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Pine River update

Where are they now?

By Jeff Moravec

It’s been nine months since Animal Humane Society was called upon to rescue 133 dogs and puppies from a breeding facility in northern Minnesota. But to many involved in the case that has become known simply as “Pine River,” after the Cass County town where the seizure occurred, it feels like it was only yesterday.

Mainly, though, the memory of Pine River is so fresh because the emotional impact of the case continues to be felt – the incredible work on the part of AHS staff and volunteers to care for the dogs and the outpouring of support in the community to find them homes will not soon be forgotten.

“I continue to be amazed at that effort,” Brayshaw said. “It was phenomenal how an entire organization, and an entire community, could pull together to accomplish such great things.”

“Our staff and volunteers worked themselves ragged taking care of these animals. We had staff and volunteers who normally did not work in animal care who agreed to pitch in, and we still needed assistance from the local volunteer community and rescues to provide these dogs with the care they needed. It was truly a team effort,” he said.

Adopters lined up at AHS’ five facilities when the dogs were first available for adoption on October 12, and by the time it was all over, a total of 167 Pine River dogs and puppies had found new homes through AHS. In addition, Twin Cities rescue organizations helped place many more of the dogs.

“It really was inspiring to see how many stepped up in such a tough situation,” Brayshaw said. “It’s something we’ll feel and talk about for a long time to come.”

The Pine River case touched many Animal Humane Society staff in ways that went far beyond their professional capacities. They were reluctant to grow close to animals that could very well have ended up back with the breeder from whom they were seized – but they couldn’t help it. So when the long-awaited day came when AHS was allowed to put the dogs and puppies up for adoption, several AHS staff were happy to be able to join the wonderful adopters from the community in taking home their own animals. Here are three such stories, told in their own words.

Kathy Johnson & Shelby

Kathie Johnson is senior director of operations at Animal Humane Society.

Many of the Pine River dogs required foster care to help ready them for adoption. I decided to foster a little Chihuahua we called Shelby Ann. The minute Shelby walked into our home, she touched our lives and just seemed to “fit.” Before the case was resolved, I overheard my kids talking about how much they loved her and how awful it would be if she would have to go back to the breeder. I also heard them say, “I don’t think Mom will take it very well if she has to go back.” They were clearly concerned, but because we are seasoned “fosters,” they knew the drill and were content with just caring for Shelby and giving her a great life while she was with us.

The day I was able to share with my family that the dogs were released for adoption, we all cried a bit and then looked at Shelby. “What now?” Everyone knew in their hearts that she wasn’t going anywhere. How did she change a “big dog” family into a family that adores this little dog, spoils her rotten and buys her sweaters? It’s beyond me. She brings so much joy to our lives and the people that she meets. Our friends and neighbors just love her and so do we. There is truly something special about this little dog and we feel so lucky to have her in our lives.

Jen Gackstetter & Winnie

Jen Gackstetter is the animal transfer liaison for Animal Humane Society

Winnie, a chocolate lab puppy, was born at AHS to a mom that was pregnant when she was seized from Pine River. Although Winnie didn’t have to live in those terrible conditions, I watched her and feared so much that she would somehow end up being sent back there. It was such a relief that she and her family and her canine friends didn’t have to be returned. And then I knew that her home had to be my home. Winnie has been so much fun, and it’s been a joy watching her grow. Winnie and my Dachshund hit it off right from the start but it took about six weeks after Winnie’s adoption for my Westie to stop being crabby about the new pup at home. The first time they played I almost cried I was so excited.

Winnie is just the happiest dog I’ve ever known and just loves to be around people. I can’t imagine my life without her now. We weren’t looking for a third dog but there was something about this little brown chubby pup that just got to me, and I knew I couldn’t let her go. It breaks my heart to think that so many of those Pine River dogs went through years of life without knowing what the love of a person is like, but it’s so comforting knowing that they are in good homes now.

Nicole Wallace & Kodiak

Nicole Wallace is a wildlife veterinary technician at Animal Humane Society

My Pine River guy is Kodiak, but we call him Kodi or Kodi bear. He is one of the Pine River dogs that had to go through our adoption preparation program. When I first got him he was so shell-shocked. He didn’t know how to climb stairs, jump into the back of a car, or play.

He would flinch if I raised my hand to pull my hood over my head. He had no idea what it meant to be a beloved house pet.

When Kodiak first came out to live on our hobby farm, he couldn’t even run without falling down. The veterinarians assured me it was nothing medical; he just didn’t have any muscle mass. It was so sad to watch this big beautiful boy be so excited to get outside and run, only to have his legs give out. But it didn’t slow him down much. He loves to go on walks and help with the horse chores. He instantly got along with the other dogs and cats.

It has not been an easy transition and not without challenges. Every day I pray to St. Francis for patience, but he is truly a great dog with a heart of gold. He is making huge progress and has even recently started to play with some of the plethora of toys he has at his discretion!

It is unbelievable to think of him back as one of the Pine River garage dogs and now the beautiful, beloved house pet he is becoming. He is the light of my life and I could not imagine my life without him, or his without me! Today he is a strong healthy boy with a forever home. It almost brings a tear to my eye to read this and know what he has gone through and where he is today.