This article was submitted by Caleb Giesen, a student at Concordia College.
Squalls of muffled dogs’ howls ring out from back rooms and the underlying scent of Purina permeates the air as Heather Clyde welcomes visitors to the Fargo-Moorhead Humane Society.
The wails swell and fade through the shelter as gravelly barks echo off linoleum floors, and sharp yips push the human ears’ decibel limits.
The dogs, listening for a slammed front door, can sense a new arrival. The local pound rescues from Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead rouse up a new chorus at the sound of each new visitor.
“Everyone’s trying to decide who’s top dog,” Clyde said.
Walked at least twice daily, the impounded German shepherds and black labs paw their kennels and stand on hind legs, looking expectantly for their next trip outside – or maybe their new owner.
They are playful and flamboyant dogs, not unlike those uncovered at a hoarding incident in Bemidji, Minn., on Jan. 23. Carol Schmidt, 63, of northern Bemidji, currently waits further sentencing after more than 100 dogs were found fenced together on a small acreage plot of her property during a welfare check.
Bemidji courts will decide if she is to remain committed at the Bemidji Community Behavioral Health Hospital, where she is currently seeking treatment.
Dozens of Schmidt’s dogs were remitted to shelters in the Twin Cities by Beltrami Country Human Services of Bemidji, including more than 40 to Golden Valley, Minn.
“They didn’t even contact us,” Clyde said of the relocation effort.
The F-M Humane Society is small, with nine dog kennels in operation. Local flyers for lost yellow labs and prices for newborn kittens jumble its vestibule entrance – wall-tacked and cluttered, vying for attention. It is more schoolhouse than shelter in appearance. With firehouse-red siding and pitched, white trim, the rescue, through foster care and in-house providing, usually accounts for 15 to 18 dogs.
It is a far cry from the 107 Schmidt kept kenneled inside two trailer homes. Hoarding the dogs on her property since her father’s death in 2010, Schmidt’s relocated dogs would have swelled area pound numbers and burdened shelter vacancy if sent to Fargo.
“We took in over 200 dogs last year and sent about 110 to other shelters,” Clyde said, noting that the volume of rescues is spread out over the year.
When asked how many of those 200 dogs were adopted, she deftly replied, “All of them.”
Fargo-Moorhead area pounds took in 1073 dogs in 2011. Of those taken in, 23 were euthanized. Clyde explained how she tries to avoid that outcome.
“I go to the pounds every morning to see who can come up here,” she said over another round of overlapping dogs’ bays. The daily task ensures that no adoptable dog is left behind.
Dogs have three to five days to be recovered by owners or rescued by shelters before being put down by the city.
“We only had to put down two of our dogs last year,” Clyde said. “We try to save as many as we can.”
Lost animals are common for the area, but death can easily be avoided, she said. Hoarding situations like Schmidt’s, while hard on shelter populations and the animals themselves, are not uncommon. Clyde has gone through four hoarding incidents during her tenure as manager.
“We just took in six cats from an animal hoarder [on Jan. 27],” she said.
Fifteen other cats found at the site were seized by animal control.
“The woman was feeding them rice because she couldn’t afford anything else,” she said. “Here she thought she was saving them by bringing them in off the streets, when really it just wasn’t the case.”
And though she’s never dealt with a dog-hoarding incident, Clyde is quick to mention the animals in the shelter often come with baggage.
Dusty is such an example. Set in the corner of Clyde’s office in a black, wire cage, the meek little Chihuahua lies curled under blankets, wary of movement in the room. At once cowed and aggressive, he is one of the 50 dogs the Humane Society took in during January alone.
“He’s a strange one,” Clyde said, watching as Dusty’s bulbous brown eyes flitted around the room. “Just yesterday he was curled up in my lap, licking my face. Now I can’t even touch him.”
Surrendered after his longtime owner passed away, Dusty has multiple handling issues to overcome on his way to being deemed adoptable.
“Most dogs, once you have their trust, you keep it,” she said. “If he was a social dog he’d probably already be adopted by now.”
The same evaluations are being conducted in Golden Valley for many of Schmidt’s dogs, and authorities are looking for signs of stress and aggression caused by living in uninhabitable conditions for so long.
“They were miserable mentally,” Clyde said. “It would be like us living in a crowded room with 30 other people… It’s just not an ideal situation.”