Western Edge animal rescues brace for influx as temps drop

Donations and volunteers are a constant need for local animal shelters.

Susie Lefor is seen with her fost dog Bear, who is up for adoption through Raise the Woof.
Ashley Koffler / The Dickinson Press
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DICKINSON — Animal rescues in southwest North Dakota are perpetually exceeding capacity, and the situation becomes dire as temperatures plummet. Although there are several rescues in the area, there is never enough space to house every homeless pet.

“It's literally trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon,” Second Chances President Beth Hurt said. “That's how it feels.”

Raise the Woof hasn’t been able to do surrender events as often as they would like because they are already at capacity and have to turn people away.

“We are always full, unfortunately,” volunteer Susie Lefor said.

They would like a building to temporarily house rescued animals so they could take more on, but haven’t been able to find a suitable location.


“It's been a particularly bad year,” fellow volunteer Nicole Cloutier said. “Every month our vet bills push at least $10,000. A lot of times it's more.”

Every local rescue is in constant need of foster homes for the animals, volunteers, monetary donations, food and pet supplies such as bedding, toys and litter.

“We are in desperate need of the community outreach,” Oreo’s Animal Rescue Vice President Sara Cox said. “Without our community helping us, we can't do anything.”

Dickinson woman Nikki Wolla gives treats to her foster dogs Frankie, Izzie and Jessie, which are available for adoption through Raise the Woof.
Ashley Koffler / The Dickinson Press

OAR is primarily focused on injured pets and can usually make room for them.

“We are blessed to have kennel space open for hospitalized patients through West Dakota Vet Clinic,” Cox said. “We do turn away people that may have found a stray cat in the City of Dickinson that is not injured or anything, just found the cat or dog and we refer them to the animal shelter just because that would be the first avenue for those that are maybe looking for the animal... We do have owners that come forward wanting to surrender their animals in Oreo's. We'll help them advertise to find a home but we don't necessarily take them into rescue.”

Some are found homeless on the street, others puppies spuriously purchased by individuals ill-equipped to care for an adult dog.

About once a month, a caller threatens to kill their pet if the rescue doesn’t take them, Lefor said. Many local rescues rely on networking with other rescue organizations in the state to find shelter for pets.

Kitten season

Cox said they experience “kitten seasons” in the spring and fall when they are especially overloaded with kittens.


“Those are the time-frames that people either put their cats outdoors because it's warm outside, or they put them outdoors because it's almost winter and they don't want to deal with it anymore,” Cox said. “So it's mostly, I think, a negligence thing more than anything.”

The cold weather kitten season is in full swing.

“A lot of people want us to do more trapping,” said Kady Walker, co-sponsor at Meowsers in Bowman. “A lot of people are calling us, wanting us to take in kittens and stuff before it gets cold. When it's warm, people kind of don't worry about them as much.”

Cat shelters made by volunteers at Second Chances are available to anyone in need.
Contributed / Beth Hurt

She added they are currently caring for 27 cats and kittens, but the space gets tighter as the herd grows.

“Say we have all these kittens for another four months, we're going to be like, up to our eyeballs and not know what to do,” Walker said. “We would not be able to be this full if it were, you know, all adult cats.”

Hurt said the problem is especially heartbreaking in the winter. While some dog breeds do well in cold climates, all domesticated cats should be kept above 40℉.

“It's just so hard because people don't realize it, but cats are not meant for this climate,” she said. “That's why if you go to the pound during winter, almost all the cats that come in have frostbite or they've got upper respiratory infections. They're just very sick because their lungs are actually very weak.”

Second Chances offers homemade cat shelters to anybody who needs one. They’re made from styrofoam coolers and straw and can be placed in barns, sheds or other structures.


“If they have to put them outside then we’ll actually place them inside of a Rubbermaid tote so that they're waterproof,” Hurt said. “It's better than nothing. I mean, ideally they would be in a heated building, but you know, when they've got nothing else it's something.”

Those that want to help can donate styrofoam coolers, straw and plastic storage totes. The coolers must be large enough to fit about 2 cats and the totes need to be 45 gallons or larger and have a latching mechanism on the lid, Hurt said.

“We are kind of short on styrofoam coolers this year, so if people have them, we're still accepting them,” she said. “It's supposed to be a very cold winter so we're kind of concerned about that.”

The Price is Right about pets

Cox said spaying and neutering pets is essential to reducing the number of stray animals.

“I think the biggest way that people can help is by taking initiative to help with situations themselves,” Hurt said. “If there's something that you can do, if you can make a shelter yourself or you can take care of an animal you see yourself, it's such a big help.”

For cats in the area that are feral or otherwise not suitable for living indoors, Hurt said The Barn Cat Project can connect people who need outdoor cats. The program stipulates that those who adopt a barn cat provide adequate shelter, food and water in exchange for the pest control that cats naturally provide.

“We're trying to find homes for the ones that are already at the pound that can't get adopted out because they're not lap cats,” Hurt said. “They don't really have very many options. If they're not going to be adopted out as a house pet, then this is kind of their only choice, their only opportunity to survive is if we find them like a farmer or country home to live in.”

Those wanting to donate or adopt a pet can see the animals in rescues and apply to adopt through each organization's Facebook page and website. Other websites that area rescues post their available pets on include and

Furever Full in Dickinson is also working to mitigate strain on animal shelters by assisting the less fortunate. It's a pet food and supply bank that offers help to struggling pet owners.

Nicole Cloutier sits with her foster dog Gretel and her 10 puppies that will be available to adopt through Raise the Woof when they are old enough.
Ashley Koffler / The Dickinson Press

Related Topics: DICKINSONPETSBowman, N.D.
Ashley Koffler is a Killdeer, North Dakota native and Dickinson State University graduate, with a Bachelor’s Degree in writing, and minors in journalism and psychology. Formerly working in Community Affairs for Roosevelt Custer Regional Council for Development, her reporting focuses on Stark County and other rural municipality governments, community features, business and agriculture — among others.
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