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Why Minnesota shelters have so many animals from the South

MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Bob, 2-year-old terrier-pit bull mix with an irresistible grin, came to the Animal Humane Society from a shelter in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

What about Bob?

This 2-year-old terrier-pit bull mix comes from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He was recently adopted at the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley, and has just about the biggest smile around.

Bob is one of thousands of animals the Animal Humane Society (AHS) will take in this year from outside Minnesota: In its 2018 fiscal year, the shelter brought in 6,702 dogs, 298 cats and 65 rabbits from other states.

It didn’t used to be this way. The pets in Minnesota animal shelters used to mostly be local runaways, strays and owner surrenders. Now, nearly 40 percent of animals at AHS, the state’s largest animal welfare organization, come from other organizations, and a big share of them come from places in southern states like Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas.

One-way pipeline

The shipment of rescue pets to states like Minnesota isn’t really a two-way pipeline: There are few pets from the upper Midwest in animal shelters  in the South.

The large-scale movement of pets from the south to states like Minnesota started around the time of Hurricane Katrina. Animals made homeless by the storm were moved to shelters in other parts of the country, where a lot of them were adopted.

After the storm, the transports kept coming. Lots of animals in southern states still needed homes.

That’s for a couple reasons.

MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Joey, a sweet, 8-year-old retriever-hound mix, came to the Animal Humane Society from a shelter in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
First there’s the weather. Free-roaming dogs can survive outside in the South year-round, said Karen Walsh, the director of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)’s animal relocation program. There are more of them, and since there’s more of them, they have more opportunities to come into contact with one another and have puppies. Animals are less likely to be spayed or neutered in the South.

There’s also more poverty, on-the-whole, in parts of the South than there is in Minnesota.

“There are some areas that have such extreme poverty that they’re trying to keep their kids vaccinated and fed, and the animals take a backseat,” said Anne Johnson, who coordinates transports for the Animal Humane Society. “It doesn’t mean they don’t care.”

All that adds up to some pretty crowded animal shelters.

High pet demand

Meanwhile, shelters and rescues in Minnesota, including the AHS, have seen a decrease in the number of animals brought into the shelter locally over the years.

Minnesota has well-established animal welfare practices, Johnson said, noting that the Humane Society has roots going back 140 years and that there are low-cost spay and neuter programs here.

Many dogs are spayed or neutered here, which significantly reduces the number of puppy litters born. It’s too cold for dogs to be loose year-round.

All that has contributed to fewer dogs in Minnesota shelters.

MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Cinder, above, and his brother, lab chow mixes from Carthage, Arkansas, were adopted this week.
Plus, there’s higher demand for shelter dogs, with more people opting to adopt rescue animals than in the past.

“The impetus for this was basically looking at years of declining intakes from the community in terms of canines, so we had a lot of people that were looking to ‘rescue’ a dog … we wanted to be sure that we were meeting our capacity,” Johnson said.

For the most part, animal transports to the Animal Humane Society have dealt with dogs. But cats, like Jax, a kitty from Little Rock who is looking for a home, are now part of the transports, too.

Demand in Minnesota is especially overwhelming when it comes to puppies. Sometimes there are lines at the door before the AHS shelter opens, as people come to inquire about puppies posted online the night before.

It happens often enough that there’s a protocol: they give people numbers, and they get a chance at the puppies in the order they arrived.

Numbers up

In 2018, the number of dogs transported to Minnesota by just the ASPCA from southern states nearly quintupled with a program expansion, to a total of 378.

And the program is growing. Since January this year, the ASPCA has moved more than 200 animals — 140 dogs and 69 cats — from southern states to Minnesota.

For the ASPCA, this mostly happens in Ford Transit vans, which can fit about 25 adult dogs each. The organization has nine vehicles, including one bus, which are on the road moving animals almost every day.

There’s challenges that come with moving animals that far: best practice guidelines dictate that animals only move about 650 miles before stopping, so it generally takes two days to make it north.

MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Jax, a year-old male cat, came to the Animal Humane Society from Little Rock, Arkansas.
The ASPCA recently built a new way station near Kansas City designed to help with two-day transports to Minnesota and other upper Midwest states. Here, the dogs spend the night in dog runs, while the drivers sleep in a nearby hotel. The next day, they’re back on the road.

It’s a lot of work, but the animals have a good chance of being adopted in Minnesota. The average stay for a dog on the adoption floor at the Animal Humane Society is about one and a half days.

“People come from distances to adopt (from the Animal Humane Society) in your area,” Walsh said.

Things are getting better at lots of shelters in southern states, too, Walsh said. Moving animals to unburden them gives them a chance to work more on things like staff training and strategy, instead of having to focus on the immediate needs of so many animals.

“We’re seeing lots of great things happening in southern states, but it’s still overwhelming,” she said.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Patrick Tice on 03/15/2019 - 11:42 am.

    Even if you can’t adopt, you can help by supporting AHS with a donation. They do wonderful work and appreciate your help.

  2. Submitted by Barbara Boldenow on 03/15/2019 - 12:32 pm.

    We adopted a wonderful tortie kitten via 2nd Hand Hounds via Houston. He Mama was found wandering and pregnant a couple months after the hurricane. We are so grateful for the wonderful people that are bringing these poor creatures here. I’m also glad they are learning how to do this right down there too!

  3. Submitted by Paul John Martin on 03/17/2019 - 07:47 am.

    I agree with Barbara Boldenow. There are also a number of breed-specific rescue groups here. We adopted a stray Great Pyrenees from Kentucky through North Star Great Pyrenees, and we can’t speak too highly of them. Baylee was fostered for some months while they worked on her health. They spent a lot of love – and dollars – on her, nowhere near covered by our adoption fee. Happy dog, happy home.

  4. Submitted by Ian Sawdey on 03/17/2019 - 09:52 am.

    My family works with a lot of animal rescue groups in the twin cities. While this article is completely accurate on almost every single detail, I feel the need to point out two things:

    1. While AHS has a high adoption rate, many other groups do not. Even “easy dogs” like Fancy from Pet Haven ( can take months to find their forever home. Some dogs stay in foster homes for years before they are adopted.
    2. There is a large amount of “outsourcing” for rescue groups, as this article states, many animals are arriving from the south. However, Minnesota also has a dog problem. The reservations up north have many free-roaming dogs, even in winter. Rescue groups are banned from taking wandering dogs from many of the reservations, so they have to rely on “surrenders,” when an owner brings a dog they can’t take care of to events. Though many of the dogs on the rez are off limits, just from surrenders, groups like Leech Lake Legacy ( still bring hundreds of surrenders down from the rez.

    I feel like these are two important points the article does not cover.

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