Calumet Township Woman rescues dogs, one canine at a time Nonprofit has saved more than 400 dogs from kill shelters

By Kelly Fosness

The Daily Mining Gazette

CALUMET TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- A pop-up window that interrupted Aimee Ryding's Internet research lured her to a website that informed viewers of dogs in danger of being euthanized.

"I took a break from my paper and I looked at it," she said. "I don't know why, but something told me to do it."

Ryding, who at the time was in the process of completing her nursing degree through Gogebic Community College, soon found herself networking with animal rescue groups across the U.S.

One could say her life hasn't been the same since, because less than a month after graduation in May 2010, Ryding established her own animal rescue out of her Calumet Township home.

"She completely changed our lives," Ryding said of her now 2-year-old puggle (beagle and pug crossbreed) Mandy, which she rescued from a "kill shelter" in Anderson, Ind. "She only had three days to live so I filled out the application online for her. I knew she needed us and we needed her."

Since Ryding started Because of Mandy Dog Rescue a year and a half ago, she's saved more than 400 dogs from kill shelters -- places she had never heard of until she adopted Mandy -- across the country.

Ryding said "thousands and thousands" of animals are victim to high-kill shelters due to overcrowding and lack of room.

"It all boils down to people spaying and neutering their pets and not breeding their animals," she said. "There's a lot of puppy mills where there's 300 to 400 dogs living in cages. I have been to those places and I have taken dogs."

Ryding's organization, Because of Mandy, is a nonprofit that operates solely on a volunteer basis. Funds for medical bills, dog food and other necessities are raised through donations, fundraisers and adoption fees.

Ryding said her first major transport was the farthest distance she's had to travel. Along with her 14-year-old son, Austin, she drove a rental van to Arkansas, where they rescued 30 dogs and three kittens.

The 20-hour ride there turned into a 40-hour trip back.

"Every two hours we potty them, take them for a walk and give them water," Ryding said. "It's very heartwarming but it's very crazy."

On that particular trip, Ryding said she returned home with an empty van because each of the animals she rescued had places to go.

"They all had pre-approved adopters," she said. "We just did the transport."

A month and a half ago, Ryding received 17 dogs from Missouri and of that bunch, only one is waiting adoption.

Unlike the facilities Ryding rescues animals from, dogs in her care have no time limit.

"A dog will never be put down because it's been here for too long," she said.

Instead, they live in a home-like environment during their stay and become an extension of her own family until they're placed. Volunteer foster homes provide additional living arrangements if space becomes an issue.

While Ryding admits she's neither a dog trainer or a veterinarian, she does work with each of them individually to help them settle in comfortably.

"I'm just a normal person who's trying to make a difference for them," she said. "We just do our best. It's something we're learning every day."

Ryding has a strong support system, between her husband Robert, her grandfather, Robert Gillstrom, and a handful of volunteers who help with fundraising and transports.

The Copely family from L'Anse, she said, has traveled as far as Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, rescuing dogs.

"Then I have a wonderful friend in Negaunee, Jan, who donates dog food and rawhides," she said. "She even comes here and helps me."

Several businesses near and far have contributed items to Because of Mandy, and monetary donations have been mailed from as far as California.

"It's just all that kind of help that adds up really, really quickly," she said.

Ryding said Facebook has been instrumental in a number of rescues, not only for Because of Mandy, but for rescue groups around the world. It allows for instant networking, and timing is everything in the event of saving an animal, she said.

"It's nice because whenever we post for help with a dog needing an overnight foster home someone usually steps up and says 'I'll help you with that,'" she said. "All around we've met a lot of nice people."

Ryding said she works closely with a number of organizations including K-SNAG, the Copper Country Humane Society and the Ontonagon County Animal Protection.

Currently, she has seven dogs available for adoption.

"One thing I do want to get across ... a lot of people seem to think dogs from Missouri don't have a place here, but it's my dream," she said. "It all started with Mandy. We pay tribute to Mandy by getting them out of a bad situation and finding them a good home."

For anyone who is interested in making a donation, Ryding said they're always in need of dog food, rawhides, toys and foster homes. Recently, she welcomes anyone who would like to walk the dogs.

In the meantime, Ryding said she's going to continue with her mission.

"You cry a lot and a lot of times there's happy tears," she said. "When you get a 'thank you' from somebody that's adopted a dog and it's changed their life, it makes all of this worth it."

Published: Wed, Nov 23, 2011

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