Photos courtesy of CJ English
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is the question no kid has immunity from. My answers varied from a marine biologist to a mermaid. All I really knew was that I loved animals and wanted to help them, but growing up in Fargo didn’t lend itself to deep sea, salt water explorations. I had to re-think my childhood aspirations.
I’ve since had a successful career in fields unrelated to animal rescue, but my starry-eyed dreams of helping animals has never faded. Although I have been involved in numerous ways through the years, it wasn’t until recently when I found a cause I could whole-heartedly get behind.
Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue (TMAR)
They are small but mighty. This rescue organization is a husband-and-wife duo who have rescued 1,600 animals out of their own home just in the last few years. I stumbled upon them one deadly cold Saturday last January when I tagged along with a friend to a “surrender event.” Not knowing what it was or what to expect, I found myself mind blown, in a world four hours from my doorstep in Fargo that I never knew existed.
One long afternoon and 100 rescued dogs later, I had helped get 400 paws off of the frozen ground. A team of volunteers assisted in their transport to shelters near and far where they would get veterinary care and eventually be adopted. On the ride home, with more than a dozen dogs in blanketed kennels behind my seat, most of them severely dehydrated and some near starvation, all I kept thinking was, “Houston, we have a problem. A big, BIG problem.”
If we could rescue 100 dogs in three hours, how many more were out there in the fields, hiding under abandoned homes, curled up on the frozen tundra trying to stay alive? And why didn’t someone tell me? Then I realized that if I didn’t know this was happening, maybe other people didn’t know either. But now that I knew, I was going to let everyone else know. For an extrovert who actually likes public speaking, this was a mission I could tackle, I just didn’t quite know how.
I asked how I could help. After the obvious, and a bit of pondering, the answer became clear: I can write their stories. I can write their stories to help raise awareness of the massive problem no one seems to know about and help raise funds so we can build a much-needed shelter.
Earlier this winter, I wrote about the hundreds of dogs that die from exposure each year on that small patch of land four hours from my door.
What I learned after posting that story confirmed what I’d expected all along: If the citizens of North Dakota knew the problem existed, like me, they would help. They did. People from all over North Dakota donated money and supplies toward the existing operations and a future shelter. North Dakotans from everywhere became part of the solution. But the problem still exists, and that little bit of awareness was just that, a little bit of help.
The overpopulation problem on a tiny patch of land 31 miles by 31 miles has been ignored far too long and now is out of control. Since last January, all of the animals left in the reproductive cycle are breeding. Right now, unwanted litters are being born and the population boom is happening again. TMAR is actively working toward a solution each day. Its founder’s efforts are tireless, and a small group of volunteers remain dedicated to the cause. 352 dogs were rescued in the last five months alone. The magnitude of effort, dog food, supplies, gas and time off work to take these animals into their homes, cars, garages and hearts is a feat of gigantic proportions. These animals are not your neighbor’s Golden Retriever–they are often covered from ear to tail in ticks and mange, starving, thirsty and scared. Most survive, but some are too sick to make it to a shelter.
TMAR does not have an actual shelter.
There is no payroll, stream of funds or state grant money to support their efforts. Right now, TMAR is one home with an attached garage and a handful of volunteers that support them by driving dogs to safe homes all over the country. The resources required to take in and transport 352 starving or sick dogs is staggering.
We are closer now to having a shelter than we were last January, but we’re not there yet. That’s why I will keep writing until the concrete is poured and the volunteers have a place to volunteer. Our goal is to build a shelter before the 2018 freeze when hundreds of dogs will again die of exposure.
Thank you to founders Kim and Keith Benning–without you there would be nothing and a bigger problem would exist today. Thank you also to volunteers Jennie Belanus, Aliah Chappell, Trista Zacharias, Amanda Longie, Tanley Ravnaas and Candice Sunshine for your support of TMAR. Thank you also to Brenda Olson Wray for showing me the ropes, and for your dedication to the rescue community all over North Dakota.