Caring for animals falls heavily on humane society

Published 10:26 am Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mickey, a 2-year-old pit bull, was one of two dogs seized from an Austin home in extremely poor condition. He and Louis are now recovering at the Mower County Humane Society. Jason Schoonover/

Mickey, a 2-year-old pit bull, was one of two dogs seized from an Austin home in extremely poor condition. He and Louis are now recovering at the Mower County Humane Society. Jason Schoonover/

Four of the Mower County Humane Society’s newest four-legged residents came to the shelter in dramatic fashion, and that’s shedding light on the shelter’s year-round services.

On Oct. 12, police seized two malnourished dogs who had gotten loose from an Austin home and brought them to the shelter. Then this Tuesday, two more dogs were left outside Austin Vet Clinic with a note from the owner asking for someone to care of them.

Mickey and Louis

Two of the shelter’s most recent additions, Mickey and Louis, garnered much attention recently when volunteers posted their pictures and their story on Facebook.

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Humane society volunteers believe Mickey and Louis were confined to a basement and garage, but they got out after the garage door came open, which MCHS Vice President Barry Rush suspects was caused by high winds. Neighbors spotted the emaciated dogs rummaging through trash for food and reported it to law enforcement. Officers then called Rush.

Rush is no stranger to such cases. He was a Minnesota state humane agent for about a decade, which required him to investigate animal cruelty cases in three southern Minnesota counties, but Mickey and Louis are unique.

“I’ve seen a lot of things, but boy, these dogs were as bad as I’ve ever seen as far as condition,” he said.

The 2-year-old dogs came in anemic, full of worms, infections and untreated wounds, some believed to be from fighting for the small amount of available food.

“The physical problems that they have are all related to lack of food and an infestation of two different species of worms, one of which is rare to this area,” Rush said.

Those issues also caused the dogs’ white blood cell count to lower, which made it difficult for them to fight off infections, leading to abscesses and other issues.

Physically, the two are already showing improvement. Louis and Mickey already started putting on weight in their first week at the shelter, but volunteers have said they won’t be initially available for viewing during open houses.

Because of his skin problems, Louis lost all his fur on his back end, which further highlighted his skinny frame and showed his skeleton

Louis came in around 48 pounds, while Mickey weighed around 38 pounds — bother were estimated to be about 15 pounds underweight.

“That’s a lot,” Rush said.

Both dogs received strong shots of antibiotics, which has eradicated many of their physical ailments. But the physical side is only half the battle. Before putting Mickey and Louis up for adoption, Rush said they’ll need to know more about the two and what kind of home they’ll be best suited for.

“We’ve got a lot of dog psychology work to do,” Rush said.

The humane society is entirely run by volunteers. Many of them will now get in the pens with the dogs to see how they react to them and whether they trust people. Over time, volunteers will each form their own opinion on the dogs before they pool their information to develop an idea of what kind of home each dog would fit in.

Louis is believed to be boxer mix, but Rush said that will be easier to tell once he puts on weight. Rush described Louis, the bigger of the two, as very personable and good around people.

“His tail’s always wagging and you can approach him easily,” he said.

“He’ll be fine,” he added.

Mickey’s case may be a bit more complex. The pit bull is a bit more beat up after fighting for food, and he’s more skittish and frightened.

“So to do anything with Mickey, we have to be very patient,” Rush said.

Rush’s Kennel Manager Carey Sharp agreed.

“Mickey’s going to need a little bit more extra work,” she said.

He’ll come up to volunteers, but Rush said he’ll back off if they reach for him like he doesn’t trust people.

“We’ll get to him,” Rush said. “It takes a while.”

Kylie, left, and Maggie are looking for a home at the Mower County Humane Society after their former owner abandoned them at the Austin Vet Clinic on Tuesday.  Jason Schoonover/

Kylie, left, and Maggie are looking for a home at the Mower County Humane Society after their former owner abandoned them at the Austin Vet Clinic on Tuesday.
Jason Schoonover/

Kylie and Maggie

Two other new additions show how the roles of the shelter are changing.

On Tuesday, Rush brought his own dog to the vet and left with two more for the shelter.

Austin Vet Clinic workers found someone had left a crate with two dogs outside the clinic with a note on the crate asking them to take care of the dogs, and it gave their names and ages. It is illegal to abandon pets, though the vet clinic didn’t recognize the dogs.

Maggie, a dachshund/Chihuahua mix, was born in 2014, while Kylie is a Japanese chin, which rare for the shelter, born in 2010. Rush suspected Kylie and Maggie will be adopted out relatively easily. They’re small and personable, though they’re a bit scared now.

“They’re going to be just fine,” he said.

“We have some wonderful volunteers here, volunteers that just spoil them rotten,” Rush added, joking about the fridge they have of baked chicken they give to the newer, scared dogs.

In the past, most dogs came to the humane society from the city pound when their time had run out, so they wouldn’t be euthanized.

But now, more dogs are coming directly from owners. Either people can’t afford or can’t take of their dogs, or people have seen their dog emerge from a playful puppy to a strong, adult dog.

The shelter has also been getting more expensive, pure bred dogs. It recently got a pure bred English bulldog, a breed that often sells for over $1,000-$2,000 from breeders.

“It’s just strange,” Rush said. “I can’t understand why some of these dogs are here.”

When someone comes in to drop off a dog, Rush said they don’t try to talk the owner out of it, but they try to get information.

“If they’ve made the decision to get rid of a dog, we’re the best option for the dog,” Rush said.

The dog side of the shelter had been doing good in adopting more dogs than it took in, but Rush has seen the tide turn as an influx of dogs has started to come in.

“We’ve been in this shape before,” Rush said.

Getting to know pets

On Tuesday, Rush’s granddaughter, Emma Sharp, 15, walked into a room at the shelter earlier this week and emerged holding Henry, a miniature pincher-shitzu mix.

“One of her big jobs is spoiling little furry animals,” Rush said

“I don’t enjoy it,” Emma said in kidding, as she held and pet Henry.

Henry, Rush joked, can be a bit of a brat, and he’ll occasionally nip at people, but part of that is because he’s young. The 10-month-old and was found as a stray on the streets of Austin.

“He just takes a little extra time to get use to people,” Sharp said.

The shelter wants people to come in and get to know dogs before adopting.

“We explain as much as we can about the dog,” Rush said.

They’re upfront about the status of the dogs and what they know of them, and Rush noted people shouldn’t make an assumption about a dog on a first appearance.

“They should take time to get to know the dog,” he said.

The shelter is always seeking loving homes for both dogs and cats. But they want to be sure prospective dog owners know what they’re getting into and can afford the dogs they adopt, since owning a dog is expensive.

“What we’re looking for is someone who understands that adopting a dog is not a spur of the moment decision or a decision to be taken lightly,” Rush said, noting many of the dogs will live another 12-15 years.

Traditionally, dogs stay a shorter time in the shelter than cats, but Rush noted the cat portion of the shelter has gotten behind as its been inundated with cats.

The shelter was built and opened in 2013 with the intent to hold about 100 cats and 25 dogs, but they were over that almost immediately. Today, the shelter has about 150 cats and about 32 dogs. Open houses are held each week from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

They’re still promoting the spay and neuter clinic, and they continue to promote that message to the public. He urged people to keep their cats tethered or in the house.

“We can’t control the cat population,” Rush said.