A Minnesota dog rescue is responding to news all renters dread.

“Our landlord said he’s selling the building, and we have 90 days to pay upfront to buy the building or we can move — and moving would be huge,” said Meredith Kujala.

The Duluth woman volunteers for Northern Lakes Rescue, a foster-based nonprofit that rescues an average of 50-70 dogs a month from the streets and shelters of the Houston area and the local region.

With another buyer interested in their Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, facility, NLR has less than two months to raise $147,000.

Meredith Kujala
Meredith Kujala

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Early this week, there were more than 90 birthday fundraisers dedicated to NLR on Facebook, and as of Tuesday, they had raised $7,950, Kujala said.

While the rescue’s pups aren’t boarded long-term at 29506 Patriot Ave., the space is crucial to their operation.

READ MORE ABOUT NORTHLAND ANIMALS:

Amani Kibwaa (right) puts a puppy in a pen Saturday, March 27, 2021, at Northern Lakes Rescue in Pequot Lakes, while Patti Anwiler holds a bin used to transport the puppies and Liam Scharenbroich (left) looks on. (Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch)
Amani Kibwaa (right) puts a puppy in a pen Saturday, March 27, 2021, at Northern Lakes Rescue in Pequot Lakes, while Patti Anwiler holds a bin used to transport the puppies and Liam Scharenbroich (left) looks on. (Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch)

More than 70 Minnesotans volunteer with NLR. And, a network of about 120 foster families — in Duluth, Cloquet, Brainerd, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities — welcomes the pups into their homes after they’re rescued and while they search for potential adopters.

The NLR building in Pequot Lakes holds a space for their supplies, veterinary care and to prepare transfers from the south.

As a foster coordinator, Kujala works with fosters who take the dogs coming in from Texas. She also processes applications and performs background checks, home visits and meet-and-greets.

She’s also a foster herself.

Last she spoke to the News Tribune, Kujala and her husband were caring for a mama and her litter of eight. The pack was originally found under a pile of brush in the Texas woods, Kujala said.

Northern Lakes Rescue volunteer Tammy Sullivan carries rescue dog Truman in from a bus, which made its way from the Houston area to Pequot Lakes Saturday, March 27, 2021.  (Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch)
Northern Lakes Rescue volunteer Tammy Sullivan carries rescue dog Truman in from a bus, which made its way from the Houston area to Pequot Lakes Saturday, March 27, 2021. (Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch)

Houston is among the worst cities in the country for stray pets, with an estimated 1.2 million homeless dogs, according to the Houston Homeless Pet Project.

“A lot of people you talk to don’t even realize what Texas is like,” NLR volunteer and board member Caryn Hollingsworth said, noting in Minnesota, if anyone sees a stray dog, they’ll likely call the police department or post about it on social media. But that’s not the case in Texas. “Down there, they’re living at gas stations.”

Northern Lakes Rescue is just one of the thousands of pet rescue organizations in the U.S. doing its part to address the homeless animal crisis.

Moving the NLR operation would be very difficult, and with the time and effort already invested over the past year that they’ve been there, they’d prefer to buy it.

NLR relies on income from adoptions and donations from the public to run its rescue. And, the pandemic canceled plans for their regularly scheduled fundraisers and adoption events, Kujala said.

The nonprofit is 95% volunteer-based, she said, adding: “It’s from the heart that we lead this rescue.”

A puppy looks for attention Saturday, March 27, 2021, at Northern Lakes Rescue in Pequot Lakes. The puppy -- one of ten in its litter -- came to Pequot Lakes from the Houston area to be fostered and eventually adopted. (Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch)
A puppy looks for attention Saturday, March 27, 2021, at Northern Lakes Rescue in Pequot Lakes. The puppy -- one of ten in its litter -- came to Pequot Lakes from the Houston area to be fostered and eventually adopted. (Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch)

On March 27, volunteers helped transport more than 50 dogs rescued from Houston to the Pequot Lakes facility.

Some were picked up from the streets, others from shelters where they would be euthanized due to overflow.

Volunteers and foster families filled the facility, taking care of the new arrivals after their day-long journey from the south.

Many of the foster families who were ready to take in new dogs temporarily had their own stories of "foster failure," or, adopting animals that were meant to stay for a short time.

Hollingsworth has added three permanent dogs to her mix after starting to volunteer with Northern Lakes Rescue, bringing her total to five while still keeping the door open for another foster when needed.

“I love what I do, but I’m sad that we have to do it,” Hollingsworth said.

Bus driver Russ Steele hands off rescue dog Oswalt to his foster mom Katie McGroarty, March 27, at Northern Lakes Rescue in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota. For the last four years, the Pequot Lakes-based nonprofit rescues an average of 50-70 dogs a month from both the Houston area and the local region. A network of about 120 foster families, many living in the Twin Ports, welcomes the pups into their homes while they search for potential adopters. (Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch)
Bus driver Russ Steele hands off rescue dog Oswalt to his foster mom Katie McGroarty, March 27, at Northern Lakes Rescue in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota. For the last four years, the Pequot Lakes-based nonprofit rescues an average of 50-70 dogs a month from both the Houston area and the local region. A network of about 120 foster families, many living in the Twin Ports, welcomes the pups into their homes while they search for potential adopters. (Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch)

Katie McGroarty, a Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, resident, who has fostered through NLR for about three years, spent much of the day comforting her new foster, Oswalt, a shy Great Dane mix who displayed quintessential puppy dog eyes while being carried off the bus.

“It’s all about the dogs. They need more help than we realize,” McGroarty said, in a sweatshirt that read: “You can’t buy love but you can rescue it.”

Volunteers like McGroarty are an essential piece of the rescue’s work, Hollingsworth said, but the true heroes are those on the frontline in Texas, saving homeless pups stuck on the street. “My hat’s off to them and their passion,” she said by email. “We are just a link in a chain that tries to make a difference.”

Happy in Hermantown

Erick and Tara Anderson of Hermantown adopted Ori, a 5-month-old Staffordshire terrier mix, from Northern Lakes Rescue this year. "These dogs have already been through enough, and I think they deserve to be pampered," Erick said. (Photo courtesy of Erick Anderson)
Erick and Tara Anderson of Hermantown adopted Ori, a 5-month-old Staffordshire terrier mix, from Northern Lakes Rescue this year. "These dogs have already been through enough, and I think they deserve to be pampered," Erick said. (Photo courtesy of Erick Anderson)

When Erick and Tara Anderson adopted a terrier mix named Lumi, they knew full well the risks.

She had contracted heartworm disease, common in dogs from the south and often curable. Though, six months later, she died due to complications.

“I don’t regret adopting Lumi whatsoever,” Erick said. “The rescue went over the risk with us. Just by the time we got her, she was probably too far along for treatment to be effective. It was unfortunate, but they were extremely helpful through that entire process.

“After that tragedy, they even waived the adoption fee on Ori, which they did not have to do.”

In February, the Andersons adopted their 5-month-old Staffordshire terrier mix, and they knew she was the one when they saw a video of her from a foster home.

A perk to the NLR foster-based model is fosters are able to expose dogs to other animals in a home environment and report how they respond, which was prime information for the Anderson’s two-cat household.

He said he respects the rescue’s vetting process for adoptive pet parents, which involves a thorough application, a background check and a home visit.

The couple is house-hunting, and priority No. 1 after they move is “getting Ori a friend,” and Anderson said they’re nearly 100% sure they’re going to go through NLR again.

“I really believe that dogs are innocent creatures. They don’t deserve suffering, and shelter animals have been through suffering, usually. For example, they found Lumi chained to a basement of a home, and Ori was wandering the street. They deserve a great life, and that’s why we went with a shelter. These dogs have already been through enough, and I think they deserve to be pampered.”

Melinda Lavine is a features reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Write to her at mlavine@duluthnews.com. Theresa Bourke is a Brainerd Dispatch staff writer.

To donate:

Dogs are dropped off from the Houston area March 27, 2021, at Northern Lakes Rescue in Pequot Lakes. The NLR building holds a space for their supplies, veterinary care and to prepare transfers from the south. (Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch)
Dogs are dropped off from the Houston area March 27, 2021, at Northern Lakes Rescue in Pequot Lakes. The NLR building holds a space for their supplies, veterinary care and to prepare transfers from the south. (Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch)