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Grand Forks animal rescue sees uptick in abandoned animals following the lifting of COVID restrictions

Since the founding of Journey Home in June 2019, it has placed more than 1,775 animals into foster homes and sent an additional 2,000 animals to partnering organizations.

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Founding members of Journey Home Jennie Olson, left, with Maverick, and Leslie Rethemeier, with Baylor and Capt. Levi, walk the rescue dogs Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, at a rescue event in Lincoln Park.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — A local animal rescue is seeing a drastic uptick in abandoned animals and animals in need of homes following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, one of its founders says.

Leslie Rethemeier, one of the founders of Journey Home Animal Rescue, said many people opened their homes in the midst of the pandemic, since they had the extra time and availability to foster or adopt an animal. Now, many have returned to their busy lives, unable or unwilling to continue caring for their pets.

Journey Home partners with multiple shelters, pounds, rescues and police departments in the surrounding area.

“We don’t have enough fosters to facilitate these animals, so we work with 4 Luv of Dog, Homeward Animal Shelter, Furry Friends. We get calls from East Grand Forks, Grand Forks, Spirit Lake, Turtle Mountain … the Cavalier and Grafton police departments … the Trail County police department,” said Rethemeier.

There are so many animals and not enough places to house them until they can find a permanent home, said Rethemeier, and so, in many rural areas, people resort to shooting as euthanasia. “That’s the harsh, sad reality of rural areas that just don’t have an outlet. That is what they’ve had to do,” said Rethemeier.


Since the founding of Journey Home in June 2019, it has placed more than 1,775 animals into foster homes and sent an additional 2,000 animals to partnering organizations. So far in 2022, Journey Home has accepted about 375 animals, according to Rethemeier. Animals are placed into foster homes, where they are prepared for adoption.

Hannah Kirkeby, a Grand Forks resident, has fostered animals since before the founding of Journey Home.

“I’ve always been an animal lover. My mom would do puppy rescue back in Washington. I’ve been around dogs, cats, everything, my whole life, so it wasn’t hard for me to get involved with helping more animals. It’s just crazy to see how many are discharged on the side of the road, unwanted because people are getting a divorce or moving. It’s, it’s heartbreaking,” said Kirkeby.

Kirkeby takes in as many animals as she and her husband can handle. Those interested in adopting or fostering often want an animal that has received all required vaccinations and has been altered, said Kirkeby, so she fosters animals until they’ve been completely vetted, and then passes them to another foster or keeps them until adoption.

Kirkeby said it’s a major time commitment, but Journey Home pays for everything a foster would need to help an animal, including the vetting, supplies and food. “It’s literally just opening your home and sharing it with an animal until they find a home,” she said.

“I don’t do it because I want them all. I do it because they’re in situations that are life or death,” said Kirkeby.

Regarding the uptick in animals coming into shelters or rescue centers, Kirkeby said, “It’s been crazy with rescue this year. After COVID, [nobody wants] their dog anymore, so there’s just been a lot of unwanted and extra dogs.” Kirkeby said she believes fostering is important because it brings the public’s attention to animal abandonment situations that are happening locally.

“It’s really an eye-opening experience,” she said. Adopting is equally important to her, and she said, “A lot of the animals are just amazing. They’re grateful and willing to please.”


Journey Home is a 100% volunteer-run and donation-funded rescue center. To volunteer or donate, applications and resources are available on their website.

The author of this piece, Maren Schettler, is a UND student and freelance writer for the Herald.

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