Dog now free after spending more than 1,000 days in a cage

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Shane Bassett hugs Barbie, a Labrador-pitbull mix, outside his home in Becker, Minn. Barbie lived in a kennel shelter for three years after being found wandering downtown Frazee, Minn., in 2011 when she was brought to a shelter by police.

FRAZEE, Minn. — Barbie Jo's story starts on Main Avenue in Frazee, a small town between Detroit Lakes and Perham in Becker County.

A police officer picked up the stray dog at 4:08 p.m. Nov. 26, 2011, and dropped her off at the pound, nine miles away.

Frazee, population 1,372, is such a small place that the police chief knows most of the dogs by name. Not this young mutt, though, a possible cross between a black lab and a pit bull. During the pound's mandatory five-day holding period, no one claimed the stray.

Barbie Jo would wait much longer than that, though: She spent 1,035 days in the custody of the pound. Even now, almost three years after she was found wandering, she is still waiting for a home.

The Marshmallow Foundation is a nonprofit shelter and rescue that serves as the public animal impound for the cities of Audubon, Callaway, Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Lake Park, Waubun, and Mahnomen and Becker County. Unlike the local Humane Society, it's a small operation with an even smaller budget. It was founded in 2006 after helping another lab in need: Cocoa had been abandoned and locked in a house for three weeks. Rescued by the sheriff, the Labrador survived to birth 11 puppies that looked like little marshmallows.


More than six years later, Samantha Haywood, of Perham, was still being trained in at the foundation's pole-barn-like facility in Detroit Lakes when Barbie was dropped off.

"I don't remember her arriving, but I started to notice her over time," Haywood said.

"I noticed her because while other dogs would leave, she'd still be there."

Barbie was named by volunteer Cassi Ohman, of Detroit Lakes, in honor of Barbie Porter, a reporter at the Frazee-Vergas Forum, who wrote a story about the Marshmallow Foundation around the time the stray was brought in.

Even though Barbie's bio was posted on, among other places, no one was applying to adopt her.

"If we have a Golden Retriever, people go nuts," says Susan Krokan, the foundation executive director.

"A pit bull? Not so much."

Haywood, who manages the foundation's online presence, decided to change their tactics earlier this year.


"We needed to reach out to the rescue community," Haywood says. "We needed to ask for help."

She found that help on Facebook.

Team Barbie

Haywood, a professional dog walker and dog sitter who now lives in Chanhassen, started a Team Barbie page on Facebook in May to share the dog's plight.

The page is highlighted with photos of Barbie dressed up in pink bows, going on walks, sitting in her cage.

In addition to Barbie's bio, there's also a pledge from the Marshmallow Foundation:

"We made her a promise that we would never give up looking for her furever home!"

Barbie's plight went viral among metro-area animal rescuers.


"I found out about Barbie on Facebook, through a group called Minnesota Dogs in Danger," says Chris Maddox, bully-breed intake coordinator at Ruff Start Rescue in Princeton, Minn. "I had never heard of a dog being kept in a cage for that long: three years, 1,000 days, 23 out of 24 hours a day. I wondered how adoptable she could be after all that time."

Like Haywood, Maddox decided to ask for help.

"We have a trainer we work with in southeastern Minnesota," Maddox says. "We send some dogs to her for a basic boot camp. I decided to reach out to her to see if she'd be willing to help assess Barbie."

She was.

Barbie was let out of her cage, finally, on Sept. 26. Her destination: Doggie boot camp.

'It didn't ruin Barbie'

Missi Roland operates Fur Real Canine Spa & Stay, a full-service dog facility in a country setting in West Concord, about an hour south of St. Paul. Roland's firm but loving presence and her bucolic farm setting was just what Barbie needed.

"She's doing great," Roland said last month by phone. "She just got back from her afternoon walk. She loves being outside. She'd be outside all day if she could."


It was clear almost immediately, Roland said, that Barbie was not irreparably harmed by her 1,000 days behind bars.

"Twenty-three hours in a cage can ruin the best dog," Roland says. "Fortunately, it didn't ruin Barbie. It didn't take her long to come out of her shell."

After two weeks, Barbie "graduated" from her boot camp. Then, once again, it was time to move on.

On Oct. 15, Roland drove Barbie to a parking lot in Plymouth, where a Ruff Start volunteer was waiting.

The volunteer, Heidi Ennenga, then drove Barbie about 30 miles to another parking lot in Monticello. There, Gina Rasset, a member of the Ruff Start Board of Directors, was waiting, along with her husband, Shane Rasset.

The couple, whose own lab had passed away on Sept. 16, bent down to greet Barbie, who wagged her tail in return.

At press time, Barbie had not yet found her forever home — but she will stay with the Rassets at their home in Becker until she is adopted. Living with a real family in a real home is much better than a kennel. The Rassets and their 6-year-old son find Barbie's company enjoyable.

"She's easy to love," Gina Rasset says.


Haywood still can't believe that Barbie Jo is cage-free.

"I'm basically still in shock that it worked out the way it did," Haywood says. "Amazed at how people came together to make a difference."

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