By Tim Eberly
Eight years ago, when several concerned citizens founded PAWS, now a successful nonprofit animal shelter in Chinook, they had a firm plan of action but lacked one essential component: a place for abandoned or unwanted animals to stay.
Then a local man, Buck Raty, came to their rescue. Raty told the animal lovers they could house the homeless pets, most of which are dogs, on his land. Raty, a retired rancher/farmer who sold nearly all of his livestock several years ago, has 250 acres of land, so he barely noticed. The dogs there are six of them on his property right now live about 3/4 of a mile from his main house, next to a smaller home on his property.
"I like animals," said Raty, 76. "I go down there once in a while."
Five 6-foot chain-link kennels, which ideally house one dog apiece, occupy space on Raty's property, along with an imposing 32-foot-long kennel with five insulated compartments. The large kennel, which was built three years ago, houses the pets in the wintertime.
"He doesn't charge us," PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) volunteer Theresa Zarn said of Raty. "We've even volunteered to give him money but he won't because he's so nice."
Community support is the survival tool that allows PAWS to exist. Other than a $2,500 yearly grant from the Havre-based Sand's Memorial Foundation Inc. another one of several charitable animal organizations in the area PAWS relies on fund-raisers, raffles and donations to stay afloat. Recently, Chinook residents provided PAWS with dog food and straw, which was used to carpet the kennels.
"That's really nice, to have people give you extra things once in a while without asking," said Zarn, one of seven volunteers with PAWS.
There are a handful of similar organizations in Hill County and surrounding areas. And all of them are well-acquainted.
"Everybody knows each other," said Renee Lanoue, the sole operator of Ren's Rescue, an animal rescue operation she runs out of her Kremlin home. "They're all my good friends. They're very dedicated and wonderful people."
For the last decade, the nonprofit Dedman Foundation in Fort Benton has provided shelter for animals and financial assistance to pet owners through its spaying and neutering program. In addition to providing grants for organizations like PAWS, the Sand's Foundation has funneled money into the city of Havre's Animal Shelter and provided funds for spaying and neutering at veterinary clinics all over Montana. Since she opened her home to pets of all kinds four years ago, Lanoue has housed more than 300 pets in "Ren's Den," a revolving door of fur and whiskers.
Recently, a new committee entered the fold of animal support. Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson formed the Animal Control Advisory Committee in July with the purpose of overseeing the animal shelter. Three local residents Hill County sanitarian Clay Vincent, Eastside Animal Hospital owner Teri Mord and Fran Buell, the owner of Bare Paw Dog Obedience have been enlisted to offer advice and supervision for the shelter.
"We just wanted to instill some public trust in the shelter and the best way to do that is to get individuals in the community involved," Olson said.
A professional dog trainer for seven years, Buell said the main objective of the committee is "to make the animals more adoptable." For instance, the committee will soon start seeking volunteers to work at the shelter. A group of volunteers will allow the shelter to be accessible to potential pet owners on evenings and weekends.
Another suggestion offered by the committee this fall was improvement of the drainage from the floor in the animal pens. Also, the trio recommended the shelter be equipped with a washer and dryer.
"I'm glad I'm in (the committee)," said Buell, adding that the committee is also applying for a grant from the Sand's Foundation. "I want to see some improvements up there."
Others are working diligently for the benefit of animal welfare. In 2001, the Dedman Foundation took in 264 pets 143 of which were adopted. To veterinary clinics in various towns Havre included around Montana, the Dedman Foundation distributes $20 coupons to help subsidize the cost of spaying and neutering.
A Web site, MontanaPets.org, offers animal welfare organizations a good deal of exposure. A Helena couple, Dianne and Ron Armstrong, maintain the site, which is geared toward "increasing adoptions of Montana pets currently held in shelters, humane societies, and rescue groups across the state," according to the Web site.
On the site, the Armstrongs list animal-related organizations in 23 different towns, including Kitty Keepers, Ren's and the animal shelter in Havre, and PAWS in Chinook. Some the organizations provide a description of the pets they have available.
Meanwhile, Lanoue is applying to the government to make Ren's a nonprofit organization. If you ask her, Ren's Rescue has been a nonprofit for years. She spends $9,000 a year of her own money for the organization, mostly for pet food, vaccinations and other medical needs.
"It costs you a lot of money to say, Hey, I'm going to help the community,'" said Lanoue, who has 23 pets at her home right now including 18 dogs, two tortoises, and a hamster named "Big Daddy."
As fast as she finds animals a home, more of them find her. On consecutive days this week, Lanoue placed two dogs with different homes. But in the next few days, three mixed-breed dogs found abandoned near a lake in the Bear Paw Mountains will be moving into Ren's Rescue.
Asked if it was all worth it, Lanoue responded: "You know it."