Ruff Start helps rescue animals and find them homes

by Nathan Warner
Contributing writer
Ruff Start, an innovative Princeton-based animal rescue, recently visited Reading Frenzy Bookstore in downtown Zimmerman with a bundle of puppies in tow to share information on their program.
Since January 2010, Ruff Start has rescued and placed more than 280 dogs in permanent homes, called “forever homes.”
Emily Randolph, Ruff Start’s vetting coordinator, described the organization as a “small, but mighty nonprofit dog and cat rescue powered entirely by volunteers who work tirelessly to rescue and place stray, neglected, abandoned, and surrendered dogs and cats in new, loving homes.”
Randolph works for an information technology company during the day, which is no exception to the rule. She says all Ruff Start volunteers have day jobs to pay the bills, but they donate time to rescuing animals whenever they have a free moment.
Ruff Start is not an animal shelter and has adopted an innovative model for rescuing animals that uses a wide base of volunteers. Key to the organization’s function are the “fosters,” volunteers who are always on hand to temporarily take animals into their homes until permanent homes can be found for them.
“We believe that a home environment where animals can adapt and adjust around humans is a much better environment for them to wait for adoption than a shelter or kennel,” Randolph said.
Azure Davis, president of Ruff Start, thought about the need for a different kind of animal rescue after saving a severely ill dog named Hope from a shelter in Ohio. On her own time, Davis found a family that would take the dog into their home while Davis sought a permanent home for it. She was inspired to launch Ruff Start when the family fell in love with Hope and adopted her.
Randolph said many of Ruff Start’s volunteers got involved in animal rescue once they learned about the millions of animals that are killed or die in shelters and kennels each year throughout the country.
“It’s a tragic, lonely way for animals to die,” she said, “and it’s completely avoidable. We just need to stop the over-breeding of animals and take care of the ones we have.”
Rebecca Schimmelman and Joel Maue were two “fosters” on hand at the presentation to talk about the fostering process.
“It’s an incredible thing they’re doing here,” Schimmelman said, “and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
Through donations, the organization pays for each animal’s needs, including food, vet visits and supplies.
The Princeton-based organization reaches far and wide across the country through Web tools like Facebook and has saved animals from as far away as Texas and Georgia.
“We have volunteers who drive the animals as far as they can before switching off to other volunteers who agree to meet them, and the process repeats until they reach Minnesota,” Shayla Lomenda, Ruff Start’s event coordinator, said. “There are even volunteer pilots who will sometimes fly the animals into Princeton Municipal Airport.”
No matter what their interests or backgrounds, all of Ruff Start’s volunteers share a passion for saving animals and are willing to act on that passion.
“Once I saw the scale and scope of what was happening to animals, I couldn’t go back,” Sammie Bistodeau, Ruff Start’s placement coordinator, concluded, pointing to Ruff Start’s motto: “Don’t breed or buy while shelter animals die!”
To volunteer, donate, or for more information, visit Ruff Start’s website at or call them at 763-355-3981.