Pet dropoffs affect rural residents and shelters

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 12, 2003

As Tina Johnson, of rural Lyle, drove down a gravel road to her sister's house last week, she stopped short.

In the middle of the road was a caramel-colored puppy with wavy fur.

The dust was rising from a car that was ahead of her, although she couldn't see the make or license plate.

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She took the puppy to her sister's. On her way back home, this time with her sister, Lori Pestorious, they found three more puppies huddled in the field, chewing on dried corn stalks.

One ran from the group and hid in the weeds, laying as flat as he could, Pestorious said.

"His body was shaking so bad," Pestorious said. "They were full of fleas."

They brought the puppies back to Johnson's farm, fed them, cleaned them up and bought them flea collars and treats.

The abandoned puppies now live in an old chicken coop with a fenced in yard.

No doubt, the family and their children adore the puppies. They've even named them. But Pestorious already has three dogs, as does Johnson. They simply can't take on this many more. They need to find new homes for at least two of them, they said.

"I'm not going to dump them off any place and I'm not going to shoot them, but they're going," Johnson said.

Pet abandonment isn't new to their neighborhood or other rural areas in the county. One of Pestorious' dogs was dropped off near her farm two years ago.

Their neighbor down the road has taken in three dogs over the years on his farm.

"That's how they've accumulated all their animals, from drop offs," Johnson said. "This must be a dumping area for pets. I know that sounds terrible."

There are no statistics as to how many pets are dumped off in the county in a year. Pet abandonment, while it violates the Minnesota Prevention of Cruelty to Animals statute, is rarely prosecuted, said Jay Zimmerman, Mower County Humane Society volunteer.

"The law enforcement people are so overwhelmed with other things," Zimmerman said.

Pet abandonment is a misdemeanor crime. The first incidence of pet abandonment requires a court appearance. If bodily harm to a pet results from abandonment, the person may be sentenced up to one year in jail or a fine up to $3,000, or both. The fine and prison time increases if the abandonment results in severe bodily harm or death.

The court may also restrict a person's pet ownership. Sometimes the judge will include community service and counseling as a part of the sentence.

Animal cruelty cases going to trial in Mower County are rare. Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi couldn't remember any recent cases of animal cruelty being prosecuted.

Once in awhile, residents will call the sheriff's office to say some pets have been dropped off near their house, but that's uncommon, Amazi said.

"I know a lot of people just adopt the pet without us knowing anything," she said.

Half the animals the Mower County Humane Society takes in are strays, Zimmerman said. It's hard to tell how many of the strays were abandoned pets.

"If I were to tell how many get dropped off, I would say it's several a year," Zimmerman said. "It does happen a lot."

Cat abandonment is more common in the spring and summer because cats tend to have their litters during this time. The Humane Society has 70 cats, five more than their capacity, 20 of which are kittens between 4 and 6 weeks old.

The Humane Society notices more dog abandonments in the fall, perhaps because families decide they do not want a dog after their children go back to school, Zimmerman said. The Humane Society currently has 18 kennels and 15 dogs, Zimmerman said.

"The same people wouldn't take their garbage out to the country or field, but the same people take a dog or cat out to the country and dump it," Zimmerman said.

The best way to avoid having too many pets is to get them spayed or neutered, Zimmerman said. The Humane Society has a fund to pay for the procedure for lower income households.

Until the Johnsons can find a home for the puppies, they will stay at their farm, playing with their children and running around the yard.

"They're all pretty cute and they're so good-natured," Pestorious said. "They've been so good."

If interested in adopting a puppy, call Lori Pestorious at 438-8752. To adopt dogs or cats from the Humane Society, call 437-9262.

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at