For Devon and Randy Rauenzahn, it was going to be a typical Christmas week visiting family in Eastern Washington. “Typical” was not quite how it actually turned out.
The couple, who work in Spokane and operate Heaven With a D Rescue in nearby Deer Park, found themselves suddenly in the middle of a large Shetland Sheepdog rescue days before Christmas. The operation required their total focus for six days before the bulk of the dogs were headed to the Midwest for more intake and eventual assignment to new homes.
There are many players in this story that involved 28 Shelties who suddenly found themselves without a caretaker. If you’re looking for a positive outcome that will elicit smiles on a dreary winter day, this story delivers, thanks to the concerted efforts of “Sheltie Nation” far and wide.
How It Unfolded
A whirlwind of activity arose after December 13, when an acquaintance of Renata “Robert” Judd, 70, reported him missing. What’s more, 28 Shetland Sheepdogs were running loose on his 40 acres in the small, remote community of Inchelium, Washington. A week later, Devon Rauenzahn was perusing Facebook and saw she was tagged in a post about dogs needing emergency help.
“Of course, I raised my hand and said ‘count me in,’ never thinking I would end up with 23 dogs, rather than four or five,” she says.
The couple had planned to spend Christmas Eve with Devon’s in-laws. But just before the trip, she learned almost two dozen dogs would be calling her place home for several days. This meant scrambling to get their basement set up for incoming crates. They asked for help gathering blankets and supplies, and friends and family rose to the occasion. The following day, 23 dogs arrived with a veterinarian to examine each.
“They were scared, carsick, and in shock, but now in a better place,” Devon recalls. “The first three nights were very long, and they were serving up a sad, low wail. Volunteers would show up each day to give them attention, calm their fears, and offer much-needed exercise. They began to come out of their shells and reflect their personalities.”
On December 29th, Natalie Whalen and Linda Clary, a Central Illinois Sheltie Rescue volunteer, arrived in Deer Park to transport 21 dogs to rescues in Illinois, Ohio, and Minnesota. Before their departure, each dog received a rabies vaccination and microchip. The entire process took four hours before Whalen and Clary hit the road on their 24-hour return trip home.
Since reaching their Midwest destinations, the dogs have been sterilized, undergone dental cleanings, and received vaccinations. Directors of the three state rescue groups have raved about the temperaments and manners of the intakes. The dogs are expected to be prime candidates for new homes.
The Rauenzahns kept two dogs, for which they have had many inquiries. They will be placed within the next few months. If you’re wondering about the workload, the final two days of bedding and sheets covering each crate amounted to 71 laundry loads. And yes, there will be a Christmas for the Rauenzahns. It will be celebrated in mid-February. As for their role in this rescue? Devon affirms they’d do it again in a heartbeat.
How It Began
Team Rauenzahn played a key role in this operation. However, they’re only one component of this narrative that produced the rescue and eventual relocation of more than two dozen dogs from frozen snow-covered fields.
Upon receiving a concerned neighbor’s report, Ferry County Sheriff Ray Maycumber sent deputies to search Judd’s home. There, the 28 dogs were discovered running about the property but appeared in good condition. They obviously had been well-cared for and had access to shelter from the elements.
Search parties were unable to find Judd, so a determination had to be made on the dogs. A 2015 county ordinance required they be impounded five days before being placed for rescue. Judd’s two daughters were contacted and showed no interest in assuming ownership of the animals. Hence, Maycumber was free to allow interested rescue organizations to become involved.
“Fortunately, they were willing to step to the plate and help provide a happy ending on that front,” he adds.
On the afternoon of February 3rd, the presumed remains of Judd were recovered from a nearby pond, near the body of a dog. An autopsy has been scheduled to confirm the identity, but foul play is not suspected.
Among the first on the scene initially was Tracy Wessel, of Ferry County Search and Rescue and Columbia Basin Search Dogs. She first reached out to several dog rescue organizations and a nearby veterinary clinic. She needed to determine who could take the dogs during impound, and where they would go afterward. They were in a very remote place with wolves, coyotes, cougars, and minks nearby. A neighbor housed the five puppies for safety, which left 23 more to be extracted.
When Wessel didn’t have any luck finding a singular rescue for all 23 Shelties, she reached out to a friend, Connie Schnackenberg, of Toddhills Shetland Sheepdogs. Schnackenberg became an early beacon in the rescue.
Sheltie Nation Rises To The Occasion
“After I posted word on Facebook that we have a situation where immediate help was needed and we can be players, responses began immediately,” recalls Schnackenberg.
One of those responses came from Whalen, who doubles as president of National Sheltie Rescue. She volunteered to travel to Washington and take all the dogs to the Midwest for placement following the five-day hold. But first, the step of rounding up the dogs into Judd’s house fell to Wessel and several others. 22 of the 23 were apprehended, crated, and taken to the Rauenzahn home. There, each Sheltie underwent a veterinary health check and was photographed for Wessel’s records.
Wessel, Devon Rauenzahn, and Steve Wyatt from Ferry County Search and Rescue returned the following day on Christmas Eve to rescue the lone dog that eluded them. Adding to the tactical fluidity in this huge rescue project was Path of Hope Rescue, a Spokane organization that rescues puppies and pregnant dogs under 6 months old. Founded by Caitlin Knight whose husband, Matt, is a Ferry County deputy sheriff, Path of Hope took possession of the five 3-month-old Sheltie puppies from Judd’s neighbor. Following thorough background checks, all five were placed in new homes.
“When you work with like-minded people, things go very smoothly,” says Whalen when asked what made the difficult operation a success. “It’s highly satisfying for all involved when the dogs are the big winners.”
“For the most part, everyone moved quickly in a challenging environment with the dogs’ welfare always being the top priority,” agrees Wessel. “A lot of tears were shed, but they were happy ones in the end.”