PEQUOT LAKES — It’s puppy paradise at the Babinski Foundation.

The Pequot Lakes animal shelter found itself nearly overrun with new furry little four-legged friends Wednesday, Sept. 23, after 54 dogs from the Houston area in need of homes made their way up north. Twenty-four of them were just puppies.

“These are stray and abandoned animals off of the streets of Texas, and all of them (had) a high chance of being euthanized,” Babinski Foundation Executive Director Donna Sutton said Wednesday while waiting for the arrival of the bus.

Puppies named Hugs, Kisses, Giggles, Wiggles and Bubbles made their way into the shelter that afternoon in the arms of staff and volunteers.

Larger dogs like Mr. Fluff, Buns, Benji and Arnold ran inside, tails wagging and tongues hanging out.

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Houston PetSet, an organization dedicated to end homelessness and suffering for companion animals, brought two buses of cats and dogs Wednesday from Houston up to Minneapolis, after driving all night. They unloaded the cats at Twin Cities shelters, as the Babinski Foundation is at capacity in that respect, and consolidated the remaining dogs into one busload to make the trek up to the lakes area.

Six more that didn’t quite fit in the bus came in a large van with Sutton’s friend Steffany Fleming, who runs the Twin Cities-based children’s and animal nonprofit Inspire and Flourish. Baby Yoda, Gumbo, Mazikeen, Cooper, Jake and shy little Louie arrived just ahead of the bus.

Wednesday, Sept. 23, in Pequot Lakes. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Wednesday, Sept. 23, in Pequot Lakes. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Overrun with strays

A metropolis of roughly 2.3 million people, Houston has about 1.2 million homeless dogs at any given time, according to Houston Homeless Pet Project.

Then came the storms.

Tropical Storm Beta — later downgraded to a tropical depression — made landfall in Texas late Monday, drenching Houston in 14 inches of rain by the following afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Flooded streets mean even worse conditions for a city already plagued with stray pups.

That’s where shelters in Minnesota and other northern states come in.

“Not that there aren’t animals in need in Minnesota, there technically isn’t a dog overpopulation problem. There’s more people that want to adopt dogs than there is dogs available,” said Dr. Hillary McCulloh, a veterinarian at Babinski Foundation. “And so the majority that come into shelters and rescues into Minnesota come from the south. Texas and California have the highest euthanasia rates simply due to space. They simply don’t have space.”

According to Best Friends, a nonprofit homeless animal sanctuary that collects data from shelters around the country, 97,606 dogs were euthanized in Texas last year.

Differing climates and higher poverty rates down south contribute to the abundance of stray animals compared to Minnesota, McCulloh said.

Wednesday, Sept. 23, in Pequot Lakes. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Wednesday, Sept. 23, in Pequot Lakes. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

A new home

“It’s a pretty exciting day,” Sutton said. “It’s our first transport that’s being brought to us from Houston. We have done transports with them, but we’ve always had to go down and bring the dogs from Minneapolis.”

The Babinski van can safely transport about 15-20 dogs at a time, so the bus from PetSet brought in a much larger load than the shelter could have done on its own. But with room for 100 dogs — and only 28 kennels occupied — Babinski Foundation has plenty of room for its newest tenants.

“There’s been a high demand for puppies and dogs within the last six months,” Sutton said. “We haven’t been able to fill that demand, so we’re excited to be able to give these animals a second chance to new homes.”

The puppies will be spayed, neutered and microchipped, as will any of the other dogs who came without those procedures done. Curly-haired Cooper will have some fatty lumps removed before being put up for adoption, while Louie will be treated for an inflamed tear gland, also called cherry eye.

Three dogs have heartworm disease and will hopefully find foster homes for the three months they’ll have to undergo treatment.

Staff will check out all the other dogs as well to make sure they’re healthy and ready to find their forever homes. The puppies should be available for adoption starting Sunday.

“Our mission is to rescue stray and abandoned (animals) and help rehome them,” Sutton said. “... So we had to outreach because the demand is so high, and we have the ability and the capacity.”

Sutton happens to be personally connected with Houston PetSet, as it’s run by two friends of hers from elementary school. But the nonprofit Babinski Foundation works with all sorts of different rescues and organizations, finding homes for as many stray animals as possible.

“It’s all part of the mission,” Sutton said. “It’s why we’re here. It’s why Donald Babinski donated this great facility to do it.”



Editor's Note: The story was corrected to reflect the correct order for the Twin Cities-based children’s and animal nonprofit's name as Inspire and Flourish, instead of the other way around.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.