Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rolling Dog Ranch: A Haven for Disabled Animals

Several years ago I had the distinct privilege of being the seeing-eye human for a blind dog. On Mother's Day, ten years ago, I saw a photo in the newspaper of Prince, a dog who came into rescue as a stray. He was looking for a home. Other than being blind he had a couple more strikes against him - he was black and he was large. I called rescue that day and was surprised that the phone was answered. Within an hour I was in my car and on my way to pick up the newest member of my pack. Never once after I brought that dog home did I think of Prince as disabled. He adjusted to my home and fenced yard and the other dogs with ease. Disabled dogs, just like disabled humans, don't want your pity - what they want is a chance. Mimi

The plan, says Alayne Marker of the Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary, was for her and her husband to work until retirement age, then start on their dream of building a haven dedicated to disabled animals. But dreams sometimes have a funny way of not waiting to come true.

In 2000, rather than working for another 10 to 15 years and then retiring, Marker and her husband Steve Smith quit well-paying jobs at the Boeing Company in Seattle and started the Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary in Montana. "In 1998, we had bought 160 acres of land in the Blackfoot River Valley," she explains to "We were going to keep working at Boeing, but once we bought the land, we realized we couldn't wait. The time for the animals was that time."

Today, Marker and Smith care — unassisted — for 70 disabled animals that come from shelters and rescue groups across the country. There is Maggie, a dog blinded by physical abuse. "She has such an incredible capacity to forgive," Marker says of the pup, who is thriving at the ranch. Bailey (pictured above with Alayne and Steve) is a miniature dachshund with spinal problems who was rescued from an animal hoarder several years ago.

The couple's lifestyle change wasn't as drastic as it sounds, insists Marker. "We never even had a conversation about it," she says. The couple had already been rescuing and housing disabled animals in their Seattle home. "Those animals needed a safety net. We wanted to change the public misperception about disabled animals. They can have such a good quality of life and we wanted to give it to them."

Using their personal savings, the two built the Rolling Dog Ranch from scratch. They opened their doors in December 2000 to welcome their first resident: a mare named Lena who had been blinded by cruel training methods that damaged her optic nerve and spine. "The owner wanted to get rid of Lena," says Marker. "So we took her in."

Now, she says, "We focus on dogs, cats and horses who are blind, deaf, three-legged, or have orthopedic or neurological issues." The Rolling Dog Ranch is deluged with requests to take disabled animals. "It's heartbreaking to see their photos," says Marker. "We wish we could take them all in, but we have a limited amount of resources." Supported entirely by donations, last year the ranch's veterinary bills exceeded $52,000. Last month, the couple received the ASPCA's Henry Bergh Award for their "exceptional work, bravery and compassion in animal welfare."

And not all the stories are sad. Charlie, a blind Beagle, successfully underwent eye surgery while living at the ranch and got his sight back. Today, the dog is living with a family in Olympia, Wash.

"Don't feel sorry for disabled animals," says Smith. "They don't want your pity. They just want a chance to enjoy life."

National Canine Cancer Foundation


JackDaddy said...

Just wow! What can I say?

And I think that having one puppy wears me out!

Sam said...

What an amazing story. We need more people like this in the world :)

The Animal Doctor said...

I am inspired!
~the Secretary

Tanuki Maxx said...

That's so touching! It's nice to know there's still lots of good in the world!


Inigo Flufflebum and d'Artagnan Rumblepurr said...

We love this blog, such positive stories :)

Teddy Bear said...

What an amazing and inspiring story. If only all humans could be so kind.

Teddy Bear

Mango said...

Dogs are amazing. Our little Pi was totally deaf, but you would never know it. She used her brother Angus as her ears.

I had a friend with a blind dog and she was fine (well, as long as he didn't move the furniture).

Mango Momma

KB said...

Great story! I once had a dog who lost the use of her hind legs and walked/ran using a wheelchair supporting her hind end. People who saw her would feel sorry for her. But, they didn't see how ecstatic she was to be able to hike and play with our other dogs, thanks to her wheelchair. She just "wanted a chance to enjoy life"!

Canine Crusader said...

Beautiful story! My friend had a deaf dog that knew sign language. My Daisy was blind and deaf before she passed away from old age, that's as close as I ever got to having a disabled dog. Dogs are amazing creatures!

Alex93andme said...

That is a very wonderful story! Very inspiring!! I once adopted a dog at the age of 8, the woman was taking him to a shelter because she said she couldn't handle him. Right. I took him home with me. He was going blind and through the years he went deaf also but he lived to be a happy 16 year old dog. He wasn't disabled!

Chester said...

It's so great to hear about wonderful, good hearted, animal loving people for a change instead of the cruel and heartless stories. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post.
Just another testament to the fact that animals are survivors and do not let disabilities get them down. They thrive in a loving environment just like this one.

Chester's Mom ;0=)

Mochi and Mommy said...

Awesome story! Thanks for sharing it! :)


Sue said...

Dogs accept us with all our disabilities, it's about time we accepted them.

The OP Pack said...

Truly an amazing story. We need more people in the world like that.

Woos, the OP Pack

Martha and Bailey said...

What an inspirational story - we are inspired knowing there are such selfless people out there to help animals.

SGR said...

Woof! Lots of Golden Woofs for sharing a wonderful story. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

Anonymous said...

Its an awesome setup. I've read about it before. And they are right these animals don't know they are missing something. I currently have my second almost completely blind and deaf dog (due to old age) she has adapted with minimal problems!

Samantha said...

WHAT an incredible story - thank you SO much for posting. Recently we had occasion to meet Ben (Life is better on 3 legs than 4) in real life and he is just so wonderful that my husband wanted to bring him home with us!!! What these people are doing is just awesome - congrats to them for a tough job beautifully done.
Hugs xo
Sammie and mom

Tweedles -- that's me said...

What a wonderful story.
We had a little pug that lived here before me. It got parralyzed in her hind legs. Mom got her a wheel chair. It made her feel happy that she could go look for crumbs again.
thank you for this sweet story

Shelley said...

Between the photos, reading the story and listening to the music on your blog - I am crying! Thank god for those kind people helping all those precious animals!!


Now this story makes me cry! But with happy tears! And just in time for Thanksgiving.

Thank you for sharing your life and your love for animals and for sharing it with us.

Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless.

Riley and Star.

Ms. ~K said...

Wonderful story.
Your blog always gives me Hope for Mankind!!!
Thank you,

Emma Rose said...

What a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Emma Rose

Tina. said...

I just love your blog! This weeks post is wonderful and I wish there were more people in the world like those mentioned. Operation Baghdad is a wonderful program, my son did a year in Iraq and his team fed a pup there that was a stray and lived at a dump. He was very sad to have to say goodbye when he came home. But there were others there who were taking over feeding the pup.