Nearly All Abandoned Doris Creek Dogs Have Been Adopted

Arrangements have been made for shelters to take the remaining two dogs if adoption appointments are unsuccessful

By Mike Kordenbrock
In this Beacon File photo, Flathead County Animal Shelter Director Cliff Bennett walks through the dog kennels on March 8, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

By Oct. 20, all but two of the nearly 20 dogs found abandoned in the Doris Creek area in late September had been adopted, according to an update provided by Flathead County Animal Shelter Director Cliff Bennett at a recent meeting of the Flathead City-County Board of Health. 

Bennett was asked about the animals by Whitefish board member and veterinarian Jessica Malberg-Fiftal during his regular presentation to the board, which also centered on the county shelter’s capacity issues stemming from the region’s housing crisis.

The remaining two dogs had appointments scheduled with people interested in adopting them, Bennett said, adding that he’d also made arrangements with partner shelters to take the dogs if the adoption appointments don’t work out.

Interim Health Officer Jen Rankosky explained to the board that the health department’s role in re-homing the animals is separate from a law enforcement investigation into their abandonment.

The Doris Creek dogs, initially described as about 19 animals made up of huskies and shepherd mixes, were found near Hungry Horse last month. Some of the dogs tested positive for parvovirus, and the youngest were 4 months old. An additional dog that was also thought to have been part of the abandoned group was shot and killed by a hunter who officials said mistook it for a wolf. Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino said last month that the hunter posted images of herself and the field-dressed dog on social media, prompting a flood of emails and calls, including from people out-of-state.

The adoptions are a relief for the shelter, but looming capacity issues appeared to be weighing on Bennett, who explained during his presentation to the board that the shelter has seen an increased number of animals being turned over to the shelter by people struggling to find housing that will accept their pets.

 “So, basically, the driver of this really seems to be the housing shortage, (it) has exacerbated the tenant market for landlords that allow pets …” Bennett said. “That’s what seems to be driving relinquishment. The amount of strays coming in is about the same.”

As of Oct. 20, Bennett said the county shelter had 39 dogs in its care. In October 2021, the shelter closed out the month with 20 dogs.  “We’re getting tremendously high numbers of dogs in the shelter, mostly in the form of owner surrenders, faster than we normally adopt out,” Bennett said.

The shelter has 42 kennels set aside for housing strays and dogs given up by their owners. Four kennels are held for animal control cases, including rabies quarantine or court cases. Three kennels are open for nighttime intakes from law enforcement.

Bennett said other crowded shelters have had to turn to euthanasia to make room for incoming animals, which the county shelter would like to avoid. He said the shelter is considering waiving adoption fees as one way to help provide relief. Other possibilities are to pay to have the animals boarded elsewhere. Bennett also said there are opportunities to use social media to help promote re-homing animals.

 “We haven’t reached the tipping point yet, but we want to try and get an emergency plan in place so that we can have something to look at and fall back on and say this is what our plan is,” Rankosky said.

The county shelter ended September with 44 dogs, compared to the 25 it ended August with. Over the last year, the shelter has taken in 881 dogs, with most of those dogs either adopted or returned to their owners. Over the same span, dogs have remained at the shelter for an average of 9.3 days.