’ll ever love. It can be exhausting, but you feel like you are doing something.”

Volunteer Debra Hutcherson, from Larue, Texas, worked tirelessly to provide the highest level of care for the dogs – feeding, keeping their kennels clean and dry, and providing love and comfort. Giving up time with family and friends during this Thanksgiving week is a sacrifice – but Debra knew that she would not be alone. “I choose to be around people who can and will make a difference.”

175 dogs and tiny puppies could not be more thankful that Debra and the other RedRover Responders made that very same choice this Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thankful to be Safe

Thanksgiving week, RedRover Responders volunteers are at it again – this time in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where earlier this month, Garland County law enforcement raided a breeding operation known as Happy Times Kennel and retrieved 175 dogs and puppies. The ASPCA, which assisted with the investigation and initial sheltering effort in conjunction with Garland County officials and other animal groups, reported that Chihuahuas, West Highland terriers, Boston terriers, pomeranians and dachshunds were living in their own filth in substandard conditions. Many dogs have skin infections and flea infestations; some have open sores. Dead puppies were found with live puppies. Some of the dogs needed to be immediately transferred to emergency veterinarians for treatment. After all that these dogs have been through, we’re thankful that all of them are safe now and receiving RedRover’s tender loving care this Thanksgiving.

By the end of the week, RedRover will have deployed more than a dozen volunteers. The dogs will get their medical needs tended to, and will get to experience positive interaction with people who care. Each volunteer will work 10 to 12 hour days to ensure that the pups have clean housing, fresh water and healthful food, and the other care they need to recover and thrive.

To stay on top of the dogs’ progress during the week, if you’re a Twitter user, follow @RedRoverBeth. RedRover’s Emergency Services Manager, Beth Gammie, is on-site and will be tweeting throughout the week.

We don’t know how long these dogs have been living in these conditions, but we can imagine that for many, it has been the same neglect, day after day, year after year. For these dogs, we can’t wait to make this Thanksgiving their first truly special one.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Meet the Rowan County RedRover Responders Volunteers

Submitted by RedRover Responders volunteer Tracy J. Clark of Cookeville, Tennessee

For the last week of October, RedRover Responders volunteers are on assignment in Rowan County, Kentucky providing care and shelter for a population of approximately 120 small breed dogs and puppies who were recently seized in a puppy mill raid at the mobile home of a local dog breeder. Due to the pending legal case, we simply cannot at this time share any photographs of the sweet and wonderful dogs on site. But instead, let's introduce you to a few fellow RedRover Responders volunteers who are keeping this shelter sparkling clean and their charges happy, well-fed and learning about love.

Our more-than-capable On Site Team Leader is Andy Bass. Andy hails from Florida where, if they make a hat for it, he wears it! One of Andy’s greatest contributions and a fantastic asset to our team is his willingness to shift on the fly and jump in wherever he is needed. Flexibility, understanding and strength are key to being a good leader and in these and more, Andy is unflappable. Whether escorting a critical care critter to the emergency veterinarian, climbing an I-beam to raise a tarp wall divider to control shelter temperatures, or taking the time out to recognize his team's contributions and sing their praises, Andy is the man for the job. His skill with the animals, his vast amount of experience and his natural easy-going personality have made this deployment as smooth and gentle as warm tropical breeze...regardless of the temperature!

Checking our current list of volunteers on site you'll find Jodi Jenkins, a social worker and hospice care volunteer from Bardstown, Kentucky. Living relatively close to where this seizure occurred and her great love of animals was all the enticement that Jodi needed to deploy. Jodi's partner is carrying the full weight of home responsibilities in Jodi's absence, including caring for the 14-year-old love of their lives, Morgan, whose feeding regime alone takes more than an hour due to his advanced age, special diet and medications. And this isn't the first time Jodi has deployed! In fact, this is her 5th deployment for RedRover. Past responses included the Indiana puppy mill response , Tennessee puppy mill rescue 2011 Arizona hoarding rescue 2011 and North Dakota flooding 2011. And if you don't recognize her name, you'll be sure to recognize her picture. The photograph of Jodi carrying a terrified Bischon Frise out of the horrendous conditions of the Lewisburg, Tennessee puppy mill and into care from February 2011 has graced both the RedRover website and the newsletter.

RedRover Responders volunteer Gary Gray has been around the block a time or two--the deployment block, that is! Gary hails from Nashville, Tennessee where he is a "full time, except Fridays" volunteer for the Office of Veterans Affairs. Gary and his wife share their home with their baby and best friend, a lynx cat. Having also responded to the Indiana puppy mill response amongst others, Gary knows his way around a shelter setup. And being physically challenged does not stop this energetic, happy volunteer with his ready smile, extra large heart and compassionate soul from doing what he loves most: caring for animals in need. "There are plenty of things to be done that don't require crawling on your knees and into a crate," Gary says, and he's right. You should see this man cradle a tiny dachshund in his arms, providing the loving touch and socialization so critical to the enrichment of these starved creatures. It's humbling and beautiful.

New to the scene is Barbara Horvath, a microbiologist from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Leaving behind her husband to care for hearth and home (and her two Labrador babies!), Barb had to use her vacation days from work to be able to deploy and experience firsthand the hard work, yet amazingly rewarding experience it is to be an accomplished RedRover Responders volunteer! So what made Barb put her busy life on hold and be one of the first to say "Yes!" when this deployment request came through? The answer, plain and simply, is her love of animals.

Another first time volunteer here in Rowan is Brian Thomas, an IT networking specialist from Canton, Ohio. Although Brian had been a long time member who received his RedRover volunteer training in Dayton, Ohio, Brian found that work obligations, a beloved special needs cat companion and "timing" just made responding to a request impossible. With a broken heart after losing his dear kitty just two weeks ago, Brian knew this time was right. Brian described his decision to come on this deployment as being uplifting, knowing that he now had the time to dedicate himself to other animals in need.

Fran Daily, an Office Supply Deliveryman from Prince William, Virginia had to break his little granddaughter's heart when he tugged her from his knee and kissed her goodbye to deploy to Rowan County. Leaving Becky, his wife of 26 years, his children and his granddaughter wasn't easy for this first time RedRover Responders volunteer. But when Becky said, "You need to do what you love," Fran knew this was where he needed to be. Since setting up a functional shelter is already part of his responsibilities for the Prince William Emergency Shelter (PWES) where he volunteers, Fran knows that the experience he gains on-site here, working with the dogs and participating in a full rescue effort, will serve him greatly in his local volunteer work for PWES.

Barbara Marrow is a "semi-retired" museum consultant from Cincinnati, Ohio. When not volunteering at her local museum you can find Barb working to save animals with her Tri-State County Animal Response Team. When asked, Barbara said that the biggest factor in joining the team on this particular deployment was not only because it is relatively close to home, but that she was finally "ready." Although this amazingly active RedRover Responders volunteer has before deployed on five other assignments (including two large animal rescues, a puppy mill raid and a natural disaster), Barb's involvement had to take a backseat for the last nine months after having been diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. Barb's concern about coming back? Only that she might slow the pace of her fellow volunteers, which I assure you was NOT the case--we could hardly keep up! Barbara is a true inspiration to us all.

There are three other hard-working volunteers who are on-site to care for the Rowan County pups. Maybe you can meet them in a later post!

Me? I'm Tracy J. Clark (currently unemployed which leaves me plenty of time for my passions: animal rescue/transporter/foster and acting) and I come from Cookeville, Tennessee. This is my second deployment for RedRover after taking training in 2009 in Nashville. Patiently waiting for me at home is my saint of a husband, Bob, our four fur kids, my brother and dad. I respond to requests for deployments because, like all of us, I cannot say no to an animal in need and deploy whenever possible. Working toward eradicating puppy mills, ending dog fighting and saving animals from hoarding conditions is a personal goal and one I'm 100 percent committed to. Without proper training, none of that would be possible so I can only thank RedRover for making the volunteer experience as rewarding for us as it is for our charges.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sheltering Dogs in Kentucky

This week, a team of 11 RedRover Responders volunteers traveled from six states to Kentucky to assist the ASPCA and the Rowan County Animal Shelter with 118 dogs rescued earlier this month from a breeding operation.

Volunteer Team Leader Andy Bass drove more than 1,000 miles from his home in Florida to lead the RedRover Responders team, which is scheduled to lead the sheltering effort for one week. Since Monday morning, the team has been hard at work cleaning cages, feeding the dogs, taking care of moms and puppies, and monitoring the maternity ward. Andy brought in some toys for enrichment for the dogs. The team's goal is to make the emergency shelter as safe, calm and pleasant as possible for the animals while the case moves through the court system.

News reports described the situation the dogs came from as disturbing, and described mainly small breeds such as Chihuahuas, Pekingese, miniature pinschers, papillons, dachshunds and schnauzers stacked on top of each other in cages or kept in wire cages with pull out trays beneath them. According to news reports, the dogs were found in unsanitary conditions amidst dead rats, dirty water bowls, feces and urine, and many are suffering from parasites, dental disease, dehydration, matting and abnormal skin, ears and eyes. The owner of the dogs pleaded not guilty to 46 counts of animal cruelty on Monday.

Because of the sensitivity of the legal case, photos of the animals are not available at this time.

Andy reported that despite the long hours and endless scrubbing, the volunteers' attitudes are upbeat and focused on providing quality care for the animals. "I just could not be more proud of the team and how well they are doing," said Andy. "They have stepped up to make a difference in a difficult situation."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Great Virginia City Cat Rescue

RedRover Responders volunteers are in Virginia City, Nevada to assist in the rescue of over a dozen cats whose owner passed away last week.

Dubbed "Pumpkin" by RedRover Responders volunteers, this 6 year old female is going up for adoption from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Silverland Inn & Suites in Virginia City.
Volunteers arrived on Monday to assist the Nevada Humane Society with the removal of the cats from the dilapidated building where they had lived for the past 11 years. Locating the cats among the clutter and debris in the home was a challenge. Volunteers wore gloves, masks and booties to protect themselves from contamination as they coaxed the cats one by one from their hiding places behind wall panels and underneath floorboards.

RedRover Responders volunteers helped rescue over a dozen cats from this tumbledown structure.
The cats rescued that day were taken to Reno where they were treated, spayed and neutered, vaccinated and microchipped by the Nevada Humane Society. RedRover set up a temporary shelter in the basement space generously provided by the Silverland Inn & Suites where the cats would recover. Volunteers were ready to care for the cats when they returned – feeding them, cleaning the cages, and providing plenty of attention and love.

Beth Gammie, Emergency Services Manager for RedRover, checks on the rescued cats as they await transport to their temporary shelter.
Adoption events are being held daily at the Silverland Inn & Suites from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. RedRover Responders volunteers will be on site to answer any questions and complete the adoption process. Kimberly Chandler, Marketing Manager for the Nevada Humane Society and member of the rescue team said, “It would be a lovely tribute to the cats’ deceased owner if every cat can be adopted back into the community.”

If you can help with this rescue effort by donating, volunteering, or adopting, call Kimberly Chandler with the Nevada Humane Society at 775-856-2000, ext. 324. Donations and support for the RedRover Responders program can be made on our website at

Learn more about the cat rescue in Virginia City:

Friday, September 30, 2011

RedRover Responders Wrap Up in Quebec

Over 40 RedRover Responders volunteers helped set up and operate the emergency shelter in LaChute, Quebec, to care for over 500 dogs and puppies seized from a large-scale breeding operation. On Sunday, September 25, RedRover demobilized, and Humane Society International (HSI) Canada continued the care of the rescued animals.

HSI-Canada relied extensively on the hard work and expertise of the RedRover Responders. Rebecca Aldworth, Executive Director of HSI-Canada said, "I've never worked with such professional, dedicated, and hardworking volunteers. It was truly inspiring to work in their presence. More than 500 dogs owe their lives and well-being to the RedRover volunteers." Rebecca added that she hopes to work with RedRover Responders again in the future.

As of this date, the court case against the owners and operators of the breeding operation is pending. However, Rebecca Aldworth said, "I am very confident about the case, and optimistic we can get each of these dogs into a home."

Because the court case is pending, the information that can be released about the animals is limited. However, there was some good news we can share -- the shipment of Kuranda dog beds, donated by Jamieson Laboratories, arrived at the shelter. Each one of the dogs now has his or her own bed -- providing comfort and support, as well as getting the dog off the ground. While some dogs eyed them warily -- possibly never having seen or lain on a bed before -- others hopped in right away. Rebecca Aldworth said, "The big dogs hopped onto them and really enjoy them."

Volunteers returning home from this deployment are reflecting on their experiences. For volunteer Jennifer Rose, from Winchester, Ontario, this was her first deployment. It was especially meaningful to her as she was aware of the particular breeding operation from which the dogs were rescued.

While regretting the need for such a deployment, Jennifer said, "I loved every minute of it. It was a very good experience." The physical labor was exhausting, and the experience was "emotional." Additionally, the sheer numbers of animals was a revelation to Jennifer. "I don't think anyone can imagine what 537 dogs is really like," she said. "It's hard to fathom that many animals," she said, and the amount of work it takes to care for them.

This was volunteer Ruth Garretson's first deployment in Canada. Ruth, who is from Virginia, loved the chance to work with Canadian volunteers. "I thought they were wonderful, and amazingly hard workers."

Volunteer Brenda Bunn, from Peterborough, Ontario, fell for a younger Keeshond during her deployment. "I'd talk to him, but he'd turn his head away -- he was too nervous." Brenda continued her efforts to socialize the young dog throughout her time at the shelter. When moving the dog up to a higher kennel, Brenda tried again, and said to him, "What do you think, should we move you up to a room with a view?" Brenda said, "He turned and looked at me and smiled. My heart just melted. This is why we do what we do."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Considering the hours

Today has been more of the same 1,000 kilometers-per-hour pace of feeding, cleaning, monitoring and more to keep the rescued dogs comfortable and safe. One news article (below) reported yesterday that 90 puppies -- and counting -- have been born at the temporary emergency shelter since the dogs' rescue. It's hard to imagine keeping track of all those pregnant mamas, nursing mamas, delivering mamas... and all their darling bundles of joy.

The breakneck pace that RedRover Responders volunteers are keeping just to keep up with the basic needs and comforts of these animals is especially mindboggling when compared with most commercial breeding conditions.  We don't know how many employees were caretaking these animals before they were rescued, but it was allegedly inadequate.

What we do know is that there have been anywhere from 12 to 22 RedRover Responders volunteers on-site each day along with community volunteers, working from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Using an average of 15 volunteers per day and an 11 hour workday, you can estimate that it would take 1,155 hours per week to provide our standard of basic care to these dogs, or the equivalent of 28 full time staff. That only amounts to about two hours per dog. Would your dog tolerate only two hours of attention each

Links to news updates:

Montreal Gazette: Seized kennel puppies get their bark back
All 527 Dogs seized near Ottawa to be offered for adoption after inspection reports 90 puppies - and counting - born to dogs seized from Quebec kennel

According to the above link, if you would like to volunteer or adopt a dog, email with the subject line "interested in volunteering with dogs" or "interested in adopting a dog." Volunteers and potential adoptees in the Montreal area are most needed at this time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

We'll take our puppy kisses to go, please

Deployments are always physically challenging. The very nature of the work we do -- temporary emergency animal sheltering -- means lots of bending and lifting and scrubbing and walking. Repeat until done. Then do it again the next day. It is exhausting work, but the reward of helping the helpless makes it worthwhile.

This deployment is a particularly busy and physically demanding one. Even with the largest team of RedRover Responders volunteers deployed so far in 2011, volunteers are feeling the pressure of taking care of 545 dogs and counting. A total of 35 RedRover Responders volunteers have deployed so far, and there will be at least 5 more RedRover Responders volunteers deployed before our team is through. A large contingent of volunteers are from the Montreal area, and others have traveled from Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Maryland, Virginia and Ontario. The RedRover Responders volunteer team is acting as the main sheltering crew, with some help from local shelter affiliates.

By this stage in the deployment, day 6, volunteers would normally blog about the individual animals and their personalities, and tell their stories. However, with the huge number of animals that RedRover Responders volunteers are caring for, the day is so long and so full of moment-to-moment activity that volunteers simply haven't had the time to revel in puppy kisses and develop favorite animals, let alone sit down and write their stories.

The volunteers' focus, as always, is on giving the dogs the best care they can receive in the temporary shelter environment. Starting on the first evening the dogs arrived after their long trek from the breeding operation, litters of puppies are being born at the shelter, making the total number of dogs a moving target. All the nursing moms require extra attention to make sure they are eating and getting the support they need to care for their litters. Older puppies are carefully introduced to soft, solid food as they become ready. The work demands attention to detail, and on a large scale.

A press conference was held today, and some updates have been published in the media:
Thank you RedRover Responders volunteers, once again you are doing an amazing job in a challenging situation, making the best of the available resources and keeping the animals' needs first.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Low on Sleep, High on Puppy Kisses

RedRover Responders volunteers haven't gotten much sleep for the past few days. After volunteers spent a couple days setting up the temporary emergency animal shelter to prepare for the criminal seizure of more than 500 dogs from a breeding operation in Quebec, the first truck from the field rescue team arrived around 3:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. More than 20 RedRover Responders volunteers set to work unloading about 150 dogs and getting them settled into their new digs at the emergency shelter, complete with dry bedding, clean water and fresh food.
Unloading the first truckload of 150 dogs at 3:30 a.m.
Photo courtesy Kathy Milani/The HSUS

As each truckload of dogs came in, the unloading continued. Volunteers noticed the dogs suffered from skin and respiratory problems, and were also struck by the variety of the breeds present – from Chihuahuas to Great Danes. The work continued well into the wee hours of the morning before volunteers finally were able to get a few hours’ rest. Then, they got up in the morning and went right back to work. Exhaustion is just a little easier to bear when the volunteers know that more than 150 young puppies and more than 350 older dogs will be there to greet them at the shelter, eager to receive the volunteers’ loving care.

A RedRover Responders volunteer snuggles an armful of puppies.
Photo courtesy Kathy Milani/The HSUS
 See news reports here:
The investigation is a joint effort between Humane Society International Canada and provincial and local authorities.

Learn more about puppy mills on RedRover's website.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Florida cats one step closer to their forever homes!

Submitted by RedRover Responders volunteer Beth Gammie of Tallahassee, Florida

The nearly 700 cats seized from a failed cat sanctuary in Florida are one step closer to their forever homes. On August 2, the couple that ran the sanctuary surrendered ownership of the rescued animals to Alachua County Animal Services, the agency that began the investigation into the cats’ welfare.

Jessica Lauginiger, the lead investigator for Alachua County Animal Services on this case, said the surrender means the cats can be spayed and neutered, undergo other needed surgeries, and be readied for adoption.  She added, “I’d love to see them all go to fabulous homes. That’s probably when I’m gonna break down and cry.”

An adopt-a-thon will be held in Gainesville on August 26, 27 and 28 to help place these cats into loving homes. Any cats not adopted at this event will be placed with reputable rescue groups throughout the country for adoptions. Anyone interested in finding out more details regarding adoptions may email Jessica Lauginiger at: Read about the adopt-a-thon in the Gainesville Sun.

The rescued cats have waited patiently since their rescue on June 7 and 8.  At that time, RedRover Responders volunteers set up an emergency shelter for the beleaguered cats, and provided care for the animals so neglected by humans. 

While the court case played out, the cats used the time to heal and recover. The difference between the cats now and in June is striking. Upper respiratory infections are gone. The cats’ eyes are clearer, and their breathing is normal. The shy ones have come out of their shells and the lively ones are livelier than ever. The kittens are now housed in a special room, dubbed “Romper Room,” and larger kennels were constructed for the 20 or so kittens so they could develop as normal, playful kittens.

Some of the other cats in medical difficulty have also made great progress. Grandma is a case in point.  Estimated to be between 15and 18 years old, Grandma came in to the shelter weighing a mere four pounds. She had no teeth, and although she ate ravenously, Grandma did not gain weight. 

Dr. Patty Gordon treated Grandma, and eventually moved her to the All Cats Clinic in Gainesville for further testing and treatment. Dr. Gordon diagnosed Grandma as having hyperthyroid disease, which explained some of her low weight. Dr. Gordon and her staff have fallen for Grandma and she remarked, “She is so sweet.  She is very interactive and watches everything that is going on.” The TLC is paying off—Grandma is now weighing in at more than five pounds and is looking better than ever.

Possum and his adopter Dr. Cate McManus
Possum, the blind kitty who is positive for the feline leukemia virus, is getting downright rambunctious. He meows at passersby, plays with his next-door neighbor, and the infection in his eyes have cleared up. Best of all, Possum has his forever home already picked out!  University of Florida veterinarian Cate McManus fell for Possum when she was treating cats at the emergency shelter and decided to adopt him. “There’s something about him that grabs your heart,” Dr. McManus said. Now that ownership has been surrendered, Dr. McManus can take Possum home, have him examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist, and give him the life he deserves.

RedRover Responders volunteers were there at the beginning of this lengthy rescue, and got these cats off to a great start in their temporary home. Alachua County Animal Services could not have undertaken this case without the help of the RedRover Responders and other partnering agencies. Jessica, the lead investigator said, “You guys were fantastic.  You come from all over the country, on your own dime and vacations. I can’t say enough about that.” She smiled and said, “It makes me want to be a better person.”

On August 15, the owners of Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary were arrested on 47 counts of animal cruelty. Read more >>

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A portrait of happiness for flood victims

Amber Johnson, her son Dontae, and their three dogs, Runt, Kodi and Sky, lost everything when their mobile home park went completely under water and was destroyed when the Souris River flooded in June. FEMA put Amber and Dontae up at a motel, and Amber brought the three dogs to the emergency animal shelter in Minot, North Dakota.

Now the family is waiting for a FEMA trailer. Amber doesn’t know for sure if and when it will come, but, with a four-year-old son, Amber is hoping that she’s high up on the waiting list for trailers.

Amber Johnson holds her son Dontae, while
Kodi, Runt and Sky eagerly wait to go home,
On August 2, Amber and Dontae came to the emergency animal shelter to pick up dogs Runt and Kodi. They had picked Sky up a couple of days earlier. Amber’s mother was in the mandatory evacuation zone but her home had sewer backup only, and, since then, her mother’s basement has been gutted and cleaned out. It would be a good place for the dogs to stay temporarily until Amber has housing.

Families may take crates, donated by PetSmart
Charities Emergency Relief Waggin' program,
when they pick up their pets.
What did the emergency animal shelter meant to Amber and Dontae? Amber says, “Everyone at the shelter has been unbelievable!” With tears welling up in her eyes, she added, “I don’t know what we would have done without this shelter.” In fact, Amber felt so happy about reuniting the family that she asked us to hold up on the photo shoot until she could go pick up Dontae and Sky so they could also be part of the family portrait!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Coincidence or providence?

Submitted by RedRover Responders volunteer Marcia Goodman of Cromwell, Connecticut

On August 3, Tonia Vitko and her young children, Solano and Levi, walked into the temporary pet evacuation shelter in Minot, North Dakota, to visit their cat, Linus. They had brought Linus to the shelter when their home was flooded and made uninhabitable. Their other cat, Lucy, who is Linus’ sister, had run away during the flood. Solano Vitko was particularly close to Lucy and she was devastated by the loss.

Clockwise from left: Solana Vitko holding
Lucy, Tonia Vitko holding Levi,McLean
Kolobakken, Dylan Kolobakken

holding Linus, and Alonna Kolobakken.
Joining the Vitko family at the emergency shelter that day were McLean Kolobakken and his young children, Alonna and Dylan. The Viktos moved in with the Kolobakken family during the flood.

RedRover Responders volunteers Janet McAuliffe, Jodi Jenkins and Karen Darmstead were doing their daily morning cleaning of the cat room (called “Kitty Kastle”) when the Vitko and Kolobakken families arrived to visit Linus. Janet, Jodi, and Karen witnessed the happy reunion.

Then Solano began to look around at the other cats in the vicinity and suddenly started jumping up and down, calling out “It’s Lucy! It’s Lucy!” Her mother’s first reaction was that it couldn’t be, but then she turned and saw that, sure enough, it was Lucy. Not only that, but Lucy’s cage was right across the aisle from Linus. Although there had been as many as 300 cats at the shelter, this brother and sister had been looking at each other all this time! It turns out that someone had found Lucy and had taken her to the shelter as a stray cat.

This is a happy ending -- but wait! There’s more to this story of “Coincidence or Providence." The Vitko family also had a dog, Teddy, who they took to the shelter when their home flooded. A few days before the Vitkos were reunited with Lucy, they told shelter manager, Susan Wagers, that they wouldn’t be able to keep Teddy.

Patty Luetzen, left, watching the Vitko
family say goodbye to Teddy as the
Kolobakken family looks on.
Enter Patty Leutzen, who had seen Susan’s plea for temporary foster homes for animals whose families would still be without homes when the emergency shelter closes at the end of August. One of Patty’s two dogs had recently died, and she wanted to help the victims of the flood because her home had been spared.

Susan, who is the Executive Director of Souris Valley Animal Shelter, recognized Patty, who had adopted dogs before. Patty told us that Susan said, “Have I got the dog for you!” After a successful interaction between her dog and Teddy, Patty arranged to adopt Teddy.

On August 3, at the same time the Vitko family was reuniting with Lucy, Patty arrived at the emergency shelter to pick up Teddy. What a surprise when Patty spotted the Vitko family accompanied by McLean Kolobakken and his children. Patty and McLean work together. It’s a double happy ending for Teddy because the Vitko and Kolobakken families will be able to visit with him.

So now, you answer the question . . . was the two-fold happy ending to this story coincidence or providence?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Easing the burden in a flood-weary community

The water may have receded in Minot, North Dakota and the headlines may have disappeared from the local newspaper, but Kathy Nelson hasn’t forgotten how the flood on June 22 tore her family apart.

Tucker, Kathy and Sadie during a
visit at the temporary shelter
She remembers every morning, when she wakes up on her grandson’s bedroom floor instead of in her own home, now inundated by sewage and essentially “gone.” She remembers for eight hours every day, when she works hard to earn enough money for a new home she can afford. And she remembers every evening when she visits the temporary animal shelter to visit her “babies,” Tucker and Sadie.

“These guys are my babies, they are part of my family,” Kathy told us. “To know they are taken care of and they have a safe place and they are going to be fed ... is huge to me. It just takes a lot of stress and worry off me.”

Tucker and Kathy play ball
A team of RedRover Responders met Tucker and Sadie this week – along with more than 300 other dogs and cats uprooted by the flood – when they went to Minot to help the Souris Valley Animal Shelter (SVAS) operate the temporary shelter.

SVAS staff have been working non-stop since the flood to care for animals of families with nowhere to go. The RedRover Responders were called in to help relieve the burden and share their expertise in emergency sheltering.

When the town of 35,000 in north-central North Dakota first flooded, local residents came in droves to walk dogs and help run the shelter. But as the floodwaters receded, the animal crisis receded from people’s memories and the volunteer forced dwindled.

Sadie and Kathy kiss hello
RedRover, as well as other national organizations with emergency response teams, are providing a second wave of support so SVAS can keep the shelter open for another month to allow people more time to find a new place to live.

Kathy and other residents who visit their pets tell us that finding affordable, pet-friendly housing is next to impossible in Minot. Apartment buildings do not allow pets, and a booming oil industry and influx of workers has caused rents to skyrocket.

Thanks to the SVAS staff, the RedRover Responders, and all the other groups who have sent people to help, pet owners like Kathy can sleep just a tad easier knowing their pets are safe.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Minot family grateful for pet evacuation shelter

Minot, North Dakota flood survivors Tom and Laurisa Moody and their daughter Rhiannon are staying in a hotel that allows pets, but they can’t leave their Chihuahuas, Princess and Mischief, unattended there.

So every morning they drop the pair off at the pet emergency shelter so they can work and take care of their responsibilities, and every night they pick the dogs up for a sleepover at the hotel.

RedRover Responders volunteers talked to the Moody family this week as they dropped off Princess and Mischief after another sleepover.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Making Magic

Vinnie waits for his evening walk.
Vinnie was appreciative of his walk this morning. So were Zeus, Teddy, Lillie, Pee-Wee, Jonah and about 125 other dogs at the pet evacuation shelter here in Minot, North Dakota.

Many of these animals have been here for weeks, since their owners were displaced by flooding. The Souris Valley Animal Shelter set up the evacuation shelter in June so these evacuees had a place to bring their pets, and they have been running this shelter at A+ caliber ever since.

RedRover Responders volunteer Kim
Diloretto and one of our canine charges
The dogs are getting walked, fed and watered twice daily, while their cages are cleaned. This morning Vinnie played in an outside run for a while with his friend Max. When we broke for lunch, the dogs were happily chewing their treats and in the cat room -- Kitty Kastle -- all was clean and peaceful.

Right now RedRover Responders volunteers are working alongside staff and volunteers with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (our partners in the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition), Souris Valley Animal Shelter, Noah's Wish and other members of the community who are volunteering their time to help. We are able to help the members of this community get back on their feet. Minot is nicknamed the Magic City, and the spirit of collaboration and compassion here is magic indeed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rallying to help flood victims

Today, RedRover Responders volunteers are traveling to Minot, North Dakota from all corners of the United States. Virginia, Connecticut, New York, Kentucky -- no state is too far to prevent RedRover Responders from coming to the rescue when animals are in need. 

Prolonged flooding in Minot has prevented hundreds of families from returning home, and 350 animals are still living in a temporary shelter. RedRover Responders volunteers are rallying to helping these animals and families for the next ten days.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

RedRover volunteer veterinarian provides much needed care

Orphaned kitten meets
orphaned fawn at
Dr. Trexler-Myren's office.
Submitted by RedRover Responders volunteer Debbie Ferguson of Kildeer, Illinois

You never know what you are going to be asked to do when deploying with RedRover Responders. Autumn Chrouser will gladly attest to that after her last deployment to Pierre, South Dakota this past week. She deployed along with two other RedRover Responders to help care for the animals that had been displaced by flooding from the rising Missouri River.

We met at 6:45 a.m. in the lobby of our hotel, just one short block from the river, to make our way to the airplane hangar where we were housing about 100 animals, primarily cats and dogs. Upon arriving we took each dog out for a very much needed morning walk, then proceeded to get all the animals fed, watered, and clean kennels. Autumn jumped in like everyone else. After we finished our morning chores, we sat down and began talking before the next round of dog walks were due. When asked what she did, she revealed that she had just become a licensed veterinarian and was waiting on word on a potential position she was very interested in. As we had no staff veterinarian at the shelter, we knew this was fate! As soon as word got out, her skills were in high demand. After being asked to examine a number of animals with minor issues, she quickly identified a life-threatening disease in one of our cats, who was then immediately transported to Dr.Virginia Trexler-Myren, the local veterinarian we had been using for emergency treatment.

Dr. Trexler-Myren anesthetizes
a kitten as RedRover volunteer
Dr. Autumn Chrouser looks on.
 Autumn, who lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was thrilled to be using her education and skills, but continued assisting with the everyday duties of walking, feeding and cleaning in between her new vet duties, and even handled some of the strongest dogs, one of whom almost pulled her hip out of joint with his strength. It was about that time that we received six feral kittens trapped near the shelter by an airport employee. Approximately three to four months old and quite fearful, they entered our cat room and we began the socialization process. We saw very quickly that it wouldn’t take long to gain their trust, but were concerned about finding homes for them in an area reeling from loss. We felt we would have a better chance of getting a local shelter to take them on if they were all spayed/neutered, so it seemed a perfect opportunity for Autumn to use her surgical skills. We just needed to find someone to provide the tools and space for her to perform the surgery. In came Dr. Trexler-Myren. She readily agreed to provide the space and all of the necessary tools and medications for all six cats if we would be willing to pay a small fee to cover her overhead. RedRover immediately agreed to take care of the expense, and Autumn went to work, with Dr. Trexler-Myren overseeing the surgeries.

Dr. Chrouser examines the
incision on a kitten spayed
a day earlier.
 As a newly licensed veterinarian, I expected Autumn to show some nervousness, but she showed the confidence, precision and skills of an experienced veterinarian throughout the entire procedure. She and Dr. Trexler-Myren shared tips and techniques throughout the day, both coming away from the experience with increased knowledge and insights.

I am happy to report that all six kittens came out of surgery successfully. We brought them back to some very comfortable beds in a clean and sterile environment within our shelter and settled them in for the night. Autumn stayed until she was certain all six kittens were showing no signs of distress, and returned early the next morning to examine each of them. All were in fine shape, with clean and healthy incision sites and no signs of any negative impact. In fact, the additional handling seemed to have made them even more accustomed to humans and their fear had lessened considerably, giving us confidence that they would all be adopted into loving homes very soon.

Thanks to Autumn (or, I should say, Dr. Chrouser) and Dr. Trexler-Myren, six cats will not be able to reproduce more kittens to crowd the already over-filled animal shelters across the United States. Instead, they will have an excellent chance of living comfortable and healthy lives with loving families.

Dr. Chrouser socializes one of her patients.
Dr. Chrouser plans on deploying with RedRover again, and it doesn’t matter to her whether it is in the capacity of veterinarian or kennel worker. She just wants to help animals in need and that is what is going to make her a great veterinarian. Sioux Falls is very lucky to have her as part of their community.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Flood shelter in Pierre, South Dakota

Submitted by RedRover Responders volunteer Debbie Ferguson of Kildeer, Illinois

One of many houses flooded
in Pierre, South Dakota

Across the nation Mother Nature has been unleashing her fury; from tornados, to wildfires, to flooding, she is wreaking havoc on land, people and animals alike. And the RedRover Responders have been deploying almost non-stop, trying to make life just a little bit more bearable for the people who have lost their homes and for some, their loved ones, by helping to care for their pets while they try to rebuild their lives. We see the pictures on the nightly news and our hearts break for those who have lost so much, while we are amazed at their resiliency and their will to move on. And then we turn off the TV and go to sleep, comfortable in our own intact homes and in our own beds with our beloved families and pets nearby. Sweet dreams...

I am ashamed to say that is how I reacted until I participated in several disaster responses as a RedRover Responder in the past couple of months. To see the destruction and the emotional toll in pictures or on video is one thing; to see it in person is another; to meet someone who is going through the loss is a whole new ballgame, one that changes you forever. That is what happened to me this past week in Pierre, South Dakota.

Amy Green holds two
tiny rescued kittens.

I spent the past few days, along with two other RedRover Responders assisting in caring for animals displaced by flooding or by forced evacuations due to the rising Missouri River. We had approximately 100 animals; dogs, cats, chinchillas, rabbits, chickens and even a goldfish. I assumed we would be far removed from the threat of flooding, so I was surprised on landing in Pierre (in a torrential downpour, by the way) that the road to our hotel was closed due to flooding, and after finding a round-a-bout way to get there, saw sandbags stacked up all around the hotel in an attempt to keep the water from creeping any closer to the building. That was when I first realized the fear the people in this community were experiencing. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well, but made my way to the temporary shelter the next morning and began tending to the animals that had been left in our care. As the day wore on and the rain continued, the threat of further flooding increased. It was then that I met Denice Felker and her three Schnauzers – Tasha, Teddy and Pepper.

We were getting ready to get the animals settled in for the evening when we received a call from a local emergency services organization asking if we had room to house more animals. We assured her we did and that we would be happy to stay until they arrived. Shortly after, Denice and her schnauzers arrived. She had been given minutes to evacuate her home in Fort Pierre as the river crept closer and closer. She was terrified of losing her home, but even more terrified of leaving her “kids.” But her choices were limited so she came to us.

With tears flowing, she shared her fears of losing everything, and of trying to rebuild what was left on her own, but her biggest worry was leaving her babies. The three dogs obviously knew something was wrong as all three were clinging to her and whimpering.

Amy comforts and calms Jasmine.
We all choked back tears as we assured her we would take very good care of her babies and give them as much love and attention as possible. We weren’t sure when we would see Denice again, but knew she wouldn’t and couldn’t stay away long.

The following day, as all of our dogs were taking their afternoon naps and everything was quiet, Denice walked in. I approached her right away, happy she was able to come and visit her babies, and then thrilled when she told me she was taking them home! I told her how happy I was that she had suffered no damage and was able to move back home. And then I felt awful as her eyes again filled up with tears and she told me that her home was sitting in several inches of water and she wasn’t sure what to do or who to call for help. But in the same breath, she told me how grateful she was that we had been here for her and her babies at the moment they needed us. And I felt so honored that she trusted us to take care of the three loves of her life while she figured out her next moves. And witnessing her strength of character I had no doubt her next moves would be winning moves.

Denice is reunited with her Schnauzers.

But the best part of this story is the reunion! I have never heard or seen three dogs so happy to see their person. We couldn't get them out of their kennel fast enough! When we were able to round them up they leapt into her arms and covered her with kisses for at least 10 minutes! They kissed her, they kissed us, and they kissed each other! And then it started all over again!

Once things calmed down, I asked Denice where she would be living while her home was being repaired and she told me she and her babies would be returning home. I was concerned, knowing the dangers of living in a home that had suffered that kind of damage, and worried about how her dogs would adapt, but she responded with such a simple and amazing statement; "they may not have a yard, but they have me...and I have them. We’ll figure it out together."

And now this story gets even better... As we were talking, one of the local volunteers overheard Denice talking about her concerns. I had seen Michelle Jones each day but with our jam-packed days hadn't had a chance to get to know her. She approached us and gave Denice the name and number of the Civil Air Patrol, who she said would be willing to send cadets out to assist her with any labor needed. She then described how they had been helping her and her husband since they had been forced to evacuate their home a month ago and how she was planning on calling on them again since the waters had finally reached her home in the past week.

Flood victim Michele holds
her favorite cat.

 I was stunned! Here was a woman whose home was possibly ruined, and she had spent the past ten days (as I discovered from the volunteer logbook) volunteering her time to help care for the displaced animals of her neighbors! Though she downplayed her selflessness by saying it helped keep her mind off of her problems, I couldn't help but wonder how many people would spend their time volunteering their services to those impacted by such a disaster when they were facing their own disaster, and I realized that I was in the company of not just one, but two very strong and special women. Humbled and inspired, I knew that those of us listening to their stories would be better people for having met them, and would never again turn off the nightly news and sleep soundly after hearing of another natural disaster displacing people and animals without making plans to do something to help.

 I am so thankful for all of our RedRover Responders, especially those who have deployed in the last few natural disasters, for helping people like Denice know that there is someone in their corner who is looking out for them and their animals in their time of need. After witnessing the after-effects of these devastating disasters first hand, and seeing the results of the different reactions to the disaster, I am hopeful that if we are ever faced with similar situations we will be able to deal with them with as much strength and gratitude as Denice, and with as much compassion and selflessness as Michelle.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Janell, we love you!

Submitted by RedRover Responders volunteer Beth Gammie of Tallahassee, Florida 

How does one person manage the controlled chaos of emergency animal rescue -- from partnering with other agencies and local government officials, to ensuring the animals receive great care under difficult conditions, to handling emergency animal medical care, to leading teams of volunteers and to solving animal behavior issues? If you are Janell Matthies, Emergency Services Manager for RedRover, formerly United Animal Nations, it's done with a great deal of grace, skill and heart.

Janell works with Juliet, a very frightened
dog, during a recent response in Arizona.
Photo: Marcia Goodman
Janell amazed volunteers with her ability to remain calm in a crisis while juggling multiple demands. Volunteer Marcia Goodman worked with Janell on a number of deployments, and was struck by her grace under pressure. "I remember once at the recent Arizona rescue while she was in a kennel with a dog who was shut down, she received an emergency phone call regarding the rescue," Marcia says. "Moments later, while still on the phone, she was approached by a volunteer with a question. With a smile she calmly interrupted the volunteer with, 'Does this need my attention this moment, or can it wait?'" 

Janell and Duke, a dog rescued from
neglect in Arizona. Photo: Marcia Goodman 

This ability to prioritize under pressure, and make good decisions for the animals, while remaining so unflappable, is something we all came to expect from Janell. And she always delivered.

Jennifer Johnston called Janell a "rock star" for being such an amazing leader. Jennifer recently worked on the cat-hoarding rescue here in Florida and said, "This is my first deployment since training and I feel so lucky to have had the chance to work with Janell. She shared her experience and insight, was patient while I got the hang of things, and managed to look out for the needs of the volunteers while doing everything she could for the animals."

Janell and Daisy, a pig rescued in Arizona.
Photo: Marcia Goodman
Janell's compassion for the animals she works to rescue is clear to any volunteer who has worked with her. The animals' well-being is her priority, and her love for them showed up in many ways. Janell crawled into a kennel with a dog in distress to comfort the animal. She dropped what she was doing to deal with medical concerns volunteers have for the a sick animal. She cuddled with a 650 pound rescued pig with pure delight. Animals under Janell's care just knew she loved them.

No one on deployment worked harder than Janell. She was the first on site in the morning, and the last to leave--and was in motion the whole time. How she was able to keep up such non-stop energy was a mystery to volunteers. I, for one, suspect Janel may actually be fueled by a uranium pellet.

Janell taking a rare break at the
temporary shelter in Florida, where she
tended to 700 cats, many with serious
health problems. Photo: Beth Gammie
Janell will be leaving RedRover to do similar work for another animal organization. We will miss her, but know that our paths will cross during our efforts to bring animals from crisis to care. 
From all the volunteers, Janell, we want you to know how much we appreciate you. From your goofy sense of humor, to the things you taught us about animal care, to your freaky sense of calm in a crisis -- you are simply amazing and we love you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rescued cats perking up

Submitted by RedRover Responders volunteer Beth Gammie of Tallahassee, Florida

What is the sound of 700 cats purring?  We just might find out as the cats rescued from hoarding conditions perk up under the care of the UAN volunteers  (now known as the RedRover Responders). The effect of a full week of regular care--feeding, watering, clean quarters, medical treatment--shows. 

A kitten imitates King Kong
Volunteers notice the cats' appetites increased, they are more physically active and have brighter eyes. The cats are simply cleaner as they have the energy now to clean up and stay clean. As the cats recover from upper respiratory infections, and as their tiny lungs recover from years of breathing the toxic air in their former home, they are breathing easier. For some, the turnaround is remarkable, as if a switch was turned on. This makes kennel-cleaning an athletic event for volunteers who need to be on their toes to head off energetic escape attempts. 

Singer likes to serenade the volunteers
The healthier cats are beginning to act like, well, cats. Today a kitten climbed up the wire kennel wall and hung there like King Kong on the side of the Empire State Building. Singer, a very vocal kitty, serenades any person who ventures into his area of the shelter. Cats snooze in hammocks made by volunteers, while others curl up with their kennel mate. 

However, for many other cats, the road to recovery is longer. Years of untreated infection, illness and injury have caused serious medical problems. Laura Anderson, DVM, from the University of Florida's shelter medicine program said, "I'm surprised by how many ruptured eyeballs I'm seeing due to lack of treatment" for eye infections.  

Possum is blind due to an
untreated eye infection
Possum, a volunteer favorite, is one of these cats who is blind due to an untreated eye infection. His equanimity and affectionate nature have made this guy a favorite with volunteers and vets alike.

Possum illustrates the danger for hoarded animals. Once an animal becomes sick or injured in this environment of neglect, he or she is out of luck. There will be no trips to the vet, no medicine, no treatment. There is no good end for a sick animal in this environment: terminal diseases lead to drawn-out suffering, and treatable conditions morph into terminal ones. 

The massive effort underway to care for all the rescued cats and kittens is paying off--many are perking up, showing more energy, and coming back to life. Every volunteer is grateful that Alachua County Animal Services took action to investigate this case, reaching out, and giving the RedRover Responders a chance to give all these cats the love and care they deserve.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rescued cats showing their friendliness

Submitted by UAN volunteer Beth Gammie of Tallahassee, Florida

Wendy Leonard of Elko, Georgia gets to
know one of the rescued cats
As the 700 cats and kittens settled in to their new home at UAN's emergency shelter, staff and volunteers were surprised at their friendliness and sociability. Wendy, a volunteer from Georgia, said the first thing she noticed about the cats was that "they all came to the front of the cage, talking, which was a good sign.  I think they're starving for attention." 

Is it dinner time yet?
The cats' warm demeanor shone through their sick and neglected condition. Janell Matthies, UAN's Emergency Services Manager, said "It's always heartbreaking to see sick animals. This case is extraordinary in the sheer number of animals, the extent of their illnesses, but most of all their friendliness and affectionate natures even when so ill."

A cat with hair loss
The rescued cats suffered from the types of illnesses one would expect in crowded and filthy hoarding conditions: upper respiratory infections, feline leukemia, skin disease such as lesions and ringworm, and intestinal problems. Some cats had anemia from the sheer number of fleas on them living off their blood.  Unusual in this case is a number of cats carrying themselves with their heads tilted to the side. Dr. Laura Andersen, one of vets assisting in medical care, said this could be caused by the chronic sinus congestion impinging on the cat's facial nerves.

A rescued cat asks for attention
Alachua County Animal Services asked The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to help with animal handling, transportation, temporary sheltering and, if necessary, permanent placement of the cats. The HSUS in turned asked UAN to help set up and operate the temporary shelter. Animal Services personnel expressed their thanks for UAN's help in dealing with this massive rescue, which would swamp any county's capacity to handle.

Laina, one of the animal services workers said, "We couldn't have done it without you.  You guys do a great job." Her colleague, Darla, heard this and added, "You kept the ship afloat."  Chris, one of the Animal Services investigators was impressed with UAN's emergency shelter and said, "It's a million times better than what [the cats] had" to live in before.

Welcoming 700 rescued cats to a better life

Submitted by UAN volunteer Beth Gammie of Tallahassee, Florida

UAN volunteer Angel Zebraski of
Hampton, Georgia carries a rescued
cat into the emergency shelter
For two days, trucks arrived at UAN's emergency shelter carrying precious cargo--700 neglected cats rescued from deplorable hoarding conditions in High Springs, Florida. Time after time, UAN volunteers lined up to meet the transports and gently carried the cats to the clean, new kennels that awaited. 

Many of the cats walked gingerly out of their carriers into the kennels. Others showed their apprehension--natural at this stage in the rescue--by hunkering down in the carrier and refusing to come out. In these cases, volunteers put the entire carrier into the kennel to let the frightened cat come out at his or her own pace. Even cats who walked right into their kennels hunkered down in corners and litter boxes. However, a good number began reaching out (literally and figuratively) to volunteers and seeking attention.

Many cats had runny eyes and noses
The neglect these cats experienced quickly became evident. Many of the cats were simply filthy. The despair of trying to live in dirty and overcrowded conditions showed. Matted fur and crusty eyes and noses abounded.  Volunteers heard the wheezy breathing of cats suffering from upper respiratory infections and saw the fur loss and other skin conditions. 

Relaxing comfortably in safe and
clean surroundings
After having a chance to look around their new homes, the more talkative kitties had quite a lot to tell the us.  To the uninitiated, it sounded like, "Mew, meow, meow, mew." 

However, UAN volunteers are fluent in "cat" and heard them express their gratitude for shelter from the elements, a clean kennel, abundant food and clean water.  

One of the tiniest cats rescued
One calico asked, "What's up with that cold air blowing down from the ceiling," clearly unfamiliar with air conditioning. But mainly they expressed gratitude for humans who cared enough about them to travel from all over the United States and Canada to come to their rescue. "Mew," indeed.