Rae Burmeister makes a home for the most popular stray in Blackduck
Last summer, three stray dogs moved into Blackduck to call the city their home. After numerous complaints from various individuals, two suddenly disappeared, leaving a skiddish female dog to fend for herself. Now, almost a year later, Blackduck city maintenance worker Rae Burmeister has given the dog, that he now calls Bootsie (because of her white paws), a loving home.
Life as a stray
Several Blackduck community members can remember the stray dogs -- many people had to deal with the them first hand.
"The two dogs that eventually disappeared kind of got in to trouble," Burmeister said. "Bootsie always stayed in the back or off to the side. The other two were kind of like the ring leaders."
The city and police department received numerous complaints that two mischievous dogs being in people's yards and getting into their garbage. They quickly became a city-wide nuisance.
"Bootsie was smarter than those two," Burmeister said. "She laid low."
It didn't take long before the two troublesome dogs disappeared. After losing her negative influences, Bootsie made her rounds to a handful of local businesses looking for something to eat.
"She'd start over at Countryside, then to Timberline, cross the highway to The Pond, stop by Blackduck Family Foods and then would hit Blackduck Realty," Burmeister said.
Bootsie's rounds went on until October when she hadn't been seen for a month.
"I was pretty sure she had been hit by a car since she crossed that highway all the time, but then in November -- boom, she was back," Burmeister said.
From November on, Bootsie made her unofficial home at the wayside rest.
"Some people say she would stay in a culvert or a shed," Burmeister said. "She won't go into something that small, though. She doesn't like to be cornered."
As the days got colder and colder, people started feeling sorry for the stray and fed her more.
"We felt sorry for the poor thing -- especially in the dead of winter, so we fed her and so did The Pond," said Tracy Anderson of Blackduck Family Foods.
"There were quite a few people who would feed her, but could never catch her," Burmeister said. "I know someone who lost around 20 pounds because she fed her lunch to the dog."
Burmeister said he and the City Maintenance Supervisor Bob Klug Jr. would see Bootsie every day and he always thought she would make a nice dog. Klug said she'd never be tamed down.
With spring coming and the wayside rest opening up, Burmeister didn't think it would be very appealing to the public to have a dog living there. He told the police and several others that if anyone caught the dog, he would take her -- including Dr. Sherry Billups.
Billups, an avid dog lover, had taken an early interest in Bootsie and always made sure she was fed.
"One night when I was leaving work, I happened to see her at the wayside rest and it was really chilly out," she said. "So, I went to the store and got some hamburger and fed her."
From that evening on, Billups fed Bootsie twice a day -- everyday. If she couldn't do it, she would line up someone who could.
"Every time I would bring her food, I would talk to her and tried to win her trust," she explained. "She progressively got where she wouldn't run away from me. She even followed me one day, which absolutely flabbergasted me. She eventually let me pet her."
Finally, one day, Billups was bound and determined to make that the day she would catch Bootsie.
"I knew that if I didn't catch her when I did, that her future wasn't looking good," she said. "I called around to the Humane Society and the police department looking for a cage to catch her in, but nobody had one. Finally, I called the Department of Natural Resources and talked to Shelly Gorman who had a live bear trap she said I could use if I worked with the Blackduck Police Department."
Billups knew that Bootsie was too smart to be caught in a cage, so she attempted to catch her with a leash.
Kindness and consistency was key. With Bootsie following her, Billups walked to a community playground with a gate that was frozen open.
"It took me a long time, but I got her to go into the gate with me," she said. "I was sitting in the snow, blocking the exit for about half and hour before Glen Lutgen came along, offering to help."
Together, Billups and Lutgen, who had gone home to get his wife and a gate, got to where Bootsie would come to them. Billups was finally able to get a leash around her.
"She actually jumped up and licked me on the cheek," Billups said. "Part of me thought, 'Sherry, you're crazy.' But she was never aggressive towards me."
After catching her, Lutgen, who had been feeding her as well, took her for the night before calling Burmeister the next day to come get her.
When Burmeister went to pick Bootsie up, he didn't know how she'd do riding in the front seat of his pickup.
"When we got her in the truck, she was real nervous and scared. She did like me though," he said. "Once she got in there, she wouldn't have been able to sit any closer to me than she was. It reminded me of my wife, Jodi, when we first started going out."
A new home
To get Bootsie used to her new home, Burmeister would tie her up or keep a close eye on her, in case she would run away.
"I didn't like to tie her up, but she would follow my truck down the driveway when I would leave," he said.
Bootsie has so far made only one attempt at a breakaway.
"I made the mistake of walking into my shop for a second one day and she couldn't see me. Well, she took off down the lane and I remember thinking I didn't know how I would ever catch her," he said. "So, I started going after her and hollered, "Bootsie!" She stopped, turned around to look at me and came back."
Burmeister enjoys having Bootsie as part of his family and does a lot with her, including taking her fishing. He believes she's content and happy with her new home -- even with her new "sister," Amy, the Burmeister's other dog.
"She is an outside dog so she sleeps out on the porch at night but we don't tie her up," he said. "I do check on her several times during the night -- just to let her know we're around."
Burmeister said there are days when Bootsie stares down the driveway and looks as if she is thinking about running free again.
"She is welcome to stay as long as she wants," Burmeister said. "It's up to her."
He also added that Bootsie is very appreciative of everyone who fed her throughout the winter.
"I don't think she would have made it without the food from the community," he said.