Burnsville resident leads rescue group that saved puppy mill dogs

by Natalie Conrad
Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune

Imagine being trapped in a situation with no space to call your own.

Rachel Wisser, daughter of James and Nancy Wisser, of Eagan, holds her dog Lilly at Shih Tzu Rescue of Minnesota annual Rescue Reunion last summer at Round Lake Park in Eden Prairie. (Photo submitted)
Rachel Wisser, daughter of James and Nancy Wisser, of Eagan, holds her dog Lilly at Shih Tzu Rescue of Minnesota annual Rescue Reunion last summer at Round Lake Park in Eden Prairie. (Photo submitted)

This was the experience of 15 Shih Tzu dogs until a nonprofit pet rescue led by a Burnsville resident stepped in to transform their lives by providing safe homes.

“We believe every dog should have a second chance and should be treated as a living creature with respect, dignity and compassion,” said Debbie Iverson, Shih Tzu Rescue’s president. “While our volunteers are located in Minnesota, we rescue Shih Tzus from other states as well. As long as we have available foster homes and the funding to do so, we will rescue and care for any Shih Tzu in need.”

Eden Prairie-based group Shih Tzu Rescue of Minnesota received a $4,500 grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to provide veterinary care for 20 dogs seized from a North Dakota puppy mill in July.

Shih Tzu Rescue originally took in 15 dogs from the puppy mill seizure, and one dog gave birth to five puppies shortly after intake. The grant helped cover the cost of vaccinations, medication, spay and neutering surgeries, and microchips. The group has already found homes for nearly all the dogs after they received the necessary medical and behavioral attention.

The organization that started at the hands of a group of Shih Tzu lovers became an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2007. Shih Tzu Rescue is an all-volunteer organization with a mission to rescue, rehabilitate, and re-home Shih Tzus and Shih Tzu mixes in need of loving homes. All donations are tax deductible, and 100 percent of donations go toward the care and comfort of rescued dogs.

While this is the first time the organization has received a grant from ASPCA, this is not the first time it has rescued dogs from a puppy mill, according to Kathy Diamond, Shih Tzu Rescue board member and treasurer.

The 15 dogs seized from the puppy mill in North Dakota were among 174 dogs seized. According to Diamond, the dogs were confined inside a metal outbuilding in small, stacked crates. There was no ventilation or air conditioning. The dogs were housed five to a crate, and the crates were so small that the dogs had to lie down on top of each other.

“People say dogs live in the moment, but they have memories,” Diamond said. “The damaging effects of living in a puppy mill are hard to forget.”

A key part of rescue is rehabilitation, especially in cases such as these, Diamond said. All dogs rescued by Shih Tzu Rescue go through a thorough adoption process ensuring a safe home and good fit.

Dogs stay in a foster home for at least three weeks as volunteers observe their behavior and offer rehabilitation. Adoptive families must fill out an application and provide references, and agree to a home visit both prior to and after the adoption. Throughout the process, Shih Tzu Rescue volunteers and a trainer are available to help.

The process may be intense, but the rewards are plentiful and well worth it, according to Iverson.

“Mill dogs spend years in a cage,” Iverson said. “We watched them go from shaky, shy dogs to very playful companions.”

The organization has grown over the years, and now includes 60 members and 20 foster homes.

But why Shih Tzus?

“They have a more human-like temperament than other breeds,” Iverson said. “They’re very much a companion breed and want to be with you all the time. They’re very loyal to the family and playful.”

Shih Tzus are also non-allergenic, making them a good fit for a family pet. Many of the Shih Tzu Rescue foster parents have their own dogs and choose to take more in.

“Shih Tzus are like potato chips, you can’t just have one,” Iverson said.

Shih Tzu Rescue members unite to celebrate their love of the breed each summer at the Rescue Reunion at Round Lake Park in Eden Prairie. The organization also hosts a meet and greet from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. the last Saturday of each month at the Minnetonka Petco, 13691 Ridgedale Drive. For more information, visit shihtzurescuemn.org.

In 2011, the ASPCA launched a national “No Pet Store Puppies” campaign, which seeks to raise awareness about the connection between puppy mills and pet stores and end the demand for puppy mill dogs.

For more information about puppy mills and how to fight animal cruelty, visit nopetstorepuppies.com.

Contact Natalie Conrad at [email protected]