BILLINGS - When Jeremy Bakken was sent a photo from his coworker of several dogs abandoned at a landfill, he and his wife, Kristie, knew they had to do something to help.
So they dropped everything to catch four of the dogs and are now fostering them at their Billings home.
“We love animals. We have a really hard time saying no," Kristie said on Friday. "Every time we go into PetSmart, it’s a struggle to have to walk away from anything that’s in there."
According to the Bakkens, Jeremy's coworker was at a landfill in southern Montana dumping trash when they noticed several dogs rummaging through the garbage.
“My husband showed me the videos of them, and I was like, 'Well, you showed me a picture, we can’t just leave them,'" Kristie said. "We obviously had to go get those dogs."
The couple hopped in their car and took off for the landfill.
“Catching them was a feat in itself," Jeremy said on Friday. "They tried to run away."
The Bakkens said the landfill was no place any animal should be, and the dogs were forced to survive off garbage.
“As soon as we got out of the car, our feet just sunk into the mud. The smell was awful," Kristie said. "And they were just so starved for love. It was just so heartbreaking to see them in that kind of condition.”
Jeremy added the dogs were feeding on animal carcasses when they arrived.
“The mud was so packed. These guys were covered in mud. Animal carcasses everywhere. There were elk, cows, there were elk legs in the chain link fence. These guys had been eating on carcasses really, and just leftover garbage,” Jeremy said. "It’s no condition for any kind of animal."
And Kristie agreed that the conditions were devastating.
“I had never been to this part of Montana that we found them at. And so driving up, I was like, this can’t be the space. Like, this can’t be where these dogs are living," Kristie said. "We pulled up and we very clearly saw them. They definitely had that pack mentality, so they were all together.”
Luckily, they were able to coax four of the dogs into their car — with the help of some fast food.
"We baited them with chicken nuggets," Jeremy said. "But we got them, loaded them up into her car, which we’re now going to have to get detailed. It is covered in mud."
And another furry friend was also saved by the couple.
“While we were trying to get these doggos in the car, we heard small cries. A cat comes out of a dumpster, so then we were like, ‘Well, we can’t just leave this cat,'" Kristie said. "So we ended up being able to get the cat and then the dogs."
They were able to wrangle four of the seven dogs into Kristie's car. They assume two of the German Shepherd mixes are siblings, and a third is their mother. A fourth dog in the pack was also rescued — but a third sibling of the German Shepherds was left behind after it avoided being captured.
“That was the hard part. It was harder for my wife, but I knew we’d go back out there," Jeremy said. "The hard part is leaving them out overnight in those conditions, and knowing that we might have been able to do something. But since we’re not a rescue, we don’t have the vehicles or the equipment to either transport these dogs or catch them."
But they plan to return Friday evening to catch the sibling left behind. They say the four they have now are very loving.
“At one point in time, they had a home. You can tell. Once they open up, they’re friendly," Kristie said. "Who we presume as the mom, you can tell she’s been around people before. But the first day we couldn’t touch the two younger ones. They’ve obviously come a long way in their short time. They’re going to be great dogs. They just need someone who is going to be patient and understands that they’ve had a really traumatic start.”
As for the other two dogs, Jeremy explained he is worried if they were captured, they would not find homes due to their age.
"The other two dogs, their behavior kind of resembled something that they’re accustomed to and comfortable with the living arrangements that they have out there. So I don’t think they’re in immediate danger. I mean, it’s still an unfortunate circumstance for any animal to live in," Jeremy said.
"But being those two dogs are also older, I would hate to try and foster them and not find them a home," Jeremy continued. "Just have to release them to the shelter where lord knows what will happen to them. I’d rather leave them happy and out there, than risk them being here and either euthanized or in our garage for the next two or three months.”
The pair explained they are animal lovers and already have six pets at home. And while they were happy to open up their home to the needing animals, they aren't set up to be a rescue. They will be adopting out the dogs when the time is right.
"We have three German Shepherds ourselves and three cats," Jeremy said. “We would love to (rescue) more but we’re not set up for this. This is our garage we’re keeping them in, it’s heated. So the dogs have a warmer place to stay. Provide them with some kind of bedding, some food and water."
Kristie explained her sister, Kara, has a dog rescue in Missoula named GstopY that works to save dogs from the annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China. She sells items on Etsy to raise money to be able to purchase and rescue dogs from the festival.
When she found out about what Kristie was doing, she set up a GoFundMe for her and Jeremy.
Kristie explained she is a member of a German Shepherd group on Facebook and posted the dog's story to the page along with the GoFundMe link.
“It really kind of blew up more than I expected... It’s obviously people who love German Shepherds. So I just posted their story. I was like, ‘Hey, this is what we did. Can you believe a rescue would do this?’ And people started asking to donate," Kristie said. "It wasn’t expected. These people who are perfect strangers, they don’t know myself or my husband, they don’t know these puppies. And yet they are willing to donate to us. It was just incredible.”
According to Kristie, another rescue knew of the dogs at the landfill, but wouldn't pick them up since they weren't puppies.
“It broke my heart to know that a rescue was there and could have saved them," Kristie said. "But chose not to because they aren’t five-pound, eight-week-old puppies or whatnot.”
But they're grateful for those helping them with donations.
“Anything that we get is going to go towards food, puppy pads. I got some toys for them because these dogs have never had anything like this. So they just don’t even know,” Kristie said. “I feel really blessed. I feel really honored that people who don’t know us have been willing to help with the vet costs."
And donations are needed. The couple has a baby on the way and already has six other animals to take care of on top of the four they are fostering from the landfill.
“With the GoFundMe that we have, my wife and I discussed that the money that is donated or any of the services donated, we are willing to pay for the vaccinations and some of the vet bills. Just to ensure that if it’s financial burden on their part, taking these sweet souls in, we’ll try to help them out if we can,” Jeremy said. “They got baths last night and de-wormed. So I would recommend that if anybody does take them, to obviously get them a vet check up and de-wormed and all the other vaccinations.”
Kristie added that if anybody wanted to help out with the cost of vet exams for the four dogs she would be thrilled.
“It’s definitely been a struggle being pregnant and having six animals of our own, and then trying to care for these guys too,” Kristie said. “We just really hope they get homes that love them as much as we do, and they know that we love them. Hands are meant to be soft.”
To view the GoFundMe or to donate, click here.
“They’re just awesome dogs," Jeremy said. "They’ve come a long way in the three days we’ve had them."
“It definitely does restore the humanity because you forget. You see all of the bad stuff, so it gets hard to remember that there are people, perfect strangers, who hear the story and they just melt like we did," Kristie said. "I feel really honored. I didn’t think that anybody would want to donate, like that’s not why I put their story out. And the fact that it has kind of gotten to this point is incredible. It’s so helpful and I just really hope that these little babies get really good homes."