Spotted: Hundreds of golden retrievers at Long Lake Park

Goldzilla, a fundraiser for Retrieve a Golden of the Midwest, brought dog owners from across the north metro to Long Lake Regional Park on Sept. 8. An attendee posed with her dog, Bentley. According to Bentley’s owner, the name is a common one for golden retrievers — both the breed and the car company originated in the U.K. (photo: Bridget Kranz)

Each year, Goldzilla features a Walk for Rescue. Participants can fundraise beforehand, and then stroll among the sea of golden retrievers down Rice Creek Trail the day of the event. (photo: Bridget Kranz)

Friends looked on as a golden retriever completed part of the obstacle course in one of Goldzilla’s off-leash play areas. Board member Marti Jones said all breeds were welcome, “It’s like the retrievers are having a birthday party or an adoption party and inviting all their friends.” (photo: Bridget Kranz)

In addition to rescuing local dogs, RAGOM works overseas. On a recent trip back from Turkey, a troupe of former street dogs took a quick break from their kennels to play around during travel delays. (photo courtesy of RAGOM)

10th annual Goldzilla festival raises money for local rescue organization

New Brighton went to the dogs on Sept. 8 as hundreds of golden retrievers descended on Long Lake Regional Park. Hosted by Retrieve a Golden of the Midwest, the 10th annual Goldzilla festival was an opportunity for dogs and dog owners to get out and play, while raising money for the Twin Cities-based rescue organization.

Goldzilla is RAGOM’s largest fundraiser, typically bringing in $40,000 for the nonprofit, which rescues and fosters golden retrievers and golden retriever mixes from around the Midwest and the world. 

Visitors and their dogs were able to do professional photo shoots, paw print painting and a variety of other activities, as well as socialize in off-leash play areas. At 10 a.m., retrievers and their owners took to the trails, exploring the park during the event’s annual Walk for Rescue.

The day wrapped up with a foster showcase parade — while the fundraiser is a chance for pet owners to socialize, it’s also an opportunity for many RAGOM dogs waiting in foster care to begin the process of finding a permanent home.

With no physical shelter, RAGOM depends on foster families to host new rescues and get them ready for the adoption process. The number of animals the organization can take in is dependent on the number of foster families available.

“We possess a network of foster volunteers, and what we do is we send out a request when we have a rescue going on — whether that rescue is from Turkey or a commercial breeder,” explains board member Marti Jones. “While in foster care and waiting for placement, RAGOM covers veterinary care with our partners throughout the Midwest.”

According to Jones, the foster system helps RAGOM identify a dog’s needs and think about what kind of permanent home situation will be best before beginning the adoption process.

From Istanbul to New Brighton

Founded in 1985, RAGOM recently expanded its efforts overseas in what it calls its international outreach program. A number of potential adoptees at the New Brighton fundraiser came all the way from Turkey, and an in-country rescuer was along for a visit, as well.

According to Patty Larson, RAGOM’s director of operations, the group began working in Turkey in 2015 after Adopt a Golden of Atlanta discovered a large number of golden retrievers living in Turkish shelters. Larson says there was also a growing number of retrievers in the streets and forests, as shelters reached capacity.

“In Turkey, there’s no euthanasia. It’s against the law. So, when the shelters get full it’s expected that when a dog comes in, they get a rabies shot, they get spayed or neutered ... and he’s back out on the street,” she says.

The dogs have typically been brought over via cargo flights that can carry 18 at one time, although the organization has recently started using volunteers to go over and bring retrievers back on commercial flights. According to Larson, cargo flights can cost the organization nearly $2,000 per dog.

After the dogs make it to the U.S., RAGOM drives down to Chicago to pick them up, limiting the intake windows to the more temperate months.

“We will typically only bring golden retrievers over in the spring and in the fall. In the summer, there are heat restrictions,” says Larson. “And in the winter, you never know if a blizzard is coming.”

Foster system

While the documentation and transport process for international dogs is more challenging, finding permanent homes can occasionally be an easier task than it is for some domestic dogs.

“The other big group of dogs that RAGOM is very involved in reaching are dogs from commercial breeding facilities,” says Larson. “Those dogs require a specific home that has another mentor dog in it, and no young children.”

Rescue dogs from Turkey, as well as from recently-launched RAGOM efforts in China and Korea, have comparatively few requirements. After discovering potential rescues either locally or abroad, the organization will put out a call for fosters and see what kind of home environments are available before determining what kind of dogs it can take.

Both Jones and Larson emphasized the almost-constant need for more foster families to add to RAGOM’s community of over 400 volunteers. “Our foster base ebbs and flows over time, and we unfortunately happen to be in an ebb right now,” says Larson.

Nearly 1,200 people and 600 dogs attended Goldzilla this year, making it an opportunity to raise awareness in addition to funds. Despite rain, attendance was on par with previous events, according to Jones. The fundraiser has been held in Long Lake Regional Park since its inception a decade ago, and Jones anticipates that the “sea of golden retrievers” will continue to be an annual tradition in New Brighton.

– Bridget Kranz can be reached at or 651-748-7825

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