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Fighting for discarded canines

ROLETTE COUNTY, N.D.--Rolette County Sheriff's Deputy Keith Benning found Lucas the pit bull mix curled up on a porch and covered in blood. It was Saturday evening. He'd been called to assist Turtle Mountain tribal police on a report of a dangero...

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Veterinarian Lori Gossard rubs Lucas on the head in the lobby of All Pets Hospital in Grand Forks Tuesday afternoon. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

ROLETTE COUNTY, N.D.-Rolette County Sheriff's Deputy Keith Benning found Lucas the pit bull mix curled up on a porch and covered in blood. It was Saturday evening. He'd been called to assist Turtle Mountain tribal police on a report of a dangerous dog near a home on the reservation-but once they stumbled upon it, they were wary of getting too close. "There was concern about even approaching the dog, just because of the breed and because of the way the report had come out-that it was a dangerous dog," Benning said. "Anytime you get an injured animal, even if they're the friendliest animal, they'll bite." Those three factors-the breed, the injury and the report that it was dangerous-led to a discussion over whether or not the dog should be put down right there. Benning first went back this car and got out a leash. "When I went up to him, he kind of lowered his head a little bit," Benning said. That was all he needed to scoop the dog up, place it in towels in the back of his squad car and take it home with him. Later named Lucas, the dog has since been sent to surgery in Grand Forks and is headed for a foster home in the Minneapolis area later this week. It's far from the first episode Benning has had with dogs in the area. He's deeply involved in work to found a local rescue, a fledgling organization he and his wife run out of their home through its Facebook page: "Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue Network." He said the group will begin solving countywide problems related overpopulation and neglect and hopes to apply for grants to start a shelter soon. Benning and his wife have been in the area for two years, but he said he's doing what he can to help. "It was just so bad when we came up here," he said. "There were just so many strays everywhere. I couldn't turn my head. If something's wrong, it's easy to ignore it. As people, we can't do that." That's the message that T.J. Jerke, North Dakota director for the Humane Society of the United States, has for people around the state-especially when it comes to the related issue of owners harming or neglecting their pets. "I think we just need to work on the education piece," Jerke said. "If you think an animal is being neglected or an animal is being abused, contact your local police department or sheriff's department. Get them to do an animal welfare check." A statewide problem Benning said cases of animal neglect are relatively common in Rolette County and on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. There are a significant number of strays in the area, he said, and during the first hard freeze of the winter, many of them die. "There's the general culture up here," he said. Though there are many good pet owners, he explained, others are careless with their animals. "I don't know if it's particular to North Dakota or particular to the area we're in, it's more commonplace, and people aren't as likely to report it." Though it's been two years since he arrived, it was a December 2014 incident that made him pay more attention. He remembers going to a trailer that had been abandoned by a family after pipes burst. He knew there were dogs there, and stopped by as a private citizen to feed them. There was a mother, possibly part wolf, that had a rotten carcass buried in the snow for food. When she stood up, Benning said, there was a litter of newborn puppies beneath her. "We were just shocked," he said. "We ended up taking her puppies and getting them a home." Jennifer Malaterre, an agricultural coordinator with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, regularly deals with animal abuse and neglect cases on the reservation. She said a big part of the problem has to do with resources available. There's no standing veterinary clinic or rescue in the area, which makes the problem hard to control. "We have such a high unemployment rate, it's hard to provide even veterinary services," she said. A remote clinic is now visiting every summer, offering two or three days of services such as spaying and neutering. "We are taking better control of the issue, compared to five years ago." Malaterre said she hopes a stronger veterinary presence moves into the area. There are statewide problems with overpopulation, Jerke said, and he said it would be inaccurate to say it's solely an issue on reservations. It's a problem that crops up at an intersection of poverty and a lack of veterinary resources, he said. There may be help on the way, though. Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association is set to fund its rural area veterinary services program at the Turtle Mountain, Standing Rock and Spirit Lake reservations once again this year, and the group has previously visited the Fort Berthold Reservation. He suspects that it's the same one that Malaterre praised. "It's a problem across North Dakota," he said, especially when it comes to barn and feral cats. Without spaying and neutering, their population can spiral out of control. Abuse The issue of animal abuse and neglect, Benning said, is different from yet directly linked to overpopulation issues. Not spaying and neutering leads to animals that are ultimately left uncared for, Benning said, and creates a culture that leads to neglect. "It's just a cycle," he said. "We're trying to break that cycle." Though North Dakota has a number of laws to protect animals, Jerke said he would still like to see more. Animal cruelty restrictions, regulations on breeders and pet shops and more could all be tighter to ensure that animals have food, space and recreational time to keep them healthy. According to an Humane Society report he shared with the Herald, North Dakota does not have laws to require counseling for animal cruelty offenders and doesn't require a person charged with animal cruelty to post bond covering costs of caring for the animals in question. Benning said anyone who suspects a neighbor has been neglecting or abusing a pet should look for several warning signs: that a dog is left without water on a hot day; that the dog's ribs or other bones are visible; or that the dog is left outside shivering in the cold. The more of those signs that are observed, the stronger the case will be to get a warrant from a judge to seize the animal, Benning said. Malaterre said she'd like to see stronger tribal laws for cruelty and neglect, too. "There needs to be higher fines," she said. "Right now, it's barely a slap on the hand for the amount of abuse that an animal could take." Happy endings Though Lucas' story didn't start with a happy ending in sight, he might soon find one. When he was discovered, Lucas was about 20 pounds underweight, with ribs and vertebrae easily visible beneath his fur. Benning said he thinks the dog was wandering in search of food when it got into a tangle with another dog. Among his injuries were a hematoma under his chin and lacerations on his face and forehead. When he went into surgery on Monday, he had two teeth removed from a recent injury.
Benning's episode with Lucas would last the rest of the night. He called around for help, and eventually phoned Leslie Rethemeier, president of the Circle of Friends Humane Society in Grand Forks. Rethemeier helped connect Benning to Grand Forks veterinarian Lori Gossard, who drove up that morning to bring Lucas in for surgery. His owner wasn't found. "He cried all night, from about 2 a.m. until 6 a.m.," Benning recalled of the wait. "I was out there every hour trying to get him to fall back asleep." He's headed to No Dog Left Behind, a canine rescue organization in Minnesota. "He is very friendly, and he really likes food. He's very hungry, and he is doing very good," Gossard said. "He doesn't like being alone. He wants out of his kennel and (to be) wherever the people are."ROLETTE COUNTY, N.D.-Rolette County Sheriff's Deputy Keith Benning found Lucas the pit bull mix curled up on a porch and covered in blood.It was Saturday evening. He'd been called to assist Turtle Mountain tribal police on a report of a dangerous dog near a home on the reservation-but once they stumbled upon it, they were wary of getting too close."There was concern about even approaching the dog, just because of the breed and because of the way the report had come out-that it was a dangerous dog," Benning said. "Anytime you get an injured animal, even if they're the friendliest animal, they'll bite."Those three factors-the breed, the injury and the report that it was dangerous-led to a discussion over whether or not the dog should be put down right there. Benning first went back this car and got out a leash."When I went up to him, he kind of lowered his head a little bit," Benning said.That was all he needed to scoop the dog up, place it in towels in the back of his squad car and take it home with him. Later named Lucas, the dog has since been sent to surgery in Grand Forks and is headed for a foster home in the Minneapolis area later this week.It's far from the first episode Benning has had with dogs in the area. He's deeply involved in work to found a local rescue, a fledgling organization he and his wife run out of their home through its Facebook page: "Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue Network." He said the group will begin solving countywide problems related overpopulation and neglect and hopes to apply for grants to start a shelter soon.Benning and his wife have been in the area for two years, but he said he's doing what he can to help."It was just so bad when we came up here," he said. "There were just so many strays everywhere. I couldn't turn my head. If something's wrong, it's easy to ignore it. As people, we can't do that."That's the message that T.J. Jerke, North Dakota director for the Humane Society of the United States, has for people around the state-especially when it comes to the related issue of owners harming or neglecting their pets."I think we just need to work on the education piece," Jerke said. "If you think an animal is being neglected or an animal is being abused, contact your local police department or sheriff's department. Get them to do an animal welfare check."A statewide problemBenning said cases of animal neglect are relatively common in Rolette County and on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. There are a significant number of strays in the area, he said, and during the first hard freeze of the winter, many of them die."There's the general culture up here," he said. Though there are many good pet owners, he explained, others are careless with their animals. "I don't know if it's particular to North Dakota or particular to the area we're in, it's more commonplace, and people aren't as likely to report it."Though it's been two years since he arrived, it was a December 2014 incident that made him pay more attention. He remembers going to a trailer that had been abandoned by a family after pipes burst. He knew there were dogs there, and stopped by as a private citizen to feed them.There was a mother, possibly part wolf, that had a rotten carcass buried in the snow for food. When she stood up, Benning said, there was a litter of newborn puppies beneath her."We were just shocked," he said. "We ended up taking her puppies and getting them a home."Jennifer Malaterre, an agricultural coordinator with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, regularly deals with animal abuse and neglect cases on the reservation. She said a big part of the problem has to do with resources available. There's no standing veterinary clinic or rescue in the area, which makes the problem hard to control. "We have such a high unemployment rate, it's hard to provide even veterinary services," she said. A remote clinic is now visiting every summer, offering two or three days of services such as spaying and neutering. "We are taking better control of the issue, compared to five years ago."Malaterre said she hopes a stronger veterinary presence moves into the area.There are statewide problems with overpopulation, Jerke said, and he said it would be inaccurate to say it's solely an issue on reservations. It's a problem that crops up at an intersection of poverty and a lack of veterinary resources, he said.There may be help on the way, though. Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association is set to fund its rural area veterinary services program at the Turtle Mountain, Standing Rock and Spirit Lake reservations once again this year, and the group has previously visited the Fort Berthold Reservation. He suspects that it's the same one that Malaterre praised."It's a problem across North Dakota," he said, especially when it comes to barn and feral cats. Without spaying and neutering, their population can spiral out of control.AbuseThe issue of animal abuse and neglect, Benning said, is different from yet directly linked to overpopulation issues. Not spaying and neutering leads to animals that are ultimately left uncared for, Benning said, and creates a culture that leads to neglect. "It's just a cycle," he said. "We're trying to break that cycle."Though North Dakota has a number of laws to protect animals, Jerke said he would still like to see more. Animal cruelty restrictions, regulations on breeders and pet shops and more could all be tighter to ensure that animals have food, space and recreational time to keep them healthy. According to an Humane Society report he shared with the Herald, North Dakota does not have laws to require counseling for animal cruelty offenders and doesn't require a person charged with animal cruelty to post bond covering costs of caring for the animals in question.Benning said anyone who suspects a neighbor has been neglecting or abusing a pet should look for several warning signs: that a dog is left without water on a hot day; that the dog's ribs or other bones are visible; or that the dog is left outside shivering in the cold. The more of those signs that are observed, the stronger the case will be to get a warrant from a judge to seize the animal, Benning said.Malaterre said she'd like to see stronger tribal laws for cruelty and neglect, too."There needs to be higher fines," she said. "Right now, it's barely a slap on the hand for the amount of abuse that an animal could take."Happy endingsThough Lucas' story didn't start with a happy ending in sight, he might soon find one.When he was discovered, Lucas was about 20 pounds underweight, with ribs and vertebrae easily visible beneath his fur. Benning said he thinks the dog was wandering in search of food when it got into a tangle with another dog.Among his injuries were a hematoma under his chin and lacerations on his face and forehead. When he went into surgery on Monday, he had two teeth removed from a recent injury.
Benning's episode with Lucas would last the rest of the night. He called around for help, and eventually phoned Leslie Rethemeier, president of the Circle of Friends Humane Society in Grand Forks. Rethemeier helped connect Benning to Grand Forks veterinarian Lori Gossard, who drove up that morning to bring Lucas in for surgery.His owner wasn't found."He cried all night, from about 2 a.m. until 6 a.m.," Benning recalled of the wait. "I was out there every hour trying to get him to fall back asleep."He's headed to No Dog Left Behind, a canine rescue organization in Minnesota."He is very friendly, and he really likes food. He's very hungry, and he is doing very good," Gossard said. "He doesn't like being alone. He wants out of his kennel and (to be) wherever the people are."

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Vet tech Corianne Caro slips Lucas a treat in one of the exam rooms at All Pet Hospital in Grand Forks on Tuesday. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

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