Reader Rescues: “Minnie Picked Me”

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by Penny Ronning

Minnie, an English shepherd, was born into the environment of a breeder/hoarder. At the time Minnie was born, approximately 200 dogs, numerous cats, birds, horses, goats, and chickens also lived on 10 acres of land in a rural country setting in Montana with their owner.

On December 30, 2008, in freezing temperatures, the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office conducted a 10 hour raid on the breeder. During this time approximately 189 dogs were seized by means of catch poles, rakes, shovels, whips, and/or whatever means were deemed fit by the authorities to catch and crate as many of the dogs as possible.

In the breeder’s ill attempt to hide puppies, Minnie and her litter mates were placed in a hole in the ground under the breeder’s trailer in which she lives. Hearing whining, one of the deputies discovered the puppies…well, all but Minnie.

Minnie was so small she was not seen when her litter mates were removed from the hole.

Along with 20 plus other intact dogs not caught during the warrant’s 10 hour time period, Minnie was left behind. Late into the night, the breeder heard 8 week-old Minnie whimpering and Minnie was finally removed from the bitter, bitter cold, damp, dark hole in the ground.

For the next 9 months, while the breeder’s animal cruelty case journeyed through the court system, Minnie, the other dogs left behind, and the puppies born after the raid would travel between the breeder’s home and the home of one of the dog breeder’s six children.

In July 2009, a plea agreement was reached between the breeder and Yellowstone County and the fate of all the dogs – those seized and those left behind – eventually rested with a district court judge.

The judge turned over the seized dogs to a specialty breed “rescue” group to place the dogs for adoption and gave the breeder 60 days from sentencing in which to find homes for the dogs left behind or a rescue group to take on the placement of the dogs.

As of 12:01 AM October 10, 2009, all animals not in compliance with the judge’s order remaining on the breeder’s property were going to be seized by the State of Montana and presumably killed.

As a lifelong dog lover when I heard the news of the raid on the breeder’s property I was horrified by the images I pictured in my mind of the dogs’ living conditions. When a call for volunteers to help socialize and clean/feed the seized dogs was announced I signed up immediately.

For the first 5 ½ months of volunteering every day, 7 days a week, 4 – 8 hours a day, I participated in the name calling of the breeder. I showed her no mercy with my words. No one did.


My heart began to trouble me.

The truth is that at the time of the raid the dogs were not in the condition most often seen in the news. The truth is that, physically, the majority of the dogs were in fairly good condition in relation to how many there were. Mentally/emotionally, the majority of the dogs were not socialized and fit the description of a “fearful” dog, but physically, the majority were not what is most often pictured in the news when it comes to animal cruelty cases.

The county removed approximately 13 dead dogs from the breeder/hoarder’s property on the day of the raid. Four of the dogs (puppies) had died from parvo and were in a plastic bag that had been set apart from the live dogs so the parvo would not spread. The other dogs had died from wounds related to farm life and injuries from other dogs.

During the 8 months the seized dogs, chickens, and cats were in the county’s custody 69 animals died horribly violent deaths and some of the dogs seized during the raid were never accounted for.

Yes, my heart began to trouble me. Something was terribly wrong with what was occurring.

I began to feel bitterness toward my own words of condemnation I had spoken. The understanding that God had not called me to judge the breeder/hoarder, but instead to show her grace and mercy began to grow within me.

The understanding that the breeder was not “simply” an irresponsible, cruel breeder, but a woman who suffers with the mental illness of hoarding began to take root in my mind and in my heart. I began to educate myself on this specific mental illness and realized just how clearly the breeder fit the most common description of a hoarder.

According to an article published in 2000 by The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC), a study of 54 animal hoarders concluded that “most cases were female (76%), a large proportion (46%) were 60 years of age or older; most were single, divorced or widowed; and almost half lived alone. The most common animals involved were cats (65%) and dogs (60%).”

The study also estimated that based on the data collected, there are 700 to 2,000 new cases of animal hoarding every year in the United States.

That was 10 years ago.

In my research, I learned that in 10 years while the number of hoarders has increased, awareness of the illness and its treatment has not kept up with the pace.

In America, we seem to need a cowboy wearing a white hat and a cowboy wearing a black hat. But what happens when everyone involved is wearing a gray hat?

What happens when there is not a bad cowboy, just a bad situation?

Late September in 2009, I contacted the breeder to ask if she had dogs remaining on her property and if so how many. She had 34 dogs and 4 horses that needed to removed from her property by October 10th or they stood to be killed by the State of Montana.

With less than 2 weeks, myself, two other volunteers who had also been working with the seized dogs, and a small handful of big hearted, animal loving people placed 34 dogs, 4 horses and 1 goat in adoptive and foster homes. (It was at this time Minnie came to live with me in her forever home.)

The breeder was compliant with the judge’s order by October 10, 2009 and continues to be. She is on 20 years probation and is required to attend mental health counseling through a county run program.

To know an English shepherd is to know one of the most unique relationships between humans and dogs. English shepherds are one of the rarest and most intelligent breeds of dogs on the planet. When seen, most people mistake them for Border Collies. While Border Collies were originally bred to herd first, guard second, English shepherds were bred to guard the farm family first, herd the animals second. Purebred English shepherds develop a strong bond typically to one person and become intensely loyal to their human.

As it has been said with so many rescue dogs, “they pick you” – Minnie picked me. And she continues to each and every day.

Minnie has a unique personality for an English shepherd in that she seems to understand that she has a story to tell and that her job is not to herd, but to be heard.

In her truly charming ways and with her oh-so-wise eyes, Minnie draws people to her; and because of this gift Minnie now serves as an ambassador in bringing awareness to the public of the mental illness of hoarding.

To learn more about hoarding, please visit The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium.

18 thoughts on “Reader Rescues: “Minnie Picked Me””

  1. NO. I do NOT agree with excusing any hoarder especially breeder/hoarders via a label of “mental illness.” I realize this may not be a Christian attitude but please hear me out. I am the daughter of a woman who was a breeder/hoarder. You simply CANNOT imagine the complex mental machinations of these people, the manipulativeness, the coldly calculating mental processes that go on. I, too, being the daughter of such a one, have spent literally DECADES researching this so called “mental illness.” In my personal opinion having lived the life – if you could call it a life – of a child raised by such a one and still to this day despite years YEARS of counseling and desperate attempts – faith based attempts – to understand and forgive, I have regretfully concluded breeding/hoarding is NOT any kind of mental illness. Further, despite the so-called “experts” finally getting this behavior “coded” so “treatment” (ineffective and debated even among the experts) is covered by insurance, in my opinion THIS IS NOT A MENTAL ILLNESS. These people may be sociopathic, but are not mentally ill. They are largely very, very smart and manipulative and make no doubt about it, they know exactly what they are doing and can “present” so convincingly that they can convince lawyers, courts, law enforcement and mental health professionals that they are “perfectly fine.” That ability to “present themselves well” is one reason why these cases drag on literally for decades without resolution. There is no cure for this so-called “disease” and yet becomes another tool used by the breeder/hoarder to manipulate the courts and the authorities into allowing them to continue their hellish practices without punishment because they are “in treatment.” In short: they are hoarding because it gains them attention, even negative attention and it makes people feel sorry for them and usually give them money, attention, help, and more attention (and more money). I can even tell you that sometimes these people are so cold-blooded that some have deliberately raised horses, obtained a “herd insurance policy” and started killing them off to get insurance money. That is well documented in studies and in legal cases.

    There is NO excuse under God or under any god or God for treating God’s creatures this way. The breeder/hoarder shows NO MERCY to these animals and the “excuse” of mental illness should not be yet another manipulative tool used by these people to continue their practices. Those puppies should not have gotten Parvo inthe first place. Dog on dog injuries is caused by BAD MANAGEMENT of TOO MANY dogs. I cannot even imagine the conditions of that many animals on that small of acreage.

    Finally – I have worked on many, many animal rescue missions over the last four decades of my six decades of life. I have never even ONCE found a breeder/hoarder that I would – despite years of study of this topic – consider legitimately mentally ill or mentally incompetent. While there are some that take on too many rescue animals and become overwhelmed by the labor and are under-financed, the breeder hoarder is DELIBERATELY creating more lives.

    I am sorry to have to say this but even as a Christian, having lived with a parent who was a breeder hoarder and having studied this issue for literally decades and having worked in horse and dog rescue for decades AND not generally being short on compassion – in my opinion, anyone offering the “mental illness” excuse to a breeder/hoarder is seriously SERIOUSLY mistaken.

  2. Thank you so much for bring this issue to our attention.

    I’m a researcher for the series Confessions: Animal Hoarding, currently airing on Animal Planet that tells the stories of people overwhelmed by the number of pets they own. The problem is on the rise and affect communities across America.

    If you are concerned about the health of animals in someone’s care and suspect they may be hoarding them, we might be able to help.

    Most animal hoarders don’t see themselves as hoarders, and sometimes don’t intentionally collect animals. Their relationship with their animals has threatened their relationships with friends and family.

    Most of these situations aren’t dealt with until they become criminal. This results in animals being euthanized by over-stressed shelters, and doesn’t address the underlying psychological issues – meaning nearly 100% of people end up in the same situation again.

    We are dedicated to finding comprehensive long-term solutions and believe therapy to be key to this. We can bring in experts to help people and their pets.

    If you or someone you know needs help because animals have overrun their life, visit to learn more and submit their story. Alternatively, contact me directly at [email protected] or toll-free at
    1 -877-698-7387.

    We will treat all submissions with confidentiality and respect.

    • This is a story about compassion…compassion for the animals & compassion for a human being that suffers from an illness.

      Haters, did you read the part about, “she continues to be in COMPLIANCE”?

      In a world of turmoil, this story highlights the fact that there are still humane human beings that not only care for God’s creatures but God’s creation…mankind.

      Kudos to this “rescuer” and to Animal Hoarding Project for your dedication to ALL God’s creation.

      • It’s wonderful to be reminded that these animals can live out their lives in loving homes and that this woman was able to be compliant.

  3. Excuse me for being grammatically pickey, but the sentence, “With less than 2 weeks, myself, two other volunteers who had also been working with the seized dogs, and a small handful of big hearted, animal loving people placed 34 dogs, 4 horses and 1 goat in adoptive and foster homes.” should begin, “With less than 2 weeks two other volunteers who had also been working with the seized dogs, a small handful of big hearted, animal loving people and I placed 34 dogs….”

    Your story is very compelling. Actually, I also am the daughter of a hoarder. She didn’t hoard animals, but just about everything else.

  4. One of the dogs Penny and the other volunteers (my mother among them) found at the breeder’s before the October deadline is my own beloved English Shepard, Buddy. What she says is true. There is not a single more lovable, loyal, and perfect companion in the world than an English Shepard. (This coming from someone who grew up with golden retrievers in the house.)

    For something to be considered bad there must be a good in contrast. Although the situation was quite awful and extremely unfair, Penny and the others blessed the lives of many by providing an opportunity to live with our brilliant four-legged friends.

    Penny, you have come so far with this project and I’m so happy you and Minnie found each other. I hope she is as much a source of joy and comfort in your life as Buddy is in mine.


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