In April of this year, I received a letter from an animal rescue worker, Ms. Jean Cullen from Pahrump, Nevada. In it, she asked me to look over the material she sent me about a “wonderful place,Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary, which cares for disabled animals only.” Now, you have to know that I receive many such requests from humane shelters all over the place along with requests to support this legislation or that or simply to lend my name to various causes. Sometimes the request is for a direct donation of money or autographed copies of my books to auction for the benefit of any one of a dozen good causes. I do what I can do, but it can be overwhelming. After all, a little lifeboat can only hold so many souls before it sinks carrying everyone to the bottom.I have no idea what her connection is with this place, but when I read that it was exclusively for disabled animals, it caught my attention. That was a new one for me.
Ms. Cullen wrote, “Five years ago, two compassionate people, Alayne Marker and Steve Smith, followed their hearts and left the corporate world to create the non-profit Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary on 160 acres in Ovando, Montana, where they and their two full-time employees plus volunteers are able to give life-long medical and surgical care to the animals most likely to be euthanized due to their disability. Most of the furry residents are blind while others have neurological or physical disabilities and come from all over, including Washington, California, Idaho, Ohio, Montana, Colorado, South Carolina, Missouri, Indiana and even Canada.” She asked me to check out their Web site, <ahref=”http://www.rollingdogranch.org”>www.rollingdogranch.organd then click on the blog area and blog archives to get a real feel for the care and daily life of this special place where disabled animals enjoy life on a Montana ranch. I did check it out.I am not ashamed to tell you that I cannot keep my eyes dry and my heart from slowing down. In this time of the displaced animals of Katrina and elsewhere, this one situation has swept over me like a tidal wave of tears. And the reason is not from sadness but from genuine kindness and inherent goodness, gestures that are woefully lacking in a world of me first.
I was a kid on the streets of South Philadelphia during the depression with my father gone and my mother supporting us by selling iodine and band aids, door to door. My earliest memories were of lima beans and a hunt for a safe spot in a warm corner and an occasional gesture of kindness. I can identify with an adolescent dog or cat that cannot see or walk properly, there for the grace of God, go anyone of us. Lady, Ms. Cullen, you really got to me, darn you.
This is blind Joey who arrived this past winter, wondering why she’s being carried and who’s taking her photo. Photo by Kathryn Socie.
When I first started writing about pets, I was prone to getting involved with every cause and benefit there was for our vulnerable,four-footed friends. After years of struggling to earn a living as a writer, I hit the big time when Hearst Publications summoned me to write a monthly pet column for House Beautiful Magazine,which was a defining moment in my life as a writer. The Editor-in-Chief, a really tough, demanding guy, who scared the hell out of me half the time, demanded that I write the column with a breezy, smartass style that was always instructive. In my initial interview, he said with a creased brow and fearful electricity in his direct stare into my eyes, “Keep it light and entertaining.” I remember how much I wanted that assignment and gave him all the sincerity that I gave to my first drill sergeant who used to say to us, “Feel free to come to me with all your problems,” as blood dripped from his fangs.
This is Travis, our dog with a fused jaw, playing with blind Pepper the German Shepherd. Because Travis can’t open his mouth, he’ll grab the other dog with his lips, then he runs his front teeth back and forth rapidly against their skin, cutting like a saw. This is what he’s doing to Pepper, one his best friends at Widget’s House. If this doesn’t succeed, his next tactic is what we call “chinning” — he’ll use his chin as a combination hammer and crowbar to subdue his opponent. You’d be surprised how much force he can exert with one scrawny chin! Photo by Beth Scagnelli.
The pet column was not supposed to be a platform for causes or advocacy issues. Even so, I used to slip in all sorts of plugs for animal legislation, humane groups, or dog or cat charities at therisk of losing my meat-and-potatoes job, and during those years, Iwas supporting a wife and three kids. I was even able to support the new Canaan Dog in its bid for AKC acceptance. All the chief wanted was 900 carefully chosen words a month to make pet owners happy and not make pet advertisers unhappy. For almost eight years, everyone was satisfied even though I did manage to help out a cause or two without sounding like the leader of a mob marching to the Frankenstein Castle. Animal advocacy was never the thrust of my writing, but I always managed to work it in, especially within my thirty-four published books and the occasional magazine essay. I once wrote a lengthy article for the AKC Gazette concerning dog trainer Matthew Margolis teaching women at the Chino Correctional Facility in California how to be a professional dog trainer. He did a lot of good for them, and I hope the article did, too. We do what we can do.
They call it the Rolling DOG Ranch, but the truth is that all the animals love to roll … and the horses are no exception. This is blind Chance, who decided on his way out to pasture that he just couldn’t wait any longer and had to roll right now, thank you. That’s our friend and volunteer Liz S. with Chance. Photo by Logan Castor Parson.
The great luxury and pleasure of writing for <ahref=”http://www.goodnewsforpets.com”>www.goodnewsforpets.comis that I am permitted to write as the spirit moves me, and at thismoment, I am deeply moved by an animal sanctuary nestled in Ovando,Montana that from its photos looks as fine as its name implies. Isuggest you look in on their Web site (<ahref=”http://www.rollingdogranch.org”>www.rollingdogranch.orgor www.blindhorses.org)and see for yourselves.
To quote their brochure, “The Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary is home to many different types of disabled animals. Our residents include blind dogs, blind horses, deaf dogs, blind cats and animals with other physical and medical disabilities like muscular dystrophy. Although these animals may have disabilities, they do not consider themselves handicapped. They just want to get on with life and enjoy themselves. Thanks to the support of the sanctuary’s friends, that’s what they get to do here. The ranch covers 160 acres of grassland in the Blackfoot River Valley of western Montana. The sanctuary cares for more than 70 animals and is supported entirely by private contributions.”
The sanctuary is open for visits from June through October on the 1st and 3rd weekends of the month. Visiting hours are 1 – 5 p.m. on those weekends. All visits are by appointment only. Call in advance to schedule a visit and get directions. The sanctuary is closed for visits from November through May and also on major holidays. Contributions are tax deductible and can be sent to:Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary, 400 Rolling Dog Ranch LN, Ovando, MT 59854-9671.
“I Just Got a Kitten. What Do I Do?”(Simon &Schuster/Fireside) is Mordecai Siegal’s latest book and is available wherever books are sold. He is also the author of “TheCat Fanciers’ Association COMPLETE CAT BOOK. The Official Publication of the CFA,” (Harper Collins), comparable to the AKC’s Complete Dog Book; “The Good Life: Your Dog’s First Year” (Simonand Schuster). His most durable books are “Good Dog, Bad Dog”(Henry Holt); “When Good Dogs Do Bad Things” (Little, Brown); the 10th Anniversary Revised Edition of “I Just Got A Puppy. What Do IDo?” (Simon & Schuster/Fireside); “The Cornell Book of Cats”(Villard); “The Davis Book of Dogs” (HarperCollins); and “The Davis Book of Horses” (HarperCollins). He is President Emeritus of the Dog Writers Association of America and a founding member of The Cat Writers’ Association. Mordecai resides in New York City.