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A dog's best friend: Retiree helps abused canine prepare for permanent home

Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer Dennis Grace, a Beltrami Humane Society volunteer, has dedicated almost a year working with Sarge, a dog who had serious behavior issues.

BEMIDJI -- When Sarge first arrived in Bemidji last April, he didn't know anyone, and today he only knows a few people. But he has changed the lives of those people, including Dennis Grace.

The first time Grace and Sarge met was right after Sarge's arrived in Bemidji. Grace will admit, "I thought for sure if he got loose he would eat me alive."

Sarge, who is believed be either a German shepherd/Saint Bernard mix or an Australian shepherd, was in a kennel at the Beltrami Humane Society, growling, barking, and baring all his teeth. But once he was let outside, something changed and "you could see that he was different," Grace said.

Most of Sarge's history is unknown, but it was determined that he had an aggression problem due to abuse. When Sarge would drink water he would jam his nose into the water dish.

"We thought it was cute and funny but we finally figured out that he probably did it because he had been muzzled a lot and that's how he had to drink," Grace said.

When Sarge was first brought to the Humane Society, he had several raw neck sores because he had a collar removed that had grown into his neck.

Grace had a plan to spend a few hours with several different dogs but was soon spending time with Sarge every day. It started slowly, an hour to two but not every day, growing to four or five hours every day.

"I went from Aug. 18 to mid-November without missing a day," Grace said.

Since November, Sarge had been staying at the Grace's house full time, with Grace and his wife serving as foster parents. After spending several hours together at the Humane Society during the day, Grace said it felt like punishment to leave Sarge in a kennel when he had been behaving so well.

Grace and Sarge spent much of their time together walking, first on the trails behind the Humane Society because it was quiet, and then gradually working their way to walking by the Lake Bemidji lakefront, Nymore Beach and Diamond Point Park, with Sarge always on the leash.

As the two spent more time together, Sarge became more comfortable around people. "He's kind of a ladies' guy," Grace said.

As more time passed, Grace and Sarge developed a sense of trust and bond. When the pair walks in areas with few people, Sarge is often off the leash. "He never goes far and always checks backs to make sure I was there, (and) if I stop, he always runs back to me," Grace said.

In addition to Grace, everyone who works at the Humane Society had helped Sarge, especially Stephanie Ausk, who worked as a dog attendant there and now plans on adopting Sarge.

Grace is glad it will work out so he can stay in Sarge's life. " I'm definitely attached," he said.

In addition to volunteering with Sarge, Grace has become a member of the Beltrami Humane Society board of directors, but his focus will remain on being there to work with the dogs and spend time with them.

"I'm retired, so I've got the time," Grace said.

Maggi Stivers

Maggi Stivers is a Multi-Media Journalist at the Bemidji Pioneer. She covers art and entertainment in the Bemidji area. She is a 2013 Bemidji State graduate majoring in mass communications with a minor in sociology. Contact her at (218) 333-9790 or

(218) 333-9790