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Saving the sanctuary for Pine Ridge's four-legged relatives

Nearly 50 animals are now staying in Calvin Red Owl III's home. On today's newscast he talks about the devastation of losing the sanctuary to a fire, and national correspondent Joaqlin Estus shares the latest on how Alaska is faring in the pandemic.
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Calvin Red Owl III was advocating for animal welfare rights in a district meeting when he heard dogs barking, alerting him to the fire that broke out at the White Owl Sanctuary. He's Oglala Lakota and the founder and operator of the first and only animal shelter on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He's now caring for 49 animals in his three bedroom home, where he lives with his three sons. Red Owl III has an autoimmune disease and is only working with one volunteer to care for the animals, to limit his chances of contracting COVID-19. 

Some quotes from today's show

Calvin Red Owl:

"Well, I was born and raised here on the Pine Ridge reservation. Growing up all my life seeing all the dogs and cats running around, I always wanted to take in all the animals I could, but I wasn't able to. And now since I'm older and have my own house, I'm able to care for all the animals I can. Last year we got a trailer for an animal shelter, and that's where we've been housing all year and on November 11th it burned down. So now all the animals are here in my residence."

"Yeah, one thing we don't have animal control here on the Pine Ridge reservation. And one thing that I would try to do was have a catch and release, spay/neuter program where we catch and spay or neuter any cat and dog that we can get. And then before we send them back out, because oftentimes a lot of the times animals are homeless and nobody's there to care for them the way they need to be to not have that problem on the reservation."

"Well, now what's next for the shelter is we're trying to find homes for all 47 animals that we have. And we are trying to rebuild as quickly as possible because the winter months are here and there's lots of animals that need rehoming here on the reservation. And a lot of times they come to the White Owl sanctuary and spend three to six months of their life here while they're waiting for a home. We do have three dogs here who have been with us for the last four years who were never able to find a home. So one thing that I'd like to try to accomplish is to provide permanent shelter for the animals that we can not provide homes for."

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Joaqlin Estus:

"So Alaska, we're completely cut off from the rest of the country geographically. So COVID came late to Alaska and the numbers crept up pretty slowly. We still have less than half the rate of North Dakota, but that's a really good thing. Because Alaska also has fewer hospitals, doctors, nurses and specialists than a lot of states. What's going on right now is the rate has been rising for six weeks and it jumped 18% on Monday. And those new cases in another week or two as the disease progresses, some of those people are going to be going to the ER and needing help. So the area in the state that's hardest hit is southwest Alaska. An area about the size of Oregon. It's 85% Yupik and Athabascan."

"There's one hospital in the Yukon Kuskokwim region. It has five high flow oxygen machines and four ventilators. So they could care for nine people in respiratory distress, except they don't have quite enough staff. And so they can only handle seven people. Because somebody who has put on a ventilator basically needs a 24 hour one-on-one care pretty much."

"So the health professionals, I think everybody's seen this around the world basically are begging the public to take this seriously and to wear masks. And that's because they see what's coming and what's coming is a shortage of beds, equipment, staff, and facilities. And what that means is not everybody who needs expert care and sophisticated lifesaving equipment is going to get it. Health professionals will have to do what they really do not want to do. And that is make life and death decisions on who gets the medical evacuation, the ventilator, and the expert care."

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. She is also the anchor of the weekday newscast. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider

Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today. Based in Anchorage, Alaska, she is a longtime journalist. Follow her on Twitter @estus_m or email her at

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