From the outside, the little tan house on the corner of 28th and Waltz looks like any other campus house. This small and simple structure, surrounded by patches of grass overlooking the Towers, gives no indication of the chaos inside.
Upon opening the door, the smell of dog food wafts through. Then comes the eruption of squeals as, right there in the living room, a fleet of puppies, each one pressing itself up against a foldable gate, clamors and climbs over one another in an attempt to see who has arrived, and whether or not they brought food.
Walking toward the makeshift kennel, past couches coated in fine hairs and rolls of paper towels and garbage bags, mom Eliza trots over, sniffing and wagging her tail vigorously. On the couches, Kelsey Thorsness and Baylie Hilgenkamp sit, doing homework and smiling. For them, this is normal, everyday life.
Thorsness and Hilgenkamp applied for a theme house their freshman year at Augustana, hoping to incorporate work with the Humane Society where they had been volunteering. They settled on temporarily fostering animals that were either too needy or sick to remain at the shelter.
“We all come from homes with animals and, freshman year, it was really hard being away from them,” said Thorsness. “So that’s why we decided that we should foster animals. We always went out to the Humane Society and we thought we would give [fostering] a shot.”
After receiving the go-ahead from both campus housing as well as the Humane Society, the project that became known as “Paws Crossing” took on its first assignment with a litter of kittens. A year later Paws Crossing shifted to dogs, fostering its second batch this year consisting of the yellow lab mix Eliza and her thirteen puppies.
Although the girls knew Eliza was pregnant when they brought her home, they never could have imagined what they were in store for.
“They told us there were for sure two puppies, and then two weeks later she had fifteen,” said Hilgenkamp. “They just kept coming.”
After waking up at four in the morning to screaming, the girls rushed to the living room to find Eliza on the couch, a puppy laying next to her. They quickly transported Eliza to a kiddie pool they had tucked away in preparation for the birth. The rest of the morning was spent delivering one puppy after another. Two of the puppies were still-born, which was a difficult reality for the girls.
After the initial shock, the roommates quickly adjusted to the new demands that caring for thirteen puppies calls for, including around-the-clock feeding, cleaning and, most importantly, attention. However, finding the balance between school, jobs, extracurricular activities and taking care for these puppies can be quite the challenge.
“We’ve learned that communication is key between me and my roommates. All of us have jobs, all of us are involved in the Augustana community and we have class, as well as homework,” said Thorsness. “It’s difficult at times, but we work out our schedules and look at each week ahead of time.”
In addition to continual cleaning of the tarp and puppy blankets, Eliza, as well as the puppies, must be given daily oral medicine. Eliza receives additional pain medicine each day for a mastitis in her breast which burst while staying with the girls, resulting in a 24-hour stay in the All City Pet Hospital. During her absence the girls had to bottle feed all thirteen puppies with simulation milk.
“We always tell people that we live in their world,” Thorsness said.
Despite all the stress caring for the puppies generates, both Thorsness and Hilgenkamp agree that it’s worth it to know their hard work is going toward a good cause.
Through fostering animals as well as committing four required hours a month to volunteering at the shelter, Paws Crossing not only gives the Sioux Falls Humane Society the assistance it needs in caring for animals within the community, but also helps to spread volunteer awareness on the Augustana campus.
“A lot of people don’t know that you can volunteer at the Humane Society and it’s an easy way to get volunteer hours while also doing something fun,” said Hilgenkamp. “So when [students] see us and we tell them they’re Humane Society dogs, their first question is ‘Can we go volunteer?’ or ‘Can we go see them?’”
After 8 weeks of feeding, cleaning, hospital visits and plenty of cuddling, the girls had to give the puppies, now healthy and ready for adoption, back to the Humane Society. While it’s hard to say goodbye, it’s also exciting to see the puppies and the mother they cared for have to opportunity to find a permanent family.
“We not only get attached to the puppies, but we get attached to the mom,” said Thorsness. “The only thing that helps us is we know they will go to a forever home.”
Leave a Reply