*Leech Lake Legacy is a 501(c)3 tax exempt non-profit organization

Envisioning a world where every reservation dog and cat is well cared for

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Great Puppy Roundups - A Labor of Love

A few months ago, one of our volunteers asked me a brilliant question, “Why don’t we host events each and every month of the year in Leech Lake?”  In the past, we have not scheduled events in Leech Lake from November through February, mostly because we knew the unpredictable weather would not allow us to bring the mobile spay/neuter unit to northern Minnesota in the winter and I could not imagine that people would venture out in bitterly cold weather to surrender an animal.

How wrong I was.

We scheduled our first winter Great Puppy Roundup for December 7, 2013.  I checked the weather on Monday before the weekend and the prediction for Saturday did not look promising – 20 to 30 below zero air temperature with 20 below zero wind chills.

Because we had not previously hosted events in the winter months in Leech Lake and because it was predicted to be so terribly cold, I assumed that we could make do with a small group of volunteers.  There were six of us scheduled to volunteer.  In my estimation, the six of us could easily handle the few surrendered animals I imagined we would be taking in.  This assumption turned out to be very incorrect.

I am a very organized and efficient individual.  I am always looking for ways to make our events run more smoothly.  At every event that we host in Leech Lake, I learn a valuable lesson or two and generally use what I learned at future events.

At the December Roundup, I took in a year’s worth of education all in one day.  Some of the lessons that were painfully learned:

Ensuring we have enough room in our vehicles to transport surrendered animals back to the Cities
As was usual for our surrender events, I rented a cargo van to haul necessary supplies up to Leech Lake and to transport surrendered dogs and cats back to the Twin Cities.  I was scheduled to pick up a cargo van at 10:00 a.m. on Friday.  On Thursday evening, I received a call from the rental agency, confirming my rental.  On Friday morning, the rental agency called to tell me there was no cargo van for me to rent.  The best they could do was rent me a passenger van (with three large bench seats in the back).  With no other option, I agreed.  In hindsight, I should have left the seats at home.

Not a lot of room for dogs and cats
Ensuring we have enough volunteers to handle whatever is thrown at us
Friday evening – bone-chilling cold.  There are four of us in the warehouse (which thankfully, is heated).  We set up crates and tables, fold pee pads and towels, pull out the medical supplies and forms and get ready for Saturday morning.  I hear from our two northern Minnesota volunteers that they are not able to start their cars and will not be joining us on Saturday.  I feel a little bit of anxiety about having enough help on Saturday but then think to myself, “It’s freezing cold outside, how many animals will we really see tomorrow?”  "I wouldn’t want our volunteers to be bored…"

Not letting ANY volunteer leave the premises without enough other volunteers to take their place
We started taking in surrenders at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday.  We had a steady stream of surrenders but the four of us had a good flow going and everything seemed easy.  At about 10:00, I received a call from a man wanting to surrender three dogs.  His car would not start and he was wondering if we could send over a volunteer to pick them up.  I only hesitated for a moment before I told him yes.  He lived very close to where we were holding the event so sending a couple of volunteers to help him couldn’t possibly be a bad idea, could it?  As I watched Heidi and Craig load up crates and dog food in their car in preparation for picking up the three dogs, I felt pain in the pit of my stomach.  The rumblings I was hearing were apparently not from my empty stomach but a sign of things to come.

Where are they going?
Within minutes of Heidi and Craig’s departure, a woman walked in the door and announced that she had 13 puppies in her car that she would like to surrender.  Heather and I (the two remaining volunteers) were met with a blast of cold air when we stepped outside.  We hurried to the car and opened up the door expecting to see a crate of puppies and instead we were met with a PILE of what turned out to be 15 puppies!  The empty plastic tub in the back seat was possibly supposed to keep them confined but it had failed miserably.  There were puppies in the back window, puppies in the front window, puppies under the seats and puppy poop on every imaginable surface.  Heather and I reached in and each plucked up the closest puppies we could reach.  We placed them in a pen in the warehouse and quickly went out for another load.  Upon returning with the second load, imagine our surprise when we found the pen empty.  In the 30 seconds we were away, the puppies had found a way to escape.  We corralled them all, fixed the hole and went out for the last of them.  We returned to the pen, to once again find it empty.  We finally found all 15 and this time, made certain they would not escape again.

Car Puppy - Trying to hide from us
Making sure we have enough crates assembled and enough supplies to help 100 animals BEFORE we begin our day
After corralling all of the puppies, I walked back to the front desk to find that five more residents had arrived, all of them with animals they wished to surrender.  Two barking dogs, two more litters of puppies and a man clutching three un-penned felines who were obviously very unhappy to be in such close confines with the barking canines.  At this point in the day, we had run out of crates, so for each and every surrendered animal, Heather and I needed to assemble a crate.  The two of us were also interviewing residents, filling out paperwork and contacting rescues to take the surrendered animals.

This is what I'm talking about!
Allowing us enough time to load up the animals and get back to the Cities before AHS closes
The Animal Humane Society is our biggest partner and generally takes in most of the animals that are surrendered at our Roundups.  The December Roundup was no exception.  The plan was to get on the road by 1:30 on Saturday, which would ensure that we arrived in Golden Valley by 5:30, thus enabling AHS to intake the animals and get them settled and comfortable for the night.  On this day, at this Roundup, that plan utterly failed.

I did not have rescue for 14 of the felines that were surrendered at the Roundup, so Craig and I made the trip to the Leech Lake Impound to set the cats up in kennels where they would stay until I found rescue for them.  I had told Heidi before I left that in order to make it to AHS in time, she would need to be on the road before I returned from the Impound.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Hermione - one of 16 cats surrendered at Roundup
When Craig and I returned, Heidi’s van was sitting empty in the parking lot.  I walked into the Warehouse into utter chaos - crates everywhere, dogs barking, cats meowing – and not a single animal ready for transport.

Because we did not have enough of the proper-sized crates and had 54 animals to transport in only four vehicles (and one of them a passenger van with three large bench seats), Heidi and Heather were having one heck of a time trying to figure out how everyone was going to fit.  It took us the better part of an hour to get everyone loaded and up until the very last minute, I swore there was no way there were all getting a ride.

The roads were terrible when we left, it was still bitterly cold and there was black ice everywhere.  And soon after we got on the road, the December sun set and we were left to drive on slippery roads in the pitch dark.  It was one of the more treacherous drives I have ever made from northern Minnesota.

Along with the many valuable lessons I learned on this day, I was also reminded of the many kind and generous volunteers who are a part of Leech Lake Legacy.

Because we were not going to make it back to AHS in time to check in the dogs and cats, we needed to find overnight foster for six litters of puppies and four adult dogs.  Marilou started making phone calls when we left Cass Lake and by the time we arrived in Golden Valley, our dedicated volunteers were waiting for us with big smiles and open arms.  That night, we sent 34 canines to foster.

Volunteers lined up on a bitterly cold night
to take home animals to foster overnight
The fun was not yet over for this Roundup.  Two hours after intaking all of the animals the next morning at AHS, we received a call that one of our puppies had tested positive for Parvo and all of the puppies needed to be quarantined with fosters for two weeks.  I was back on the phone again and once again, our volunteers stepped up to help.

After Thoughts
As crazy and unpredictable as the Roundups are, they are also incredibly rewarding.  We took in 62 animals in four hours on December 7.  The grateful words and kind smiles from the residents who surrender their animals never fail to warm my heart and remind me again and again how important our work is – to both the residents and the many, many wonderful animals that we have been able to help.

I did have a favorite moment from this Roundup (and no, it was not digging a poop-covered and terrified puppy out from under the front seat of a car).

Saturday morning, 9:01 a.m. – Our first customer arrived with a dog they were planning to surrender.  The owner starts to tell me her story with tears in her eyes.  Their big lovable lab has been diagnosed with mange and they are financially drained and can no longer afford the treatment.  After examining the dog, we suggest that perhaps it’s not mange, but just allergies.  We talk to them about changing the dog’s food to something of higher quality with no added grain.  We load them up with high-quality, grain-free food and they leave, overjoyed that they will be able to keep their sweet dog.  I still get goosebumps when I think about the joy on both of their faces when they realized they wouldn't have to surrender their dog after all.

Jenny Fitzer
Program Director, Leech Lake Legacy

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