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Pet rescuers are busy locally; homes sought for lost animals

WORTHINGTON — Ten-year-old Mariah Hennings of Brewster found a new best friend this summer in the form of a Chihuahua-Papillon cross dog that was found roaming the streets of her hometown.

Ruthie, as the dog is now fondly named, joins a house filled with rescued pets. There’s Nimb, the Shih Tzu that was surrendered by its owners a couple of years ago; Millie, Molly and Gertie, the cats found roaming around town without a home, and Marty, a cat purchased from the local vet center.

“We’re just a pet family,” summed up Hennings with a smile.

Ruthie was discovered by Hennings’ cousins, running along the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Brewster.

“We figured after three weeks, we thought the owner didn’t want it,” Hennings said. “It had no collar.”

The Hennings family was willing to rescue the animal since Mariah had been asking for a dog of her own anyway.

“It means a lot,” she said of keeping Ruthie. “I think she would have died when it came to winter.”

While the story of Mariah and Ruthie may have a happy ending, there are many more stories out there that don’t end quite as well.

Local pet rescue advocates Sandy Slone and Sue Pennings-Witzel are doing what they can to ensure lost or abandoned pets don’t end up being euthanized.

Slone said there are “billions of stories” about pets in need of a home. They can be found “all over Facebook” on the Lost Dogs of Minnesota page, and even on the locally-created Facebook page, Lost Pets - SW Minnesota.

Last November, Slone began taking pictures of the animals at Worthington’s animal pound in hopes of reuniting lost pets with their owners and finding homes for those that go unclaimed. Barb Kruse created the Facebook page and, ever since, every effort has been made to ensure animals in the pound are adopted instead of euthanized.

Pennings-Witzel said that in the last two years, more than 200 dogs have been captured and brought to Worthington’s animal pound. Virgil Veen is the city’s animal control officer and responds to dog-at-large calls for the Worthington Police Department and Nobles County Sheriff’s Office.

“What I want to do is promote that dogs out there are for adoption and you can get a good dog out there,” said Slone. “They all need work, no matter where you get them, whether they’re a puppy or adult.”

The city pound currently has half a dozen dogs — and one cat — in its indoor-outdoor kennels who are in need of homes.

Getting involved Slone became involved in pet rescue in Worthington following an experience with a yellow labrador that had been hit by a car. The dog was taken to the local pound and, after seven days, no owner had come forward. Two months later and still unclaimed, the dog was slated to be euthanized.

At that point, Slone did what she could on Facebook, putting the dog’s photo online and asking anyone if they’d be willing to adopt it and save it from death.

As the photo spread through the social network, the owner was found and came to claim the dog.

The story doesn’t end there, however.

At about the same time the yellow lab was rescued, three more dogs were nearing euthanasia because they had been at the pound too long — two labrador puppies and a puggle (a beagle-pug mix) that had been found wandering in the Castlewood Drive area of Worthington. Then, two black lab puppies and two pit bull puppies were found wandering on a dirt road and also brought to the pound.

Fast action was needed to save these pooches from death.

Slone stepped up and took four of the puppies, as well as the puggle, home from the pound in hopes of finding new homes for them.

“I took them on a Friday night to be cleaned up, and I took (the puggle) thinking a lady would want him because she was looking for a small dog,” she said.

The next morning, Pennings-Witzel arrived with her Freedom Van.

While no blue stars or red and white stripes are evident on the exterior, the red Chevy Astro van’s interior can be filled with kennels and pet taxis to haul dogs and cats to pet adoption centers in the region.

“I have been taking dogs to the cities or meeting people in Mankato for probably five or six years,” said Pennings-Witzel, who began rescuing pets in danger of being euthanized half a dozen years ago from an Iowa-based animal control shelter. Once, she rescued 21 dogs by taking them from animal control to a humane society in the Twin Cities.

A former show-dog owner of Cocker Spaniels, Pennings-Witzel said she has a soft-spot for animals and just wants to see them find a good home. She has six licensed dogs of her own, five of which are rescue dogs and the sixth is a champion Weimaraner.

“I’ve helped my vet in Rock Rapids (Iowa) get puppy mill dogs rescued, and I’ve also done an awful lot right here in Worthington with owner turn-ins,” she said.

The rescue When the Freedom Van arrived that Saturday morning to pick up the four puppies and transport them to the Twin Cities, Slone was left with the puggle in hopes that she could find him a home.

“(The puppies) were taken up to the cities, spayed, neutered, vaccinated and adopted to their new homes,” she said.

Then, when the prospect for the puggle fell through, Slone found herself taking on another pet. Already, she had two cats, Figaro and Phoebz.

“He needed a home and nobody wanted him,” she said of the pooch she named Aye. “I could not bring him back to the pound. He was there way too long.

“Sometimes I wonder what the heck I got myself into,” she added with a laugh. “He is very high energy, but he’s a good friend.”

Since bringing Aye home from the pound, Slone had him neutered — something she encourages all responsible pet owners to do. Some day, she’d like it to be a requirement that pet adoptees have their pet spayed or neutered as a condition of the adoption.

On a mission Both Slone and Pennings-Witzel are grateful to have a local animal pound where lost pets can be reunited with their owners, but far too often, no one comes to claim the animals.

In those instances, they hope that people who want to have a pet consider rescuing one of the animals from the pound.

“Virgil (Veen) has done the best he can with what he has to work with,” said Pennings-Witzel. Animals are to be held at the Worthington pound for seven days in case an owner will come forward, though there is often an extension in hopes of saving the animal from euthanasia.

For those pets who cannot be connected with a local adoptee, Pennings-Witzel works with several animal rescue organizations, including Midwest Animal Rescue & Services (MARS), Pet Project, Secondhand Hounds, Coco’s Heart Dog Rescue and Saving Animals From Euthanasia (SAFE).

Coco’s Heart recently accepted six of the dogs in the Worthington animal pound, she said.

“If we don’t have another Pit Bull born for a year or two, or another Labrador .... You can’t save them all because there’s so many of them,” Pennings-Witzel said. “There are dogs in rescue that are too old, too decrepit and too sick.”

Sometimes, however, even the sick animals can find good homes.

Pennings-Witzel recalled one rescue in which the dog was incontinent — it had no control over its bowel movements.

A woman in Arizona was willing to take the dog, which came from a breeder in Iowa and ended up at Coco’s Heart.

“Now, the dog is actually a therapy dog and goes to a nursing home with a diaper on,” said Pennings-Witzel. “The little old ladies and the little old men get such a kick out of it. (They say) ‘The dog is just like us.’”

For more information about the pets housed at the local pound, contact Virgil Veen at 295-5400 or 360-7044, or visit the Lost Pets - SW Minnesota Facebook page.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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