Abused dogs recovering with help from foster homes

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When the 2-year-old partners in crime came to Humane Society of the Black Hills last month along with 22 other Alaskan malamutes rescued from a rural kennel, they soon learned how to open their pen and find the toy room and a bag of food.

The two females have now moved on to the next step in their recovery — a foster home in Wyoming.

Michelle Gamroth of Casper volunteered to take both dogs. Their recent caper doesn’t surprise her. She has owned two malamutes in the past, fostered another and has an affinity for the breed.

“The thing I like best about them is they’re a great big, fuzzy, gentle, happy dog that is very intimidating to anyone who doesn’t know them, but they’re the biggest marshmallows you’ve ever met,” she said. “Their attitude is not, ‘What can I do to please you?’ It’s like, ‘Oh, you want me to do that? Ok, when I get to it.'”

Gamroth said shelters do a great job with limited resources to help animals, but they can’t provide the same kind of love as a home. She said she plans to keep Sugar and Spice until a good home is found for them — or until she decides to keep them permanently.

“They’re a big dog. They’re an intimidating dog. Not everybody is willing to put up with their attitude, so they’re not necessarily an easy dog to place, but they’re a wonderful dog to have,” she said. “If I can provide a home for these two little puppies that did not have a good start in life, then I am more than happy to do that.”

The humane society has been working with South Dakota’s Alaskan Malamute Rescue and with the national Alaskan Malamute Assistance League to find foster families throughout the country for the other 22 dogs.

The 24 malamutes were recovered just before Thanksgiving, when law enforcement, exercising a warrant on a domestic-violence incident, called animal control to a kennel near Rapid City Regional Airport. All of the dogs were thin and in poor shape.

The kennel owner, Chad Cooper, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer, domestic violence simple assault and five counts of inhumane treatment of an animal. He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison for the aggravated assault and up to a year in jail and $2,000 fines on each of the other charges if convicted.

The dogs have been gaining weight and “really putting food away” since being brought to the shelter, said Phil Olson, humane society executive director.

People generously responded with gifts of food and money to the humane society, Olson said. People have also expressed great interest in adopting the dogs.

“For some of them, the adoption will happen fairly soon, but for some of them, it’s going to take a little longer. They’ll go into foster or into rescue to get some of the social skills they need to be successful pets,” Olson said.

The rescued malamutes were kept in a kennel 24 hours a day and didn’t get much opportunity to socialize, Olson said. Foster families volunteer to help the dogs learn social skills and prepare them to become pets in stable homes outside of a shelter or animal-control atmosphere.

Dan Anderson, president of Alaskan Malamute Assistance League in Belleville, Texas, said it could take a year or more to fully rehabilitate the rescued dogs. His organization, which assists malamute-rescue affiliates throughout the country, is scouring its national chapters to find homes that specialize in bringing dogs back to good health.

Fostering is especially critical for dogs whose previous environment is unknown, Anderson said. Time is needed to adequately evaluate what the dogs will be like before they can be adopted.

“Placing a dog straight out of a shelter is a very chancy business,” he said.

Anderson said because of their size, malamutes are not easy to place into foster homes. They need an adequate, contained space — and people experienced with large breeds who know what to expect.

“All of our affiliates are very picky about placing these dogs,” Anderson said.

“Most rescue dogs have been bounced around or have had a hell of a life. We try real hard to make sure wherever they go, they stay. We always lean toward people who are familiar with malamutes, but that’s not a requirement.”

However, malamutes can be a challenge for the inexperienced. Anderson said they are opinionated and generally are not good dogs for obedience-type work.

“They think they’re right and you’re wrong. This is part of their genetic makeup,” he said.

Anderson said malamutes were bred as sled dogs, and a musher going across thin ice wanted a dog who knew whether it was safe.

“If he thinks it’s safe, and the dog doesn’t, the dog should win,” he said.

Anderson said it’s uncommon to have 24 malamutes in need of assistance at the same time, but it has also galvanized the network of rescue organizations. He said the organization has received calls about the dogs from Idaho, New England, Illinois and other states.

Spice, an Alaskan malamute, tilts her head back approvingly while get her neck petted as she waited Saturday morning Humane Society of the Black Hills in Rapid City to go to her new foster home. (Seth A. McConnell, Journal staff)

Olson said people interested in fostering volunteer to take in animals that need help with training, socialization and, sometimes, medical issues. For instance, sometimes a dog or cat will need a couple of weeks away from the shelter environment to recover from a medical situation.

The time an animal spends in a foster home can vary from a few days to a few months. The most common scenario is underage puppies and kittens — something the shelter experienced with one of the malamutes who came to the shelter pregnant.

“We were concerned about it. We could tell the dog was pregnant when they came in, and we were concerned about the viability of the puppies because she was so thin,” Olson said. “But five out of seven survived.”

But they need help.

Lise Tesch, coordinator of South Dakota’s Alaskan Malamute Rescue, is trying to find someone willing to foster the bitch and her whelps until they are weaned and ready for adoption. The puppies are four weeks old and likely will need supplemental feeding because the mother was in poor condition to have pups. Mother and pups will also need socializing and some basic training.

“We’re looking for someone who has had experience with litters, who knows what they’re getting themselves into,” she said. “Not necessarily malamute litters — I’m willing to work with anybody — but basically, we need somebody to step up and do a heck of a lot of work.”

How to help

People interested in fostering or adopting a malamute or donating money or dog food should call the Humane Society at 394-6906.

People interested in fostering a malamute bitch and her pups should contact Lise Tesch with the South Dakota Alaskan Malamute Rescue by email at k9wolfwoman@yahoo.com.

More information about the Alaskan Malamute Assistance League is available online at www.malamuterescue.org

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