Special Report: Throwing Arms Around Throwaways

Taylor Holt
Updated: May 06, 2019 09:11 PM

"We rescue dogs," said Penny Nelson. She puts it simply, but there's so much more going on with the work she and her husband, Kevin do. 

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"This is Bandit. Bandit came from the Cities. He was literally pulled from under the euthanasia needle," Penny added, as she pet the playful Siberian Husky.

Bandit came from a couple getting a divorce.

"One of them was keeping one dog. He had a very large tumor on his chest so he was set to be euthanized," she said.

Literally 15 minutes from death, his life was spared. A rescue group picked him up and brought him 8 miles north of Iron River, where the couple took in the 10-year-old. There his new life began.

"When he got here, he was very sad, very depressed, and didn't even want to get out of the van. Then, he heard the dogs howling and it was like, "Hey, that's like my kind". So he got out," said Penny.

Their vet removed the four-pound tumor and today, what was a death sentence for Bandit turned into a second chance at life. 

"He's our class clown," Penny said.

"They all have their own story," added Kevin.

That second chance is what the couple give at their home turned shelter. They say it was a calling.

"For my 40th birthday, I saw a Husky in a shelter and decided to get this dog," said Penny.

They got hooked and started fostering for Wisconsin Siberian Husky Rescue, until the group disbanded after 9/11.

"Then, we formed our own the storm shelter," said Penny.

The Storm Shelter Sled Dogs Sanctuary and Rescue was named after their late shelter companion, Storm. At the shelter, they take in the  most vulnerable dogs. Ones considered 'throwaways'. 

"We take mostly sled dogs breeds, but we also take in special needs dogs, and we also take in older dogs," said Penny.

They come from all backgrounds -  from regular homes to shelters to animal control calls.

"Jasper when we got him, you couldn't touch him. One of his legs twisted out funny. He has shot gun pellets in him," Penny explained.

"Owners will surrender a dog and say she can't keep up to us anymore. We go hiking and she can't keep up or we don't want him anymore."

Those are the saddest circumstances.

"It's so sad. So many dogs come to us because the crime they committed is they got old," said Penny, tearing up.

So Penny and Kevin give them a place to live out their days rather than having their lives cut short.

"Rather than try to solve the problem, they (owners) just surrender the dog, so the dog has given them the best of the dogs life and then winds up in a shelter at 12,13,14 years old and they are scared," Penny said.

It takes some adjusting, but many in their full house have come full circle. 

"You just have to let them be and let the other dogs interact with us and they get to thinking maybe people aren't so bad," said Penny.

Currently, the shelter has 33 dogs and a lot of helping hands to pitch in. In fact, seven sets of extra hands. 11-year-old Brady Olson has been volunteering for three years.

"I'm a professional dog petter. A lot of times, I go on the rescue rides with Penny and Kevin," said Olson.

He's been there long enough to see many of the dogs come into their own identities. 

"I just love when the dogs just attach to someone," said Olson. "Bella, she's an arm flipper and she just loves to get attention. Bandit he loves to 'ooh' and thats his personality."

Volunteers or not, managing the chaos is a handful. Kevin is able to work full-time out of his home so he stays with the dogs.

"I let them in and out a lot," said Kevin.

Feeding and outside time happens in groups.

"It's easy to keep track of them that way," Kevin added.

He also has military retirement coming in. Penny works part -time at the local fish hatchery. Food and medical expenses get covered between that and donations.

"A 40-pound bag of food lasts about a day and a half," said Kevin.

They go through about 6 bags a week, so they look for sales at the Tractor Supply in Ashland, where they do most of their shopping.

"They have given us donations as far as collars and leashes," Kevin said.

Their average vet bill runs between $8,000 and $10,000 a year, but Kevin says he wouldn't change a thing. Well, there is one thing.

"Other than making more money, no, I wouldn't give up any one of these guys for a million dollars," said Kevin.

Sadly, they've had to make the difficult decision to turn dogs away. Looking around - you can see why they say yes.

"It's just like if we hadn't of taken him he was going to die," said Kevin.

The good news is some are adopted out. With others, they work hard to give them a happier, healthier life.

"Some of them have such fears," said Penny. "Some dogs when you say their names to them they are sad. Their ears drop, and you know that they have sad connotations to that name."

So a new name and fresh start begin to erase the past. Prince is one example.

"The day he was coming up to us was the day that Prince died, and we are quite the prince fans so we thought that would be a good name," said Penny.

That transformation is a commitment they've dedicated their lives to.

"When we win the lottery, we'll buy more land and get more dogs and have a bigger rescue," said Kevin.

The easiest task is love. Because as much as it seems they've given the dogs a new life, they say they're the ones who are blessed.

"They have given me more than I have given them," said Kevin.

"It's just sitting around when nothing is going on and we just sit around outside here or in the house, and there are dogs all over and everyone's just cooling. It's nice. It's just really nice," said Penny. 

If people want to help out with Penny and Kevin's efforts, they can contact them through The Storm Shelter Sled Dogs Sanctuary and Rescue Facebook Page. 


Taylor Holt

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