Amanda Johnson Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The rescue kennel in Dodson has been taking in strays and turn-ins for the past six years. What started out as a stray here and there has turned into a full-blown kennel with more than 30 dogs and puppies currently being cared for and the animals' caregivers now in need of a helping hand. “To say that we have a soft spot for abandoned and lost animals would be an understatement,” said Jim Wilke, owner and operator of the kennel along with his wife, Anita, who also competes and breeds their personal German wirehaired pointers. “What started as an adoption to save a single lost dog six years ago has become an obsession to find wonderful homes for the nearly 30 dogs we currently have in our care. When the eight we have as our personal 'family members' is added to this number, it is easy to see that we have really gone to the dogs! “It started out slowly enough," he added. "Anita and I were both having stray dogs coming up to us at our different places of work. Often it was in the middle of winter and it would be a young, starving puppy that no one had the heart to just toss back out into the snow so it would end up at our place." The couple started with the purchase of an expensive kennel to keep the two or three rescues they occasionally took in. "Until one day my daughter called, she said that animal control had three puppies that were scheduled to be destroyed and asked if we could do something," Jim said. "We said yes, and by the time I arrived to pick those up the number had grown to seven rescues. Since we were not equipped for this many, someone suggested we only take the cute’ ones, as they would be easy to place. Since we did not feel it an option to decide who was cute and who was to die, we brought them all home." The Wilkes used materials on hand and went to work building their first set of emergency kennels. "It has only snowballed from there,” Jim said. “We currently have 16 separate areas set up in which to keep the rescue dogs." The injured and young dogs are kept in a kennel room in the house, each occupying a separate dog crate. The outside dogs are kept in hastily erected chain-link kennels. Some have carpet-covered crates to sleep in, some do not. When a freak snowstorm hit so early this fall and the temperatures dropped, Anita insisted that the carpeting they had intended for their house be used for the dogs’ comfort, so it was cut into small squares and wrapped around the thin plastic crates for the outside dogs. Keeping that many dogs warm for the winter and supplying them with food, water and shelter takes more than a big heart, it also requires supplies. Kennels must be cleaned, dogs must be fed and, of course, they have to be able to get out of the kennel for some much-needed exercise. “With the approach of winter we do have our worries," Jim said. "There are many supplies we will need, from the straw to dog houses, heated bowls to an electrician and a plumber to fix our hydrant so we no longer have to haul water from the house. And we both need to be working to pay the bills that have stacked up. “We feed all of the rescues and clean their kennels at least two times a day," he added. "And, although their kennels are larger than the average kennels, they are all rotated out to be able to run and exercise throughout the day. While they are out playing and running, we are usually removing and replacing the straw to keep their kennels clean." When housing a large number of dogs any help whether it be monetary or donations of materials are much needed and appreciated. “We would have failed in our endeavors long ago if not for one very wonderful bunch of people the people of P. A.W.S. of Chinook (Pets Are Worth Saving) have been just wonderful," Jim said. "They pay for the spaying and neutering, obtain most of the food, most of the medicine, and they list the dogs on www.petfinder. com for us. They are not only caring people; they are just so nice to know. While the complete story will only be evident in the future, the P.A.W.S. organization is definitely making a difference,” said Jim. The spaying and neutering of strays for free, however, cannot continue for forever and community donations are being sought. Leaving pets un-spayed can lead to unwanted pets that are often difficult to place in homes. One female dog can have up to two litters per year resulting in 10 puppies that will need homes. “If just 20 females were left un-spayed, each dog could have two litters per year," Jim said. “If these litters consisted of only five puppies, in five years this would be 1,000 dogs. If out of this 1,000, half were female and had two litters per year, in five more years this would be an amazing 25,000 more dogs." In addition to P.A.W.S. of Chinook, the Wilke's neighbors have joined their effort. Whether we have needed a horse trailer to serve as a temporary shelter, a trailer to haul materials or emergency medicine after clinic hours Jim, Nora and Cathy Weigand, our neighbors, have been just wonderful," Jim said. "They are always there, our best friends as well as some of our most staunch supporters, ready to share anything they have without complaint. “Also, a big thank you to the fine people of the Fort Belknap College Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society for the used blanket drives," he added. "They have kept many young puppies warm." Even with the assistance of these folks, a need remains. "It is irritating that there is not more animal education taking place," Jim said. "We often meet people who say they can afford a dog, but the one or two they have are not spayed. When we ask why not, they will state that they couldn’t afford it. This is part of responsible ownership as much as the food and shelter. We have met people who have had dogs die of parvovirus and they will just keep getting another dog without providing the vaccination against the disease and the new dogs eventually end up dying the same way. Many do not know that this deadly disease lives in the ground and will reinfect their next dog, and their next. This is a horrible death. “It seems as though every time a new animal control law is passed it is aimed at punishing the animal, not the owner," he added. "This is as rational as taking my gun into custody if I shoot someone.” And though many are drawn to animals when they are young and cute, as puppies grow they often end up out growing their homes. “Many of the dogs we get are just out of the puppy stage," Jim said. "I am amazed at the number of intelligent people that do not know that puppies grow.” “On a positive note, we have met many wonderful people from Havre as well as around the state," he added. "From the son of the Havre teacher who expertly and thoughtfully recited his first, middle and last name before leaving our yard, to the wonderful man that did not see a scarred up, scruffy, snorting Lab/pit bull mix but a wonderful buddy’ that could go to his house and kick back because he looked like he deserved it. We appreciate them all.” For the Wilkes, helping dogs is not just about being humane. “I believe that every child needs a pet, one to take care of and care for," he said. "I firmly believe that if a child never experiences the joys and sorrows of having a pet in their young life, they have trouble finding that empathy we all need when dealing with others. I think this goes a long way in explaining the state of America’s troubled youth today." Rescue kennel currently have 34 dogs in need of good homes. Each is vaccinated as soon as it arrives at the kennel. “If you think that you may need a new family member, from our smallest puppy to our beautiful, gentle, three-footed malamute, we have some of the nicest friends you will ever hope to meet," Jim said. And those who are not in a position to adopt a pet, but would like to help are encouraged to donate to P.A.W.S. of Chinook, he said. P. A.W.S. is a private, not for a profit rescue and receives no governmental funding. It exists solely on private donations, grants, fundraisers and adoption donations. Donations can be mailed to P.A.W.S., at P.O. Box 132, Chinook, MT 59523. Volunteers are also welcome to take the dogs for walks and spend time with them. Dog food and treats are also appreciated. For more information about P. A.W.S. visit their Web site at http://www.montanapets.org/ paws/residentdog.html, or contact P. A.W.S. at (406) 357-3726, e-mail email@example.com or call the Wilkes at 383-4473. They can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.