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Tag: sanctuary

Geraldine and Rex: A goose-dog love story

rexandgeraldine

When a German shepherd mix named Rex arrived at Puriton Horse and Animal Rescue  in the UK, he wanted nothing to do with anyone. He’d been found tethered in a junkyard eight years ago, and had been kicked out of at least one shelter since then after biting a staff member.

Geraldine the goose wasn’t exactly the picture of warmth, either, when she arrived at the same shelter three months ago, surrendered by owners who could no longer cope with her.

Individually, in their lives up to that point, the dog and the goose were given labels like vicious, mean and nasty. Neither seemed particularly thrilled with humans, members of their own species, or those belonging to others.

But when the two cranky creatures were given a chance to hang out together, something magical happened.

rexandgeraldine2The snarly 11-year-old dog and the domineering goose are now best of friends. Staff at the sanctuary believe they’ve brought out the softer side in each other, The Daily Express reports.

“Normally any bird that crossed his path would have been eaten by now. He’s that kind of dog …” said Sheila Brislin, who runs the sanctuary near Bridgwater, Somerset.

Brislin said there was some chasing and squawking when they were first introduced, but Geraldine “stood up for herself and that was that. They just fell for each other.”

“I’ve been doing rescue work since 1997 and seen all kinds of strange animal behavior, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” she added.

Brislin said Rex was rescued from his previous shelter, where he was going to be put down after a biting incident. The dog seemed to immediately mellow once he was introduced to Geraldine.

Now they take walks together, and sleep together in Rex’s bed every night.

“It’s so comical to see them because they love each other to bits,” Brislin said. “She just runs around alongside him all day long and whenever we take him for a walk in the woods she has to come too … They are very affectionate and he’s always licking her head and kissing her.”

(Photos: SWNS via The Daily Express)

Paws4ever: The Walk for Animal Protection

p4ePaws4ever is holding its 8th annual Walk for Animal Protection next month.

The event raises funds for the guaranteed-adoption animal shelter and sanctuary, located on 50 acres in western Orange County, N.C.

Paws4ever is dedicated to improving the lives of cats and dogs through adoption, training and education.

The event starts at noon on Oct. 6, with the 2-mile walk scheduled to start at 2 p.m. It is held at Southern Village in Chapel Hill.

Other activities include live music, agility and flyball demonstrations, a blessing of the animals, over 20 vendor booths and performances by the Paws4ever Canine Drill Team.

Walkers pledge $30 and kids under 10 are free. Each walker receives a gift and all proceeds benefit the lifesaving work at Paws4ever.

Paws4ever’s Waggin Wagon, the only food truck for dogs will also be on site.

Here’s where you can pre-register.

The walk is hosted by Southern Village and sponsors include Animal Hospital of Carrboro, Auto Logic, Carrboro Plaza Veterinary Clinic, Chapel Hill Mobile Veterinary Housecalls, Copperline Books, East Coast Veterinary Imaging, Erickson Advisors, Falconbridge Animal Hospital, Hillsborough Veterinary Clinic, Lucky Dogs Daycare and Grooming, Phydeaux and Saratoga Grill.

State Supreme Court to decide Onion’s fate

The Nevada Supreme Court — no stranger to such matters — will decide whether Onion, the Mastiff mix who killed his owner’s grandson on his first birthday, should live or die.

The court will hear arguments — 30 minutes worth, it has specified — on July 3 before deciding whether the city of Henderson should be allowed to kill the dog.

Another option has been offered by the Lexus Project, a New York-based organization that provides legal representation to dogs.

The Lexus Project intervened in the case and wants to gain custody of Onion, then send him to live at a secure sanctuary in Colorado.

The 120-pound mastiff-Rhodesian ridgeback mix killed Jeremiah Eskew-Shahan by biting him on the head the day of his first birthday party. Later that day, the owner turned Onion over to Henderson animal control officers, who planned to kill the dog in accordance with the city’s vicious-dog ordinance.

The city turned down the Lexus Project’s offer to take responsibility for the dog, and has fought its request to be awarded custody. Onion’s former owner now wants Lexus to have the dog, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

The court battle has been going on for a year now.

Last year, Clark County District Court Joanna Kishner ruled the city of Henderson could proceed with the dog’s execution.

The state Supreme Court issued a stay — it’s second in the case — until arguments could be heard.

Those will take place July 3 at 11:30 a.m.

Calling all “Freegles”: Beagles rescued from N.J. lab will celebrate one year free

It’s the one-year anniversary for 120 beagles who, around this time last year, learned the true meaning of independence.

Up until then, even here in the land of the free, they weren’t.

Instead, like thousands of other beagles bred and born for the sole purpose of laboratory use, they’d never experienced what most dogs take for granted — things like grass and dirt and running — and were destined, once their use in testing was complete, for something quite contrary to a loving home.

The beagles had been left locked in a research facility operated by Aniclin Preclinical Services in Warren County, N.J. after its parent pharmaceutical company went bankrupt. When their situation came to light, a judge order the dogs turned over to rescue groups.

One year ago, a group of them were welcomed to Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary in New York, where work began on socializing them so they could be adopted out as family pets.

This coming Sunday, some of them will gather for a reunion.

About 35 of the adopters stay in touch on Facebook, offering support and following each others progress through photos and stories.

They — and any of the others who adopted a “freegle,” as they are prone to calling the dogs rescued from the laboratory — are gathering July 10, from 12:30 to 4 p.m., at Kennedy Dells Park, 355 North Main Street in New City, New York.

Among those attending will be a beagle named Grace, who has her own Facebook page, called Saving Grace. Grace’s owner said that while word of the reunion has gotten out among those who stay in touch, other beagles adopted from the group are also invited, as well as everyone else who participated in rescuing them.

Shelters, sanctuaries, volunteers and staff are “most welcome to attend and meet the families and hear the stories of how the Freegles have been adjusting to the good life.”

(For questions or to RSVP, send an email to labfreegles@yahoo.com.)

Unlike some boisterous beagles you may know from the dog park, laboratory beagles are generally calm and passive, having never tasted of freedom.

I met several lab beagles while researching my book — including some flourescent beagle clones in South Korea. In Texas, I interviewed the woman who cared for the beagles used in attempting to clone a dog at Texas A&M University.

Jessica Harrison, a graduate student at the time, was in charge of socializing the beagles and finding adoptive homes for them — not usually the case or fate of laboratory beagles — after their services in the lab were no longer required.

“What they teach them is to be still,” she told me. “As puppies, they teach them to just freeze when a person messes with them. We had to kindo of undo that and say, ‘No,we want you to move around and be excited.’

“We slowly exposed them to all the things they’d be exposed to in a family home — like TVs, mirrors, grass, trees, flowers, birds and bees. These dogs had never seen any of that. You put them down on the grass, and they’re like, ‘What’s this?’ It was kind of overwheliming. You get used to it, but at first it’s like, these are dogs, how can they not know these things?”

The use of dogs in laboratory research was declining, but it has jumped up in recent years, with much of the increase due to advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.

(Photos: Top photo from the Facebook page of Freegles Justice and Skipper; bottom photo by John Woestendiek)

PETA deems Angel’s Gate a “hellhole”

(WARNING: The contents of this video are disturbing.)

Angel’s Gate – an animal sanctuary you may have seen Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray sing the praises of — bills itself as a non-profit organization that cares for disabled, abused and abandoned animals, providing them a place to live out their years in dignity and comfort while receiving holistic treatment and spiritual support.

PETA — hold the harp music — calls it “a chaotic hellhole.”

The hospice and rehabilitation center in Delhi, New York — founded and operated by Susan Marino — takes in “special needs animals” from all over the U.S., and provides for them through donations from the public. Marino promises both donors and people who send her animals that animals will “live out their days in peace, dignity and love.”

PETA says photos and video from its investigation show “Angel’s Gate was a chaotic hellhole where animals whose conditions required special, individualized, round-the-clock care were deprived of basic necessities and quality of life.”

PETA’s undercover investigator, posing as a volunteer, documented paralyzed animals dragging themselves until they developed bleeding wounds; animals kept in the same diaper for up to two days until they suffered urine scald; dehydrated animals denied access to water; animals confined to crates, bathrooms, cribs and a bathtub; animals denied treatment for pain, seizures, tumors, open wounds, respiratory infections, eye infections, ear infections, and mouth, gum and skin infections; and crowded conditions so stressful that fights broke out daily.

Despite claiming to provide “hospice care” and “rehabilitation” to hundreds of animals, Angel’s Gate does not have a veterinarian on staff and most animals were denied veterinary care for a variety of ailments, from simple to terminal, PETA reports.

Among the investigator’s findings:

  • An elderly Chihuahua named Malcolm, sent there from Animal Care and Control in Brooklyn, suffered for about two weeks before he finally died — anemic, lethargic, thin, dehydrated, and unable to balance, walk, or even eat.
  • Medications that had been prescribed for Shifty, a bulldog suffering from seizures, and Tucker, a dog with hydrocephalus, was untouched almost a week after a veterinarian had dispensed them.
  • A miniature horse named Mimi was denied veterinary care for respiratory distress for days before she finally died. More than four months after Mimi’s death, Marino still solicited sponsorship donations for Mimi’s care on the Angel’s Gate website.

Angel’s Gate, like any facility that houses the sick, terminally ill and handicapped — be they dogs or humans — is bound to have messy moments and daily disasters. But the investigator’s video goes a long way toward documenting that, whatever love Angel’s Gate may, as it promises, be providing, ”peace and dignity” are far from ever-present.

Some of PETA’s findings may have been judgment calls: “Horribly suffering animals on death’s door were deprived of the dignity and relief of euthanasia.”

Others clearly were not: “The bodies of dead animals were left out for days among live animals. Animals were fed rancid, raw meat that had been left unrefrigerated.”

PETA says that in 2004, the IRS listed Angel’s Gate as an organization that failed to establish its status as a public charity, and in 2010, it was listed by the IRS as being at risk of having its charity status revoked.

Marino, PETA points out, has been featured positively on national TV, prompting public donations — one lottery winner apparently sent $50,000 — and what PETA says is the “false impression” that Angel’s Gate is a good place for animals.

PETA has turned over evidence gathered by its investigator to Delaware County District Attorney Richard Northrup Jr., and it is asking its members and others to urge his office to file animal cruelty charges against Marino.

Rescue group signs contract on Vick house

A Pennsylvania-based dog rescue organization and advocacy group has reportedly signed a contract to buy the former estate of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick — headquarters of Bad Newz Kennels, a dogfighting operation.

The group, Dogs Deserve Better, says it hopes to turn the 4,600-square foot house and 15 acres of property in Surry into an animal sanctuary, where rescued dogs could be trained and rehabilitated.

The organization, which has been at the forefront of the movement towards banning the tethering and chaining of dogs,  has 45 days to raise enough money to cover the asking price of $595,000, according to the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk.

Monica Severy, the group’s local representative, said it has raised more than $50,000.

“The dogs will live in the house, and we’ll use it for training and for meetings,” Severy said. “There will be somebody there all the time, living there.”

The house has been empty for three years. When  Ace and I visited in August, the sign posted out front listed it as both for sale and for rent.

The white brick home has five bedrooms, four and a half baths, a pool and a basketball court.

Severy said the group chose the property for the symbolism of turning a place where dogs were made to suffer into a place of refuge for similar dogs. Fifty one dogs were seized from Bad Newz Kennels, and investigators discovered eight murdered dogs on the property once owned by Vick, who this past weekend was given the key to the city by Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway.

Rolling Dog Ranch finds greener pastures


Three years after we first met them at their home in Montana, we hooked up with some old friends Monday — in New Hampshire.

We reunited with Travis, who, due to a rare disease, has a jaw that’s fused shut; with Patti, who lost both of her eyes when she was assaulted with a shovel; and with Soba (above), whose neurological disorder, known as cerebellar hypoplasia, makes getting from one place to another an arduous task as she wobbles, flails and jerks about. 

Oh, and we reconnected with some human friends, too –  Steve Smith and Alayne Marker, who this year faced an arduous task of their own — moving their Rolling Dog Ranch, a sanctuary for disabled and unwanted animals, from a sprawling spread in golden Montana to much greener pastures in Lancaster, New Hampshire.

I first met the couple in 2007, during a stint as a visiting professor at the University of Montana. 

I visited their ranch to see the work they were doing with animals– most of them blind, all of them deemed useless, too handicapped to have a life of any quality and destined to be put down. 

Rolling Dog Ranch in Ovando was a beautiful place — in part because of its setting on 160 acres under Montana’s big sky, in larger part because it showed those doing that deeming that they were as wrong as they could be. 

Steve and Alayne bought the ranch in Montana while both still worked in Seattle for Boeing — he in the communications department, she as a lawyer. They’d planned to take early retirement and start a sanctuary for disabled animals. They got tired of waiting for their dream, though, and ditched their jobs.

They packed up their own dogs and moved to Montana. They named the ranch Rolling Dog, after the way their own dogs gleefully rolled in the grass there every time they visited. 

The ranch opened, slightly earlier than planned, in 2000, when Steve and Alayne were asked to take in a blind horse. Seven years later, it served as home to 80 animals – 40 dogs, 10 cats and 30 horses, 25 of which are blind. It is funded through donations from the public.

After 10 years in Montana, though, the couple decided to head east. The ranch’s remoteness, Montana’s harsh winters, difficulties finding employees, rising gas prices, and the hour-plus drives to the closest cities of Missoula and Helena were among the reasons for relocating.  

On the Internet, they scoped out possible new locations for the sanctuary, and, after finding one they liked in New Hampshire, just outside of Lancaster, bought it and began making the necessary improvements — like ramps at all the entrances — all while choreographing what would be a complex move.

There were tons of supplies and equipment to be shipped across the country; ten horses, all but two of them blind; 35 dogs with assorted disabilities, the five barn cats and five tons of Montana hay — so that the horses could make a gradual transition to New Hampshire hay and grass.

“It went about as good as you could expect,” Steve said. “The dogs just did wonderfully. There were some people saying it would be too hard on the animals, but what people forget is that these animals have already been through a lot, and that they came to us from all over the country. After coping with something like losing your vision, it’s not a problem to travel to New Hampshire.”.

Altogether, it took 17 trips. Steve toted seven dogs across country; Alayne took five, including Soba.

In Lancaster, they’re only three miles from town and a veterinary clinic. They started taking in new animals in May, including Fuzzy, a blind terrier from Louisiana who arrived the day before my visit.

A sweet little bundle, he seems as happy as he can be, and — not for the first time on this trip — I had the urge to take on a second dog.

He was small enough that he could squeeze in with Ace in the back seat. And, like all the animals at Rolling Dog Ranch, he seems to have adapted magnificently to his — and this is the wrong word for it – disability. 

I stopped myself though, realizing that, cute as he is, he’ll probably get adopted easily. 

Rolling Dog Ranch, while it does make some of its animals available for adoption, is generally not a place where animals are briefly harbored until homes are found. 

Most often, it’s a place they come to live out the rest of their days. 

Dogs like Spinner, who was sound asleep on a bed outside the front door when Steve quietly leaned over and blew in the dog’s direction. 

Spinner — though both blind and deaf — woke up and walked straight to him, operating on scent alone.

Spinner has a rare condition known as restrictive strabithmus — her eyeballs don’t face forward, but point instead to the back of her head. Attempts to have it corrected surgically weren’t successful. 

Three other dogs I’d met in Montana back in 2007 all seemed to be faring well.

Soba, a collie mix, was one of two pups that came to Rolling Dog Ranch from a humane society in Iowa — both born to a mother who when pregnant, got distemper. As a result, some of her pups were born with the neurological disorder. It takes Soba a while to get where she’s going, almost as if each leg has a mind of its own. 

Patti, who lost both of her eyes after being attacked with a shovel, was as lovable as ever. She sniffed me out and leaned into me for a good scratching. 

And then there was Travis, who ended up at Rolling Dog Ranch after being left tied to a veterinary clinic door in Spokane. Vets determined that he had a rare muscular disease that went untreated for so long that his jaw fused shut. 

Surgeons could find no solution to his problem, other than feeding him through a tube inserted in his stomach. For months, Steve and Alayne fed him that way. Then one day they noticed that, with effort, he could stick his tongue out through a small opening between his teeth on one side of his mouth. 

They began feeding him with a bowl, running the food through a blender first so that he could slurp it up.

Malnourished and lethargic when he arrived, Travis became more and more lively. Three years later, I could see he has filled out some, and is probably one of the more energetic dogs at the ranch. 

A playful sort, Travis gets excited when visitors come, and tends to show off one of his tricks. He’ll go over to his water bowl, suck in a bunch of water, then approach the visitor and exhale, spraying him, elephant style, with water.  Seeing them all again was just as inspiring as meeting them the first time. 

And Rolling Dog Ranch’s new headquarters seems a perfect spot — from its setting amid 120 acres of rolling hills to the home’s large solarium that Steve and Alayne have devoted to the blind dogs. In the morning, it fills up with sunshine. 

The dogs can’t see it. 

But they can feel it.

(To read more “Travels with Ace,” click here.)

(To contribute to Rolling Dog Ranch, or learn more about its animals, visit its website: rollingdogranch.org.)

Beagles rescued from bankrupt lab

One hundred and twenty beagles who faced lifetimes being used in medical research experiments have been freed — just in time for the Fourth of July weekend.

On Friday, the beagles — owned by a research facility in New Jersey whose parent pharmaceutical company went into bankruptcy — were released to the care of animal rescue groups that, after socializing them, hope to adopt them out as family pets.

Beagles are bred especially for use in medical experiments and are used in research because of their affable and passive natures, their relative lack of inherited health problems and their mid-range size. These particular beagles are estimated to be between two and five years of age and have lived their entire lives in a laboratory.

Best Friends Animal Society headquartered in Kanab, Utah, and Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary, based in Middletown, N.Y., and Elmsford, N.Y., worked together on rescuing the beagles, who had been left locked in the facility operated by Aniclin Preclinical Services in Warren County, N.J.

The facility closed in April, after Aniclin’s parent pharmaceutical company couldn’t pay its bills, according to the Times Herald-Record in New York’s Hudson Valley.

A judge ruled that the beagles could be handed over to animal rescue organizations. Fifty-five primates were also removed from the facility and sent to a simian rescue organization

Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary welcomed the beagles to their new home this weekend, decorated in red, white and blue.

Best Friends, according to a press release, was made aware of the beagles’ dilemma through its Community Animal Assistance national helpline, which fields requests to help animals from around the country. Best Friends contacted Pets Alive, a sanctuary in the Lower Hudson Valley region of New York, which offered to take ownership of the dogs. Several other animal rescue organizations have stepped forward, each offering to take some of the beagles.

Best Friends is paying for veterinary care, food and transportation of the dogs from the facility. It will  be bringing back as many as 30 dogs to its sanctuary in Utah, including those who may need  more time and help before transitioning into family living.

“Best Friends is teaming up with Pets Alive in the New York area to help these beagles get the fresh start they deserve … one that’s long overdue,” said Judah Battista of Best Friends Animal Society.

“These dogs have been in a laboratory, too long without friends,” she said. “Since these dogs have never had the opportunity to discover their true lovable, comical, often boisterous nature, which makes beagles such a favorite family dog, Pets Alive and Best Friends are committed to helping these dogs discover their true personalities.”

“In this case, the cruel and unnecessary practice of animal testing was compounded by the abandonment of these innocent victims,” said Kerry Clair, executive co-director of Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary.

Those wishing to donate to the cause can visit www.bestfriends.org. or www.petsalive.com.

People who live near Pets Alive in Middletown, N.Y., are invited to volunteer their time to help feed, care for and socialize the beagles. To do so contact volunteers@petsalive.com.

Giving, and getting, at Best Friends

It’s probably the closest thing there is to heaven on earth for dogs (and a lot of other animals, too), a place where — despite abusive pasts, ill health or handicaps — dogs, cats, birds, horses, pigs and more can be rehabilitated enough to find new homes, or, if not, spend the rest of their days in the tranquil, sun-dappled canyons of southern Utah.

A lot of humans are coming to see Best Friends Animal Sanctuary as pretty close to paradise, too – they’re showing up in droves, not just for tours or visits, but to roll up their sleeves and do some work.

There’s something about Best Friends that seems to bring people who have visited once back again — myself included – and, refreshingly, they often return asking not what the animals can do for them, but what they can do for the animals.

My first visit to Best Friends was two years ago, and both the sanctuary and the terrain of southern Utah stuck with me — the way that few things, Mexican food included, do. Photos taken during that visit — while I was still a reporter for the Baltimore Sun –, helped inspire the look and color scheme of ohmidog!, the website I started after leaving the newspaper.

And the mission and staff of Best Friends inspired me as well, as they have millions of others — first with their response during Hurricane Katrina, more recently through the National Geographic Channel’s series, “Dogtown.”

Given that debt, it was only right that I — as about 100 people do every day — showed up at the sanctuary to work as a volunteer.

I was one of about 10 new volunteers going through orientation Tuesday, after making arrangements to do so — a simple matter — on the volunteer section of the Best Friends website.

I’d planned to spend one day, but I’m returning today. Most people spend longer — building a vacation around volunteering at Best Friends, or making it their entire vacation.

Such was the case with Kenzie Wolff, an 11-year-old California girl who, when offered a trip to the location of her choice by her parents as a birthday present, chose to do volunteer work at Best Friends.

She and her parents were staying at one of the guest cottages available at Best Friends (there’s an RV park, too), and she and her mom showed up bright and early to go through the quick orientation.

Kenzie said she got the urge to visit and volunteer after watching “Dogtown.”

“We were watching Dogtown and it seemed really cool, and I went on their website a lot, and all the dogs and animals were really cool. I just really like animals.”

Kenzie, who has a 12-year-old Belgian Malinois named Sophie back home in Laguna Beach — and a cat named Gypsy — was scheduled for a full day of dog duty Tuesday, planned to work with cats today, and to work with dogs and bunnies on Thursday.

She was hoping to invite two animals back to the cottage for sleepovers. Permitting volunteers to take dogs and cats overnight, on trips through the canyon, or even into town, is another unusual aspect of Best Friends volunteer program — a massive operation that seems to run amazingly smoothly and without heavy layers of bureaucracy or bossiness.

For us new volunteers, we were equipped with nametags and orange whistles to blow in case of emergency — such as a dog we’re walking getting loose – and treated to a 10-minute safety video.

The video informed us of the color-coded collar system — green ones for safe and approachable dogs, purple ones for those requiring some caution and red ones for those dogs that staff only can handle.

We were provided with some common sense basics — don’t shout or run around the dogs, don’t throw toys without permission, or engage in tug of war games. Let the dogs approach you, sniff you and get to know you.

A brief talk followed in which we warned to watch out for, and back away from, rattlesnakes, and that, it being lizard season, to make sure to hold tight to leashes, because some dogs are prone to chasing them.

After the briefing, Kenzie and her mom, Peggy, headed for puppy class, where trainer Don Bain uses the volunteers to help socialize newly arrived puppies — generally at 12 weeks of age.

The session takes place in a room set up like a house — complete with refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave and a doorbell. The setting helps increase the chances that the puppies, once adopted, will feel more at home, and decrease the chances of them being returned.

Bain says as many as one in five pups were being returned at one point, but in the past two years, only two have been. “We’re sending out very well-adjusted, socialized puppies now.”

“We try to throw as many people in their puppy faces as we possibly can,” Bain said. In the class, volunteers worked with seven puppies, picking them up, poking and prodding them and getting them used to having humans play with their paws, mouths and ears.

The pups are taught their names, and to sit and lay down. Treats and consistency are the key. “If a puppy wins once, he wins forever,” Bain says.

Kenzie worked with a chocolate ball of fluff named Nike, who came from a rescue in Page, Arizona, and probably from an Indian reservation before that. A birth defect left him without the tip of one of his front paws. It had pads, but no toes or claws. None of which seemed to slow him down a bit.

Kenzie spent the rest of the morning walking dogs, including one with a neurological problem that caused him to go in circles.

After a vegetarian buffet in a dining hall that overlooks the canyons — sweet and sour sesame tofu was the entree — Kenzie spent some time with the old dogs.

When the battery on the family’s rental car died, Best Friends maintenance staff responded within minutes, charging it up and allowing Kenzie and her mom to get to their next assignment.

It’s astounding how so many volunteers can be so calmly and smoothly dispatched to their duties — even amid the pounding of a jackhammer in the front office (more expansion was underway). And it’s all done with kindness and flexibility. Volunteers can come and go from the sanctuary as they please and pursue their individual interests as long as they sign in and out and follow a few simple rules.

As with Kenzie, and as with me (more on my experiences tomorrow), volunteers get far more than they give. I hate to use the phrase “win-win,” but that’s exactly what the situation is. Dogs can grow more social, humans can grow more compassionate. Sure, poop gets scooped and dog bowls get washed, but in Best Friends’ volunteer program, far more than daily chores are getting accomplished.

(Tomorrow: More from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.)

(To read all of “Dog’s Country, from the beginning, click here.)

Utopia Ranch: Kinky Friedman’s dog haven

 

Yesterday, as can happen in life, I took a wrong turn on the way to Utopia, ending up instead on a dead end dirt road.

So I turned around, drove back through my own dust, took a different road and finally spotted the driveway I was looking for — the one into Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, founded by mystery novelist, musician, social commentator, humorist, columnist, guru, gubernatorial candidate, good old boy, singer, songwriter and purveyor of both cigars and salsa, Kinky Friedman.  

Mr. Happy

The prolific Texas author — with more than 30 books to his name — funded the rescue organization when it started up 12 years ago in Utopia, Texas; then he offered a good-sized hunk of his family ranch in Medina, Texas, allowing the rescue to relocate and expand three years later.

The shelter’s day-to-day operation falls to Nancy Parker-Simons and her husband, Tony Simons, who, with help from volunteers tend to the 47 (as of yesterday) dogs under their care until permanent homes can be found.

That doesn’t always happen quickly, as the case of Mr. Happy attests. He’s been at the shelter all 12 years since it opened. “He just always seems to get overlooked,” Parker-Simons said. 

Among the other residents, some of whom Parker-Simons has taken to naming after celebrities, are Bob Dylan (that’s him to the left), Ben Stiller and Mister Rogers, who spent years as a stray on the streets of Kansas City. 

All now spend their days in large and shaded fenced lots, enjoying walks with volunteers, dips in the swimming hole in the summer, and homemade garlic and cheese quesadillas in the winter. Garlic seems to relieve their stress, Parker-Simons says.

She says Friedman has been rescuing strays for most of his life — and people, too, she says, counting herself among them. After she became the unofficial caretaker of some strays Friedman had found — not to mention babysitter to his dog Mr. Magoo — they decided to make it an official rescue organization.

Annie Oakley

The no-kill shelter gives dogs another chance at life, she said. “The way our world treats dogs, sometimes I feel so sorry for them. People just dispose of them.” That casual attitude caused her to fly off the handle once, she said. She’d gotten a lot of calls from women, surrendering their dogs because their boyfriends didn’t want them around.

“Finally I got fed up hearing that,” she said, and suggested to one woman that any man who demanded something like that wasn’t worth keeping around, ’Why don’t you euthanize him,” she told her, “because the guy doesn’t have a clue about love.”

Utopia is slightly picky about who they let adopt dogs, wanting to make sure they are destined for good homes. “I think most of the dogs are living in better homes than we are,” she said.

Alfie

Ben Stiller

Even Friedman — tune in tomorrow for our visit with him — lives in an unassuming cabin, which served as the lodge for the summer camp, still operating, that his parents started for Jewish children.

The undulating Hill Country of Texas made a perfect spot for that — just as it makes a perfect spot for dogs. While waiting for adoptive homes, the dogs enjoy acres upon acres of land, and an inviting looking swimming hole. 

While Utopia houses primarily dogs, it has also taken in horses and some other animals, including wild hogs, two of which were adopted by bed and breakfasts, not to serve as breakfast, but to serve as mascots.

Mister Rogers

Among the friends of Friedman that have helped support the rescue are Dwight Yoakum, former Gov. Ann Richards and Willie Nelson.

‘”Every dream has to start somewhere. This may not be the slickest operation, but these dogs are all loved and cared for,” Friedman told the Austin American-Statesman back in 1998. 

More recently Friedman has donated all proceeds from the sale of his new Kinky Friedman’s Private Stock Salsa line to the rescue organization.

Parker-Simons has written two books about life at Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. You can find more information about them and about the ranch on her blog.

To read all the installments of “Dog’s Country,” from the beginning, click here.

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