Woman with more than 50 dogs may keep seven, rest will go to shelter
Most of the dogs will go, seven will stay and a few could be returned home once they've been neutered or spayed and her house is cleaned. That is what 63-year-old Carol Schmidt agreed to Wednesday.
"That's what I want," the rural Bemidji woman said after signing a custodial agreement with the Animal Humane Society to have more than 40 of her dogs taken to an animal shelter in Golden Valley, Minn.
Beltrami County Environmental Services Director Bill Patnaude, officials with Beltrami County Sheriff's Office and Wade Hanson, an investigator with the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley, met with Schmidt at her mobile home two days after authorities conducted a welfare check and found more than 50 dogs and some cats living inside two mobile homes on her property.
"I want them in the Cities," Schmidt said, referring to the dogs that will be taken to the animal shelter in Golden Valley. "It's good for people down there that need guard dogs for their places."
While Schmidt is not breaking any laws by having so many pets at her residence on Grant Valley Road Northwest in Grant Valley Township, the dogs are being removed because of what Hanson called "unsanitary conditions."
"She has agreed she has way too many animals," said Hanson, who according to the Animal Humane Society is an expert on animal hoarding and humane investigations. "We're going to do what we can for now. We'll be back up here once in a while to see whether or not the situation has gotten better."
Hanson said remnants of feces and urine from the dogs in the home and the amount of acidity in the air was a cause for concern because it can cause upper respiratory problems and bacterial infections.
"The dogs don't look like they're not being fed, so we're not concerned about that, but there is a concern for the dogs and the people who are living there because of the infections that can occur," he said. "It doesn't happen overnight. It takes time to build up in their system."
Hanson said he did not know officially when the dogs would be removed from the residence, but said when they are relocated to the animal shelter, each dog will have its health checked by a veterinarian before being placed for adoption.
The Animal Humane Society owns five animal shelters in the metro area, Hanson said. Some of the dogs could eventually be transferred to these other shelters after they are determined to be healthy.
Of the dogs Schmidt will keep, at least two are staying because they are nursing young puppies, she said. However, the puppies will eventually be expected to be given away and the dogs spayed or neutered.
In a mobile home situated a dozen feet away from Schmidt's trailer, lives a woman who has between seven and 10 dogs, which Schmidt said she gave to her. These dogs will stay put for now, Patnaude said, because they are spayed or neutered.
As director of Beltrami County Environmental Services, Patnaude said he plans to work with Schmidt in handling the sanitary conditions of her home and homestead.
"What we're dealing with is too many dogs and we've got some unsanitary conditions that Carol is trying to address," he said. "We're trying to take the load off her for the time being by getting the large number of dogs so she has the opportunity to get her place fixed up a little bit."
'I have too many'
Two hours before authorities came to her home Wednesday, Schmidt and her on-premise neighbor, Janice, stood watching as dozens of dogs played in the fenced-in area behind Schmidt's home.
Janice stood silently, with tears streaming down her face, as Schmidt told her dogs to quiet down.
"They know when something's up," she said.
Schmidt said she received a call earlier that day from a law enforcement officer who she said told her someone was coming to take her dogs away.
"Because I have too many," Schmidt said. "Well, I know I have too many. I wanted to give them away."
"All she's got are her dogs," Schmidt said, looking at Janice.
"They've never been without me," Janice added.
The smell of dog feces radiated from the multiple rows of used dog food bags that were filled with soiled newspapers. They formed a windbreak between the dog kennel area and the rest of the homestead.
Piles of scrap metal, used appliances, garbage bags and miscellaneous trinkets laid scattered and covered in snow across Schmidt's yard. One hundred yards from Schmidt's home sat three empty mobile homes, which serve as reminders of her past.
One of the trailers Schmidt said she abandoned after it caught on fire. Another trailer her daughter used to live in. The third trailer she said was too cold to live in.
As the two women stood outside waiting to see if a truck would come to take the dogs away, Schmidt recalled a time in 2003 when she claims an animal rescue worker came to her home and took half her dogs.
"All I did was cry," she said. "Half of the dogs didn't show up at the shelter. They were sold. A veterinarian came and I told her, 'You're either for me and my dogs or you're for the enemy.' But she said 'Carol, I'm for the dogs.'
"They should not have been taken out in the yard because there was nothing wrong with them," she added.
Schmidt said she knows she has too many dogs, which she said was because she did not have all of her dogs spayed or neutered. She said she felt ready to give some away, but not all of them.
She said she has been keeping a mental list of the dogs she wants to keep.
"That's Peaches," she said, pointing to a tan-colored dog. "She thinks she has to be with me all the time.
"That little black one there is Beauty, and there's Lulu.
"Benji is down in the hole in the floor (in the house) because they pick on him all the time," she added.
She said she also keeps Chihuahua puppies in her bedroom, which she said are especially good at cheering her up when she feels sad.
Schmidt is not exactly sure what prompted authorities to visit her place, but suspects it was because she mentioned she had too many dogs when she reapplied for food stamps and medical assistance.
She also suspects someone she knows might have tipped off authorities in hopes she would have to pay a fine for having too many dogs, and therefore would have to put her 40 acres of land up for sale.
"If I have to sell my land and they take all my dogs away, the land is going to the Red Lake Reservation, even if I have to sell it for $1," she said.
She said the reason she has dogs is because they are trustworthy.
She recalls the first dog she had was "a curly dog" that she remembers playing with when she was young. When the dog died after being struck by a vehicle, Schmidt said she became depressed.
"The doctor told my mom, 'If you want her to get well, you better buy her another dog,'" Schmidt said.
She said her second dog lived for 15 years, and she has had dogs and cats ever since.
"I guess it's because they protect you and they know when you're down," Schmidt said of her love of dogs.
"They trust you and don't hurt you," Janice added.