Rez Dog Rescue is a foster home based dog rescue organization that operates out of Billings. Sheri Lee, fearless leader and Executive Director, is assisted by Bernie Wahl (Executive Coordinator of Minions), as well as a host of volunteers. All of the dogs and puppies are fostered in loving homes, never in cages. Most of the adult dogs are currently at Sheri’s house, and numerous puppies are staying with Bernie.
Sheri worked first with a group in Hardin called Help Every Pet, with Charlotte Heinle. Charlotte would drive by herself from Hardin to Billings each weekend to take pets to Petsmart for adoption, and Sheri wanted to help. After a couple of years, she branched off and created Rez Dog Rescue. “I can’t say enough good things about Sheri,” Bernie told us. “She is just so dedicated. She will drive through a snow storm to pick up any dog in need. She has no life. These dogs are her life.” Sheri dedicates her days to working with the dogs, while maintaining a “day job” in a group home at night.
Almost all of the dogs come from the reservations, including Crow Agency, Lame Deer, Lodge Grass, Busby, Dunmore, and Pryor. Hardin Animal Control frequently takes dogs to vets, and if they are not picked up by the owners, Rez Dog Rescue is contacted, rather than the dogs being put down. Sheri frequently gets calls from people who have a dog which has had puppies that they cannot afford (or don’t want), or reports of injured or feral dogs. She and Bernie also make drive-around trips to scout for animals in need.
In the case of pregnant or nursing momma dogs, Rez Dog Rescue will take the mother and pups both to a foster home. The mother will be spayed, given vaccines and worming medicine, and any other necessary veterinary care, and returned to their owner once the puppies have been weaned. Homes are then found for the puppies. Bernie’s first foster dog was a Rottweiler who had five puppies. Providing foster care for puppies sounds like lots of fun, but as Bernie puts it, “It isn’t all sunshine and unicorns farting rainbows.”
Many of the dogs that come in are victims of abuse or car accidents. Most have some combination of mange, parvo, worms, malnutrition, or any manner of other illnesses and ailments. Due to an infected litter of puppies, the group lost over 20 dogs to distemper last year. A number of them have been abandoned or are feral. All of the dogs are treated by veterinarians and rehabilitated before being offered for adoption, however. Most are herding mixes: collies, shepherds, and heelers.
The puppies are, understandably, much easier to adopt out. Although puppies require just as much time and effort (maybe more!), they are cute and snuggly and in higher demand than an older dog. Adoption fees are lower for older dogs as an incentive to adopt. Puppies cost $150 to adopt. Each dog comes having been spayed or neutered, and with all shots and medications up to date. They each also have a doggy bag, which contains their blanket, a couple of toys, a bit of the food that they’re used to, and any other items unique to that dog.
Rez Dog Rescue also works with Prison Paws for Humanity, a fantastic group that works with inmates at the Montana Women’s Prison. Inmates train the dogs in basic obedience, social skills, and sometimes more advanced training in areas such as service, seizure alert, and other special needs. The dogs live with their trainers, and are with them throughout the day, even attending groups and classes with other inmates in order that the dogs become accustomed to a variety of social settings. The relationship is beneficial to both the dogs and the inmates. “They do great work,” Bernie said. “A number of these dogs would not have been adopted otherwise.”
Do you want to help, but aren’t in need of a dog at the moment? Res Dog Rescue is funded primarily by donations and adoption fees. Donations don’t need to be in cash form! “We’re always looking for some weird things: canvas shopping bags, gym bags, purses, suitcases, and anything that can be used as a doggy bag for the adopted pups. The puppies also love hard baby toys (teething toys), stuffed animals (without any hard-plastic eyes or buttons that could come off and be eaten), baby blankets, and old jeans that can be made into tug toys. We can also always use file folders with pockets, and the normal dog stuff like leashes and collars.”
Puppies can be adopted at Tractor Supply in Laurel every Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 3pm, or you can contact Sheri at 406.208.3853 or Bernie at 406.672.2513, or check out their Facebook page facebook.com/MtRezDogRescue. They also have dogs listed on petfinder.com.
Fosters and volunteers with Rez Dog Rescue who deserve a hearty thanks as well are: Trish Kellinger, Stacee Barker, Rnita Maxwell, Tere Lehman, and Angie Valdez.