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Animal rescue cuts back

SOLWAY – WhipStaff Ranch and Rescue is slowing down but not shutting down, Carrie Van Wert stresses.

Dwindling funds, slower adoptions and fewer foster homes and volunteers have caused the rescue program in rural Solway to cut back on the number of animals it takes in, with hopes to increase those numbers in the spring.

“Several key foster homes moved out of the area,” said Van Wert, who runs the rescue program with her mother, Pam Abels, and brother, Jeremy Van Wert. She added that some key volunteers were also lost as some people moved away or left to go to college.

“The biggest thing is lack of funds,” she said, adding expenses for the rescue run $2,500 per month, and donations just aren’t coming in anymore. Last month, the rescue operation received $25.

Before the economic downturn, WhipStaff had regular donors who would contribute $100 or $200 every month. Now, however, these donors understandably need to focus on making their mortgage payments, Van Wert said, which has been tough on the rescue.

“To finish out the year, we need $3,000,” she said. “We’re frugal, but we still need to pay our bills and buy food and supplies. … We’re grateful for anything,” including supplies that are on a wish list on the WhipStaff website. Van Wert said the more people can do to help, the easier it will be for the rescue to get back up to speed.

Four dogs were recently adopted through WhipStaff and were not replaced by other dogs waiting for a home. “That will leave us with just a handful,” Van Wert said.

So far this year, about 280 dogs and 70 cats have been placed in homes.

“We thought if we could slow down a bit, apply for some grants, we could start up again in the spring,” Van Wert said. “Mom said we can’t keep taking out of our household budget to make sure dogs get spayed.”

Their livelihood comes from the WhipStaff Ranch, through which they raise livestock – rabbits, sheep, goats, deer and llamas, as well as fallow deer. The ranch has been around for 22 years. The rescue was incorporated in 2006, but Van Wert and her family have been finding homes for animals for much longer.

“It started with one dog somebody tied to our mailbox,” she said, adding that someone must have mistakenly thought they could afford to care for it. More animals followed, literally thousands over the years.

“We can’t do it all,” she said. “People have to be responsible for their own pets,” including spaying and neutering, and “quit leaving them on a country road. … There wouldn’t be a need for us if people would be responsible for their own animals, and that’s all there is to it.”

What really depleted the rescue’s resources in the last couple of years was a puppy mill in Little Falls from which WhipStaff accepted 657 dogs, placing about 200 in homes and delivering the rest to other rescue operations.

“We took 40 dogs every two weeks,” Van Wert said. It took nine months, from December 2010 to September 2011, to place all the dogs, which ranged from six-week-old puppies to 10- to 12-year-old breeding dogs. Most were healthy, but they needed grooming and veterinary exams.

“The problem was ... every dog we took in cost us money,” Van Wert said, adding that they spent $30-$40 on each dog. Some dogs required surgery. “It pretty much depleted everything we had … It was good for the dogs, but bad for us.”

WhipStaff’s rescue program does not have an actual shelter, she said. It relies on foster homes that usually take in one or two animals. Whipstaff pays for veterinary care and buys food if the necessary. The foster home numbers have fallen from 10 to 15 at best to its current three.

The animals, mostly dogs, flourish from living in foster homes, Van Wert said, as they learn how to behave in a home situation.

Whipstaff lists its animals online through Petfinder. While dogs and cats remain the most common animals placed, the rescue has also found homes for horses, pot-bellied pigs, rats, turtles, rabbits, chinchillas and ferrets.

Getting help

Whipstaff tries to increase its exposure to the community through local events such as pet adoption days at Canine Divine, where co-owner Jessie Budrow also offers space for kittens on an ongoing basis.

“She’s an amazing person,” Van Wert said. “The beauty of it is that people can come in at any time and see them.”

Budrow and Van Wert met when the rescue was dealing with the puppy mill.

“I knew this was a place that would take animals in that a lot of people would turn away from,” said Budrow, who offered to provide volunteer grooming. There were standard poodles, she said, that had such poor grooming issues that they had maggots in their ears.

“Later on, we got into kittens,” she said. “They don’t have a facility like the (Beltrami) Humane Society does. … We’ve placed a lot of kittens. We’ve placed some older cats, too.”

Budrow also collects donations for the rescue. Pets Plus, Fleet and Cenex are local locations that will allow people to buy and leave pet food for the animals.

Budrow has a lot of respect for WhipStaff Ranch and Rescue, and for Van Wert.

“She’s a one-woman show,” Budrow said. “She won’t admit it. She works so hard. … She will fight for the animals. She doesn’t back down and let things slide. I admire her for that – she’s very brave.”


Laurie Swenson
Laurie Swenson is a reporter/copy editor for the Bemidji Pioneer. She has been with the Pioneer since 2004.