Minnesota group rescues Texas dogs after Hurricane Harvey

Published 10:08 pm Tuesday, November 28, 2017

WINONA — A matter of minutes separated Juno from death and a new life.

The 1-year-old pit bull and heeler mix was set to be euthanized in Texas when the Winona Area Humane Society agreed to bring him up to Minnesota. The Winona society has brought up more than 25 dogs like Juno — then known as Clancy — in an effort to relieve the stress on Texas-based animal organizations prior to and after Hurricane Harvey’s landfall in Texas.

If the society had responded 10 minutes later, Juno’s famous wiggle, happy demeanor and love for humans would have never made it to Lukas Visser and the residents he serves at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

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Visser, a hall director for the university’s Eagle Hall, had been searching for a new dog after his elderly dog, Apple, passed away in the summer. He knew he needed a dog that was calm enough to handle the numerous people that live in and enter through his building, and one who could connect and warm up to others in the building.

Enter Juno and that famous wiggle.

In July 2017, Visser began his hunt for a dog by inquiring at different shelters about the dogs they had and about his living situation. When he stopped into the Winona Area Humane Society, he did so with the intent of just looking around and discussing his situation.

Instead, he said, he found a society willing to work with him and a new four-legged addition to his building of 700 students.

“I think it was just kind of lucky that I was able to walk into this situation,” Visser told Winona Daily News .

Since his adoption, Juno has become not only Visser’s dog, but the resident dog at the building Visser lives in and supervises.

“Juno wanted to be around people,” Visser said. “He’s been a very, very good dog. Loves people. One of the happier dogs I’ve ever met.”

Juno and other dogs — including five acquisitions from Texas by the Winona society just over a week ago — are part of the society’s mission of ensuring more possibilities for adoption rather than euthanasia.

Dog Coordinator Ashley Potter said the society typically receives two groups a month with at least five dogs in each. The dogs are brought up in an RV by Shiloh’s Road to Hope, a group based out of Texas, according to Susie Marshall, the dog director with the Winona society.

Shiloh’s works with Denison Animal Welfare Group (DAWG) — a shelter in Denison, Texas, that operates completely through volunteers and donations. According to the organization, the city of Denison has no shelters for the animals and instead relies on a privately contracted group to run a city pound.

The Winona humane society was in contact with other shelters and organizations around the U.S. to assist with the same problems following natural disasters, but the connections never panned out or were not as needed as the Texas shelters and organizations, Potter said.

Regardless, Potter said the influx of the dogs from Texas has been well-received by the community, with at least five dogs adopted within this last week.

And their stories to finding homes are just as fateful as Juno and Visser’s.

Baby and Lucy, female Chihuahuas found together during Hurricane Harvey relief efforts were adopted on Friday, going to their forever home together, just as they were found. Another Texas-based dog brought up on Saturday, Nov. 11, was quickly adopted the following Tuesday to his new northern home.

The Winona humane society will also soon be adding Texas-bred, Minnesota-born dogs to their adoption mix, as one of the dogs, Precious, arrived at the facility this fall pregnant. The puppies are living with a foster family until they are ready for adoption, Marshall said.

Dogs are typically adopted quickly from the society, Potter said, with the longest resident dog staying at the society for about six months. Currently, the society is battling a cat overload issue, housing 190 cats and kittens in total, while they can only comfortably house 145, cat director Kelly Sackmaster said. The society is hosting a free kitten adoption event through Wednesday to streamline the process of finding their youngest felines a home.

But for those looking to adopt a southern canine for their family, Marshall said more dogs from Texas are scheduled to arrive at the society on Tuesday, Nov. 28.

And for families and dog owners alike who are nervous about owning a stray animal born and raised in somewhere other than the Coulee Region, Visser said the focus on finding a dog they connect with is more important.

“They understand that if you’re giving them a comfortable and safe home, they appreciate it a lot,” Visser said. “I think I’m big on connections, and both times I’ve went in and just tried to meet dogs and see who I felt like deserved a safe and comfortable home and also felt like got along with me.”

If anything, let the pairing of a La Crosse hall director and a Texas-based dog, who met in Winona after a more than 800-mile trek to a home the dog was minutes away from never having, serve as a spark of hope that some good can come after a devastating hurricane.