The last dog has (almost) left the building.
An unnamed, unclaimed stray black Lab Wednesday was the last dog at the Heartland Animal Rescue Team shelter in Baxter to either be adopted or find placement in a foster home after exposure to a kennel cough virus.
HART officials plan to thoroughly clean the shelters before housing dogs again.
Holly Ailts, HART executive director, said last weekend there were 42 dogs that needed a home and they've all been placed. Had homes not been found for the dogs, she said earlier in the week, the organization would have had to euthanize them. She said the reaction of the community has been gratifying.
"It's been beyond anything that we could have hoped for," Ailts said. "These dogs aren't HART's dogs. They're the community's dogs. I can't begin to say how gratified we are."
Donna Wambeke, volunteer coordinator for the Heartland Animal Rescue Team, petted the last dog exposed to the kennel cough virus remaining at HART Wednesday afternoon. The unnamed pooch, which suffers from a skin disorder, was to be transported to Animal Ark in Hastings, a no-kill shelter that planned to place the dog into a foster home to treat its skin disorder and then find an adoptive home. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Ailts said she'll care for the last dog until she drives it to St. Cloud in a few days. The older Lab has sores on his legs and is underweight.
Kennel cough, Ailts said earlier in the week, is not usually a serious illness but some of the dogs were developing pneumonia-like symptoms.
Dogs continue to be available for adoption through foster homes and the organization is updating its Web site with more information at www.hartpets.org.
Among the advantages to foster care, Ailts said, is that the adoption process goes through with fewer mysteries. It's soon discovered, she said, whether the dog can deal with cats or how well trained he is, for example.
HART has been engulfed in a flurry of activity since the announcement was made that homes were needed for the canines. In addition to the usual staff, three extra people were called in to help with inquiries.
Because all the dogs have been adopted or sent into foster care, HART now won't be open Thursday night as it had earlier been reported.
"I don't know how to say thank you big enough to cover how I feel," Ailts said. "It's been so chaotic. I think I still have 50 e-mails and phone calls to make."
The incident has raised awareness of the area's animal control problem, Ailts said.
"It certainly raised awareness and it's raised our awareness too," Ailts said. "It may change how we do business here. HART's hope is to go no-kill."
She admitted to being reluctant to go public with the news that the shelter might have to kill the dogs if homes were not found.
"I was concerned that some people would be very angry that we should consider euthanasia," she said. "I strongly suspected that if the public knew, the public would rally. I felt that this would raise awareness. There's always a backlash when you talk of the hard realities of shelter life."
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.
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