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Minot pets homesick as owners kennel animals to deal with evacuations

Volunteer Christa Steinke tries to pet and cheer up a large dog being held at the emergency pet shelter set up at the North Dakota State University North Central Research Extension Center in Minot on Thursday. Over 375 animals are being sheltered including dogs, cats, birds, some reptiles and other small animals, in a building normally used to house agricultural products for NDSU.

MINOT -- Mimi hasn't eaten for days.

Like thousands of other flood evacuees here, the 11-year-old Doberman pincher-Manchester terrier mix is having trouble getting acclimated to her new surroundings. Her owner, Jody Wright, 42, said he had no choice but to kennel Mimi when he evacuated his house Wednesday afternoon.

"It breaks your heart," he said. "When I tried to put her back in the kennel, she tore my shirt with her nails because she didn't want to go back. That's how bad she didn't want to go back in the kennel."

Mimi, along with more than 450 other pets, found refuge at the North Dakota State University Research Extension Center just south of Minot. The Souris Valley Animal Shelter opened a second location there Monday and has been accepting pets of all sorts -- including at least one iguana -- in an effort to alleviate the stress of relocation.

"We're getting a lot of heartbroken people that have to leave their pets here with us," said Susan Wagers, director of the animal shelter. "I suspect we'll be here 'til it dries, to be honest with you."

The Souris Valley Animal shelter opened shop at the Extension center on June 1 during the first evacuation of Minot residents. The building was acquired with the help of the state veterinarian's office.

During the first evacuation, 115 animals were brought in, with another 80 finding refuge at the animal shelter's main building off U.S. Highway 2 in south Minot. The animal shelter is not in an evacuation zone, but plumbing issues forced the shelter to stop accepting animals at its main building.

Floyd Lemere, owner of Sterling Kennels north of Minot, also opened his doors to pets of evacuated residents. In 1997, he housed more than 100 animals for people affected by flooding in the Red River Valley.

"We're definitely busy now, busy like that again," he said.

His kennels, which he has operated for 26 years, now have a few hundred animals from flood victims, the first 100 of which he allowed in free of charge.

"You get to know the people because they come in so often. You talk to them. That's one of the best parts of the job," Lemere said. "And you know the pets almost as well as they do. ... So it's almost like a family member being hurt."

As a kennel and grooming business, Lemere said he must pay his employees, so after the first 100, he charged flood evacuees as he would normal customers. Lemere requires the animals to be up to date on their shots, saying it's essential to the safety of all of the animals.

Mimi and the other pets may not be able to return home for a few weeks. Wright said the safety of his neighborhood along First Street Northwest is contingent on Broadway being saved.

"If they don't save my house, then I can't bring her back to a house that's flooded," he said.

Meanwhile, several zoo animals displaced by the flooding in North Dakota are settling in for what might be a long stay at a Wichita, Kan., wildlife park.

The Tanganyika Wildlife Park is hosting three giraffes, two lions, two tigers and two Amur leopards from the Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot.

The animals arrived in Wichita in the first week of June when North Dakota zoo officials became concerned that the Souris River, which flows through the zoo, could flood.

Park owner Jim Fouts said it appears the animals will be staying in Wichita for some time. Roosevelt Park officials believe it will be well into fall before the zoo can reopen, he said.

Fouts said the animals have settled in nicely at the park.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Burgess writes for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.