If not for the kindness of passersby and the belief in the value of rescued animals, yellow Labrador retrievers Fred and Barney could have died as strays in the forest near Tinton Road on a freezing winter day in December. Instead, they are currently in training at the South Dakota Canine Center to become service dogs.
“I think it’s so amazing that, potentially, somebody’s discarded garbage ends up saving lives,” Tiffany Carlson, one of the people who spent hours wrangling the dogs when they were found, said. She explained that her neighbor, Christie Jensen, and Jensen’s son, Liam, found one of the dogs along Tinton Road acting strangely. They were concerned that it was signaling that another person or dog was still out in the forest, so they kept looking and called Carlson for her help.
They got some dog food and a leash, split up, and eventually found another yellow lab, who, in his fear and exhaustion, ran from the group until he was eventually cornered. Carlson described that he barked at them for hours until he was so tired he eventually started falling asleep between barks. However, the group kept speaking calmly, and with Liam’s help, eventually got close enough to get the dog on a leash.
“You could see the relief on his face,” Carlson said, describing that both dogs seemed confused about why they were out in the forest, had scarring on their faces, and did not look like they were anybody’s pet at the time. She said they both seemed traumatized by the experience.
“It was (a case of the) right place, right time, because it was getting freezing cold,” Carlson added.
The Jensens contacted Mike Welchynski, director of the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, who took the dogs in and got them healthy, and Becky Rankin, director of the Western Hills Humane Society, brought the dogs, whom she named Fred and Barney, to the shelter in April.
It just happened that Kellee Matthews, who with her husband, Tim, owns the South Dakota Canine Center on the outskirts of Sturgis, stopped in to the shelter to say hello to the staff recently while her sons were at basketball camp at Black Hills State University. As she walked through the building, she noticed a few dogs that looked like potential service dog candidates, so she arranged to come back later that day for a full evaluation of five of the dogs — two of which happened to be yellow Labrador retrievers.
“Fred and Barney were so, so temperamentally solid and had a fair amount of play drive, so we immediately identified them as service dog candidates,” Matthews said, adding that her 10-year-old son, Colton, said, “Mom, these two are just perfect. We have to take them home and find jobs for them!”
“He was absolutely correct,” she said, describing that during the first visit, both Fred and Barney were happy and engaged, carrying toys in their mouths and seemingly asking Matthews to notice them in a “very sweet and relaxed way.”
Fred and Barney have started training at the South Dakota Canine Center, and Matthews said that their final placement details are not yet known.
“We stay open-minded about our recruits,” she said. “We believe strongly that they will show us the path they want to travel and that we are kind of ‘travel agents.’”
Dogs at the South Dakota Canine Center might go into a variety of fields, including explosives, narcotics, evidence, seizure alert, bed bugs, service dogs, facilities dogs, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), etc., and training for any of the fields can take approximately six months to one year to complete. The Matthews will work with Fred and Barney through their evaluations and medical clearances and make recommendations in terms of final placements. The dogs would then be pre-matched with a client who has identified individual needs, and each dog would be trained for that specific person.
“Our hope for these boys is that they may be life-changing best friends for two very lucky people,” Matthews said. “We know they are amazing, and we are just waiting to see where their journey leads them and what amazing things they will do.”
The family-run South Dakota Canine Center is committed to saving dogs’ lives and making people aware of the value of all dogs in the world, and since relocating to the Black Hills four years ago, it has had more than 150 dogs move through its kennel as potential candidates. Matthews said that all are shelter/rescue dogs who have been given up on by someone or found as strays. Tim travels to 10 Midwestern states, searching shelters for dogs with the talents often considered “annoying or intolerable by pet owners — but we see their potential to serve an amazing purpose of finding disaster victims, detecting explosives, drugs, bed bugs, and providing the service to disabled people to help make their lives better,” Matthews said. “Since our inception here, we have helped close to 100 dogs move into these important careers and have rehomed another 50-plus shelter dogs into pet homes.”
She pointed to the important partnerships between the various organizations working to rehome stray or abandoned animals.
“Our relationship with shelters and rescues is critical,” Matthews said. “We have to get them to believe in our program and to be our eyes in the field. We can’t be everywhere, all the time, so we spend considerable time and effort training shelter staff to identify these talented dogs and outreach to keep the relationships strong. It takes a village!”
And the village involved in Fred and Barney’s rescue is thrilled to see the outcome of the story that could have ended very differently in December. Carlson said she got “goosebumps” when she heard the dogs were in training.
“I think it’s just a testament to what animals can go through and persevere,” she said. “I’m just a huge proponent of rescuing an animal from a shelter. I think it’s just wonderful that they can go and do and make such an amazing difference in the world.”
Carlson urged people to take the extra time to help someone or something in need: “It really could turn into something wonderful,” she said.
“We are so thrilled to have found Fred and Barney — two gorgeous and sweet local boys,” Matthews added. “We are so, so excited to see where they are headed!”
By Kaija Swisher, Black Hills Pioneer
Western Hills Humane Society went home from our 3rd annual Cause for Paws fundraiser with gratitude in our hearts. Many, many friends of the shelter came out to support us at Crow Peak Brewing Company. Businesses all over the Black Hills and many private citizens donated to our live and silent auction. We are humbled but the outpouring of support. This event helps us to continue our mission.
Would you consider making a donation today in support of the work we do? Also, if your children have a heart for animals, we have kid’s programs including a reading program and volunteer opportunities.
We are incredibly grateful for each of you reading this today and look forward to sharing our stories of gratitude over the next 13 days.