It happens at least once a week, so you'd think Brittany Goerges, kennel manager at Heartland Animal Rescue Team, would have grown immune to finding abandoned pets at HART's doorstep when she arrives to work.
"It's upsetting every time," said Goerges. "It makes you angry at humanity in general. You drive to work and you're not sure what's going to be waiting for you when you get there."
Goerges said she often finds a box of kittens or a dog tied up near the front door but she was not prepared for what she discovered early Wednesday morning.
Brittany Goerges, kennel manager at Heartland Animal Rescue Team, hugged the small papillon/Chihuahua male dog that was found in one of four cardboard boxes, also containing eight sick cats, abandoned at HART sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday morning. The dog has to be held for seven days before it can be adopted. The cats had to be euthanized. Brainerd Dispatch/Jodie Tweed» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Someone had left four cardboard boxes, stacked in pairs, with a piece of plywood on top. The boxes, wet from the overnight rain, were taped completely shut. Only one of the boxes had two air holes; the others had none.
Goerges couldn't hear any sounds coming from the boxes and immediately thought the animals - whatever was inside - were dead.
She took the boxes inside and opened them slowly, one at a time. It can be dangerous for HART workers to open boxes of animals since they are usually scared and can lash out when the box is opened.
Three of the boxes contained a total of eight kittens, possibly about 12 weeks old. They were frightened and covered in their own feces, blood and mucus, likely caused by a parasite or illness. Goerges said she doesn't believe the cats were all from the same litter. The cats had to be euthanized because of their poor health.
When Goerges opened the final box she was expecting to see more cats. Instead she was surprised to find a small papillon/Chihuahua male dog curled in the bottom of the box, so frightened he was shaking and trying to hide from her.
"I thought it was a deformed cat at first," said Goerges.
Brittany Goerges, kennel manager at Heartland Animal Rescue Team, took this photograph with her cell phone Wednesday morning. The four cardboard boxes, securely taped shut with a piece of plywood on top, contained eight sick and frightened cats and a scared dog, a small papillon/Chihuahua mix. Only one of the boxes had two air holes. The cats, covered in their own blood, mucus and feces due to illness, had to be euthanized.
Goerges placed the dog and its box, which it wouldn't leave, in a kennel. When Donna Wambeke, HART manager of shelter operations, arrived at work she held and petted the frightened dog on her lap in an attempt to calm him. The dog's name, Beacko, was written on the inside of the cardboard box that he was found in and HART workers have been calling him that, although he doesn't seem to respond to the name. Wambeke said HART has to hold onto him for seven days and after that, Beacko, estimated to be 4 years old, will be up for adoption. Wambeke said he seems to be a nice dog and will likely make a great pet.
"He's going to need a lot of time, lots of reassurance," Wambeke said of Beacko. "Physically he's in horrible shape. He's not really thin but he's dirty, his teeth are bad because of a poor diet and this is the best thing that could have happened to him because he'll get a family to care for him."
Wambeke said HART has an open-door policy on taking surrendered pets and asks pet owners for a surrender fee, usually $20-$50 depending if the cat or dog is spayed or neutered. They don't turn away people who can't pay the fee, which Wambeke says is small compared to how much money HART then invests in the animal before it is placed for adoption. HART will always take stray animals for free. The nonprofit animal rescue also will take litters of kittens as long as the cat owner agrees to have the mother cat spayed.
Wambeke said HART has received criticism from people who feel their adoption fees are too high or when their kennels are full and they have a waiting list to accept owner-surrendered animals. She said all too often they also are dealing with emergencies like this one.
"There's no reason, with our open-door policy, that these animals had to be taped in a box," said Wambeke. "The animals are paying for it. We are doing the best we can. We operate on a shoestring budget but to think of those poor animals who sat in that box all night. It's the animals that pay."
In addition to the boxes of animals, Goerges and other HART workers were attempting to wrangle a mother cat and her two kittens that showed up near the building Wednesday, possibly dropped off by someone else. By noon they had caught the kittens but were trying to catch their mother.
"I don't think people realize how often this happens," said Goerges.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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