Steve Wagner, Forum Communications Co., Published January 24 2012
Bemidji woman says father’s death led to hoarding dozens of dogs
The 63-year-old rural Bemidji woman says she’s lost 50 pounds and control of the last living connection between them: the father and daughter’s stable of dogs, most of which are a cross of Chihuahua-Dachshund breeds.
“My dad said he didn’t like animals, but he had them spoiled,” says Schmidt said Tuesday. “If it wasn’t for my dogs, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
Now Schmidt, who suffers from a number of disabilities including sclerosis and diabetes, may lose her dogs.
The Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office visited her Grant Valley Road Northwest home Monday for a welfare check, where deputies say they found 50 or more dogs and some cats living inside two mobile homes.
Deputy Lee Anderson calls the incident “fairly serious” and says the investigation is active, with the Beltrami Environmental Agency, Beltrami Social Services and Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley involved. Representatives plan to arrive today at Schmidt’s home.
Wade Hanson, a senior investigator with the Animal Humane Society, says he knows little of the case, but if today’s site visit warrants removal of the animals, his shelter would take them in.
Sheriff Phil Hodapp says it doesn’t appear Schmidt broke criminal laws – there is no limit on animal ownership in Grant Valley Township – but officials will look to see if there are any environmental law violations and forward reports to the county attorney for review.
Originally, a Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office report said two women were removed from the residence at 12:32 p.m. Monday for health and safety reasons and placed at a local hotel. However, in a Tuesday interview, Hodapp says the women were at home.
“My dad and I had about 15 dogs, and that was OK,” Schmidt explains.
But after her father died in January 2010, she says her life with the dogs spiraled out of control.
Two weeks after his death, a series of car breakdowns cut into her fixed Supplemental Security Income and made her less mobile.
Some of the dogs weren’t neutered and the pack began to multiply.
“Some of my boy dogs are a little too fast and I ended up with too many dogs,” Schmidt says. “I tried to give some away.”
Schmidt says many of the dogs received shots, but she concentrated on the puppies so not all are current with vaccinations.
To put a stop to the growing problem, Schmidt says most of the male dogs are now fixed and none of the females are expecting.
Three dogs were sold, which Schmidt says helped buy food for the rest.
None of the dogs go hungry, and some of them are a little plump, she says.
“They’re all OK … They are all nice and fed.”
Each night before going to bed, Schmidt says she lays out newspapers for the dogs in case they need to go to the bathroom.
Then in the morning, she starts a routine of cleaning up after the pack of dogs, including picking up newspapers and scrubbing the floors with a mop.
“I’m kind of slow so it takes me a while,” says Schmidt, who also reports suffering from arthritis, high cholesterol and migraines, among an assortment of health problems.
And while Schmidt says “most people would curl up and complain if they had an ache,” she faces the daunting task of caring for the dogs each day.
“I know I have to clean. It gives me something to do.”
Schmidt says she buys a half dozen bags of dog food when a friend takes her to the grocery store. She pulls newspapers out of a recycle bin to put down on her floors at night.
She wears specific clothes during her chores, in an attempt to stay sanitary, but changes out of them when she’s done.
A makeshift doggy door provides access outside to a fenced area on her nearly 40-acre property. It’s there the dogs can get some exercise when the weather isn’t too cold.
The pack will gather around her to watch TV when she stops to take breaks.
Still, she knows.
“I know I have too many dogs.”
Deputy Anderson said incidents like Schmidt’s have occurred in Beltrami County before, but says “every process is different” in how law enforcement handles the situation.
“There is no blueprint,” he says.
Hanson, the Animal Humane Society investigator who plans to visit Schmidt’s home today, says the shelter has made several trips to the Bemidji area.
But Monday’s visit by sheriff’s deputies left her shaken and upset.
Schmidt says she struggled to get up that morning, so she started her daily chores late. Her clothes appeared dirty with dog waste. And then sheriff’s deputies, responding to a report of a home with “an overwhelming number of dogs,” arrived at her door.
“I’ve cried so much,” Schmidt says, adding her dogs also have been jumpy and leery of cars on the road since the visit.
“They’re my family. All I’ve had since my dad died is my dogs… I’m hoping they let me keep the ones I’m really attached to.”
Steve Wagner is the editor of the Bemidji Pioneer.
Anne Williams contributed to this article.