ROLETTE COUNTY, N.D. -- For the most part, the Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue operates out of Keith Benning’s Rolette County house.
It’s not ideal, but it’s the best the he and his wife can muster at the moment. Founded three years ago when the couple was in a one-bedroom home, moving to a new house has helped them get more space, but it hasn’t helped them get out ahead of the huge number of dogs Benning says need attention.
“We’re in an isolated area. The nearest city is Minot, which is two hours away,” Benning said in a Thursday phone interview, a dog barking in the background. He described significant poverty and joblessness in an area where a $400 spaying bill is a real challenge. “Anytime you run into a set of circumstances like that, you’re going to run into an animal problem.”
The Bennings’ group has grabbed the social media spotlight this week after two of its recent posts scored hundreds of shares each on Facebook. The first, from March 21, included a picture of a dog that had frozen to death.
“300 dogs frozen to the ground after the spring thaw -- this is one of the unlucky souls,” the post read. “He reminds me of a dog from my childhood, ‘Snowy,’ and I am instantly brought to tears.”
One day later, another post followed:
“Just want to do a clarification post for people,” it read. “One of our volunteers from Grand Forks came up and I drove her around to show her the problem. Did we see dead dogs? Yes. Did we stop and count 300 that day? No. Did 300 dogs die this winter? Yes.”
Benning clarified that he’d commented to a volunteer that about 300 dogs die during the winter in the area every year, and that the post on Facebook was probably confusing.
Rolette County is home to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, but Benning stressed that the problem isn’t linked to the reservation. It’s a problem that has to do with poverty, he said, and the rescue works both on and off Indian lands.
“If out of everything I’m telling you, if you get one thing out of it, that’s it,” Benning said.
The operation is still relatively small, with a handful of foster families and volunteers helping get the dogs to shelters in Grand Forks, Fargo and the Twin Cities, where they’re later adopted. He added that the group hopes to grow, though. Lacy Strietzel, an early supporter of the project whose shelter combined with the Bennings’, should have a clearer schedule to help soon, and the group recently acquired a van to help transport dogs. In the future, Benning said leaders with the group would like to find it a new home.
But that -- and the vet bills -- takes money. The group is accepting donations online at www.gofundme.com/24fxa8c, and has raised more than $13,500 of a $90,000 goal.
“Somebody’s got to do it,” Benning said of his work with the shelter. “I don’t know what the better answer is. There’s a need in the community, so our goal is to organize the community to cope with the problem and fix the problem.”