Minneapolis + St Paul Pet Photography Blog

red lake rosie’s rescue

*Please note: everything written here is from what I witnessed, heard at the clinic, and found online. If any of my facts are incorrect, please let me know and I’ll correct it immediately. This is a long post, so hang onto you pants.

*Here’s some additional info from Karen:

Red Lake Rosie is about a whole village of people including a local team of 4 women who are rescuing and sheltering the animals. We also have point people in the community who report and also bring animals to the shelter.

We are thankful to the compassionate vets and vet techs and all the n/s services they provide to end overpopulation.

We have a very active metro support team who has established a Petfinder group in Rogers as well as faithful supporters like the Lawson Family Fund who has been the backbone of our funding base since day one.

Thank you all and we are making a difference.

As many of you know, I had the opportunity earlier this month to travel up to Red Lake, MN. Animal Ark and Akin Hills Pet Hospital are putting on multiple spay/neuter/vaccination clinics throughout the year for the reservation, and I tagged along on this one to do a photo project. The more I’d hear about Red Lake and the work that Karen is doing up there, the more I wanted to see for myself, and document it for myself and others.

I grew up just an hour and a half from Red Lake, and knew nothing about it. Our schools never taught us about the Native people around us, or their current way of life. The reservation is roughly the size of Rhode Island, and is home to only about 11,000 people. Over 40% of the population lives at or below the poverty line, and there is reportedly a 70% unemployment rate. They are the most impoverished nation in  Minnesota and have a high crime rate. Chemical dependence and mental illness are very common, as is animal abuse and neglect. Most dogs are left outdoors to fend for themselves, scavenging, breeding, forming packs. Many who come to RLRR suffer from starvation, disease or injury.

In 2005, national news covered a high school shooting in Red Lake, the teen killing 9 people and them himself. A teacher at the school, Karen Good, had had enough of the violence that she saw toward both people and animals amongst her nation, and shortly after that, Red Lake Rosie’s Rescue was born. Since then, they have rescued over 2,000 animals with help from volunteers, Twin Cities shelters and vets, grants and donations.

I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived. It was a very foggy late afternoon, giving the already run-down community a palpable sense of sadness and foreboding. We saw many dogs along the side of the road, looking for food or standing sentinel at the edge of their driveways. It was hard not to stop and pick them all up. There were a dozen or more dead ones in the ditches.

The clinic was held in a warehouse that is used to manufacture homes. They were very gracious to allow the clinic the use of their building. The clinic was well put-together, with each volunteer having a specific job. All the animals got a kennel and a number, with their paperwork on top to keep track of everyone. There is a limit to how many animals they can take in one day; about 50 neuters, 25 spays, plus some additional just there for vaccinations. The spays were performed inside the Animal Ark’s Neuter Commuter, a mobile surgical station. The neuters were performed on a table in the warehouse. I’m pretty squeamish about anything bloody or medically related, but was surprised at how simple and tidy everything is. I saw a uterus and some testicles being removed, and it’s really not that gross. Not something I’d want to do myself, but not hard to watch either.

Some of the animals came in with injuries, which the vets took care of as best they could. Some had to come back to the cities for x-rays or additional care. Owners need to agree to surrender their animals before any are taken off the reservation, which can sometimes be a hard sell. I’m happy to say that most people do the right thing and let their dog or cat go to get the care it needs. Many dogs had mange, were malnourished, and two puppies had parvo. It’s not to say that *all* the dogs were in such rough shape, many came in that were clearly loved and well cared-for, and that was wonderful to see. The cats seemed well-cared for, as I’m sure most of them live indoors.

Many of the dogs up there are some mixture of Lab, Shepherd, Rottweiler, Chow and Pitbull. It was interesting to see some different breeds come through…. there were a couple of Pugs, some little Yorkie-looking mixes, and Poodle mixes.

One thing I was really looking forward to, was going out to Karen’s facility and seeing for myself what it’s all about. It’s quite a ways from the town, very isolated in the woods and marsh. Driving out there, it feels so wild, like civilization hasn’t touched the land. There’s a point where the electrical lines stop. There’s no cell service, and miles between houses. It’s definitely an eerie feeling.

For as foggy and dreary it had been the past couple days, I was happy to see the sun come out at Karen’s. It was symbolic, really. What she’s doing really is a light in the darkness. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Again, I didn’t know what to expect at her facility, and was impressed with what they have and what they’re doing. There’s a cat house that used to be Karen’s actual house, and some great shelters built for the dogs. They are built up on cement slabs to get them off the ground, with both and indoor and outdoor enclosure for each. For dogs who are lucky enough to find Karen in the dead of winter, this must be heaven.

There are a few resident dogs that live at the rescue, with no intention of leaving. They live outside, and would be miserable indoors. This is what they know, and they have a place to keep warm, someone to give them food and water, and they are definitely very happy. And they’re no dummies…. one of the girls likes to set up camp right next to the dryer vent at the cat house  :)

I heard from some volunteers that they’ve seen an amazing improvement in the past couple of years from doing these clinics. More people are becoming aware of the need for spaying/neutering, and getting their pets vaccinated. They’ve seen a dramatic decrease in the number of dead dogs found along the roads. One volunteer said this was the first time he’s heard people say “Thank you” and remark on the great job the vets and volunteers are doing. It gives me hope that things can change, that with education and awareness, that the good will spread. Karen is a remarkable woman, and I hope she can continue to grow and support her rescue for years to come.

So, to continue with the longest blog post in Sarah Beth Photography history, here’s a photographic story of my experience in Red Lake.

Opening the gate to the clinic, 8 am.

Many of the puppies were sooo hungry….

This little sweetheart had been hit by a car. She was brought back to the Twin Cities and found to have a broken pelvis, femur, jaw and some teeth. Unfortunately she wasn’t given a great prognosis and was put down. It’s a shame that she didn’t have a proper chance.

Performing a spay on a Pug inside the Neuter Commuter.

This big boy had several injuries, including a luxated shoulder, a deep cut on one leg and puncture wounds on the other leg.

Even with three people, they couldn’t get his shoulder back into place. He went home with his owners and was supposed to come back the following day, but never did.

This Boston was having a rough time coming out of anesthesia. I learned at the clinic that the drug they use causes hallucinations. I was in charge of comforting a Dachshund with the same dilemma. It’s hard to watch them shake and whimper, but they eventually come out of it, no worse for wear.

The guy on the left had a severe eye injury, and was taken to Minneapolis to have it removed. The Rat Terrier on the right was an owner surrender. Hopefully he’ll find a great forever home.

I felt so bad for this girl. What should be a hefty, confident Rottweiler, was a skeletal, cowering shell of a dog. She came in with a Shepherd mix who was equally as thin and scared. You can actually feel in their eyes that they’ve given up on life. I saw when the owners came to pick them up as well, and neither dog wanted to go with her…. they were bracing themselves and refusing to walk. It was heartbreaking.

All of the volunteers, vets and vet techs were amazing with the animals. There was a lot of love and compassion in that warehouse.

This dog came in severely matted, and needed to be anesthetized to be shaved down. What they got off of him was about a three inch thick, dog-shaped pelt of solid hair and grime.

This little boy was a favorite amongst many of the volunteers. The owners had brought three dogs in, and as volunteers were getting them out of the car, they noticed this dirty puppy in the back seat. The owners said they weren’t planning on bringing him in, and that he had just gotten in a dog fight that morning. The volunteers convinced them to let the vets take a look, and it’s very lucky that they did. He had puncture wounds in his head, and was completely covered in sand and mud. He was given a much needed bath, then waited to be checked by the vets. Turned out he had a soft palate in his skull (lucky the bites didn’t go through it into his brain) and his skull was actually separated along the nasal cavity. The owners agreed to surrender the pup, and he’s now in the cities, wearing a specially-made helmet until (if) his bones are strong enough to go without it. He was fondly named “Special Ed” by the volunteers.

This little peanut was one of my favorites. She was a 4-month old, jet-black Papillon Poodle mix, and a total sweetheart. I hung out with her for a bit, took her out to potty and gave her some food. I was hoping she was a surrender (she would have been a great match for my mom!) but the owners picked her up later that day. She’s a good girl, I hope she has a good home.

This wolfy guy lives at a group home for at-risk youth, along with two other dogs. He’s gorgeous and is clearly the king of his territory.

This is the wonderful Karen Good, with her resident dogs in the background.

This is Grandpa. He’s one of the first dogs the Karen rescued, and still lives with her at the shelter. He’s quiet, noble, and followed us around, keeping watch over us and his land.

We took these “bear cubs” back to the clinic with us to get neutered and ready to start the foster/adoption process. I don’t know what breeds they’re made up of, (Chow + something??) but they have the thickest coat I’ve ever seen, and these intense eyes that seem too old for a puppy so young.

I wanted to end on a positive, colorful note, reflecting the hope and love that Karen is bringing to so many animals and people. Here’s Grandpa again, on his fresh clean blankets.

And beautiful Karen with one of the bear cub pups, and her Peace Pole. “May Peace be in our Homes and Communities.”

And, of course, a couple shots of yours truly with pups from the clinic.

If you’d like to see all of my photos, click here to view them on Flickr.

For more information on how you can help Red Lake Rosie’s Rescue, email animalrescue@redlakerosie.org

Keep up to date with everything that’s happening on the RLRR Blog

The next clinics will be held June 3-5, August 20-21, and October 15-16. If you’re interested in volunteering, please contact Jenny Fitzer


Hi! I'm Sarah, but feel free to call me Sarah Beth. I've been a professional photographer for over 17 years, and I've been an animal lover and an artist my entire life. Read More . . .


Sarah Ernhart
Sarah Beth Photography

2205 California St. NE, Suite 101
Minneapolis, MN 55418