A team from the Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary in Hartville knew the scene would be tough before they traveled more than 1,000 miles to Athens, Texas, to join an effort to save dozens of dogs.
After the death of a dog breeder, the dogs were found living in poor conditions on a seven-acre property, said John Ramer, executive director of the non-profit shrine for old research and laboratory animals.
âA lot of people have tried to describe it to us,â he said. “But no words have prepared us for what we have entered.”
For two days, he and senior dog sitter Rachel Batcher helped other animal rescue groups trap the dogs. Despite the long journey through a hard-hit state during this summer’s COVID-19 outbreak, Ramer knew they had to help when he heard about the number of animals and their living conditions. The pandemic itself was another reason; many other rescues have been impacted by the economy.
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âAnd while the climate might not be the healthiest for humans, it was much worse for animals,â he said. âI would have felt like we weren’t fulfilling our role of sanctuary if we hadn’t offered to help or go there. I really find it hard to ask people to donate to our facility and our mission if we are not actively or knowingly fulfilling it. So it wasn’t a question of whether we should or not. It was about power, so we have to do it.
According to a Kindness Ranch press release, the facility was known to sell “dogs with questionable pedigree claims” and had sold or donated dogs to research or educational institutions.
The ranch rescues animals from labs and educational institutions as an alternative to their euthanasia when they are mentally and physically healthy enough to be rehabilitated and adopted, Ramer explained.
Kindness Ranch has helped save animals out of state in other circumstances, such as 18 dogs and two rabbits they transported from Florida after Hurricane Dorian last year to help a shelter make room for more displaced animals.
The chairman of the board told him that Kindness Ranch’s 15-year existence had been prepared for something like the Texas rescue operation.
“It is a very rare thing for us that we have been able to intercept the transfer of these animals to laboratories, shelters or educational facilities,” Ramer said. “And we normally can’t do that, that’s what made it such a big deal.”
Rescue teams arrived on the farmer’s property to find numerous enclosures on the overgrown property littered with waste. They estimated 40 to 60 dogs, with some estimates as high as 90. But they did not see any dogs when they arrived. They found downed fences and dogs were roaming in and out of the property. Neighbors had shot some of them. He describes and shows footage of the scene in a video on the Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary The Facebook page.
Tia Torres, Animal Planet’s “Pit Bulls & Parolees” star and founder of Villalobos Rescue Center in Louisiana, said Ramer is leading the rescue effort. The show’s film crews filmed the rescue and interviewed and followed Ramer while he was there.
Most of the dogs were so wild that it proved difficult to catch them safely. Kindness Ranch’s budget allowed the team to stay on for two days of the effort. They had planned to bring four dogs to the sanctuary for them to eventually be adopted and were able to return with one. Others still have not been caught, too sick to travel, or are wolfdogs, which are illegal to own in Wyoming and who have gone to other rescues. Three more dogs could be transported to the Hartville Sanctuary over the next month, depending on whether they are healthy enough to travel.
The new Kindness Ranch Rescue is a German Shepherd mix they named Q. Rowing expects a cost of $ 4,500 to $ 5,000 to restore the dog to health. A Wheatland veteran diagnosed Q with a heartworm, anemia, dry eye and two bacterial infections. The dog will need extensive dental care, vaccines for the first time, and sterilization before being adopted.
âAnd to think that there were maybe as many as 90 dogs living in the same conditions,â Ramer said. “That’s 90 dogs probably struggling with the same issues.”
The breeder from Texas, where it’s a big deal to sell crossbreeds with wolfdogs, at one time bred wolfdogs and mostly denatured dogs of Nordic breeds (like huskies, malamutes and German Shepherds). ) like wolfhounds, Ramer explained.
âSome of them would obviously not be social. He had generations of inbred dogs. There were some who were just aggressive or who, once they reach a certain age, are considered unadoptable. And these are the dogs he would donate to labs and schools for genetic and behavioral research and God only knows what else.
Ramer verified that three of these facilities had received animals from the breeder, all of which were euthanized.
His experience spanning sanctuaries in all 50 states and three countries, as well as many species, from big cats to monkeys, includes 16 years of working with wolves.
âWith my experience in large and wild canines, it seemed ideal to be able to go down with my team and help with a rescue of this magnitude. “
Q’s situation is the opposite of the dogs the Sanctuary saves from the Labs who have spent their lives indoors, as the dog has lived outdoors all of their life.
âI have to watch him understand that a window only allows you to see the outside. In fact, you can’t go out, âRamer said.
He has high hopes for Q’s future. The dog is cautious but curious with an outgoing temperament. Rowing may have scratched his head a few days after the rescue, which is a big milestone for a feral dog. Q showed no signs of aggression during the veterinary examination.
It will be about three months before the shrine can even consider adopting it.
“But over the next three months I can see him bonding with the staff and starting to equate people with something positive.”
Follow arts and culture journalist Elysia Conner on twitter @erconner