Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary
Animals released from research laboratories get a second chance.
Ramona Mead | Friday Aug. 1st, 2014
In the middle of Wyoming’s vast nothingness, on a 1,000 acre parcel of land, there is a sanctuary where animals released from research laboratories get a second chance at life. Located just outside of Hartville, Wyoming, Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary is truly a place like no other.
The land was purchased in 2005 by Dr. David Groobman, who had a dream to provide a safe, loving, long term home for the many animals who are used in research labs around the country. The facility opened in January 2007 when the first group of animals were brought to the property.
The ranch currently has six employees who all live on the property, caring for the dogs, cats, horses, pigs and sheep who are taking refuge there. Executive Director Tamra Brennan says “This isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle.”
Livestock animals come to the ranch for the rest of their days. Dog and cats are rehabilitated there and adopted out. The ranch has two yurt style homes where up to nine dogs per house can live with an animal care staff member. Cats live in a separate facility.
When dogs first arrive on the ranch, they go to Stephanie Bilbro, who is the Companion Animal Care Manager for what she describes as a two week “boot camp” during which she gives the dogs a chance to settle into a home environment and evaluates each of them to see what they may need work on specifically. Some dogs are ready to go after the initial two weeks, while others need more time to acclimate to life outside the lab.
Many of the dogs who come to the ranch have never been outside the lab, Bilbro explains. Some of them have never walked on an uneven surface before, have a fear of men, or do not know what a leash is. The time during which the dogs live in the yurt with Bilbro is imperative to their success in an adopted home. The dogs are immediately immersed in a real home environment, complete with noises from television, kitchen appliances and other dogs.
Stephanie came to Kindness Ranch in November, with a six year history of working at animal shelters. Her passion for her work with the former lab animals is evident. She refers to these animals as a “forgotten population” because they are not accounted for when you hear adoption statistics that include homeless animals and shelter facilities. Since Kindness Ranch opened it’s doors in 2007, they have found homes for over 230 dogs and cats from research labs. So far in 2014, they are on track to double the number of adoptions they did in 2013.
One of those fortunate canines rescued this year is Winnie, a four year old Beagle who was adopted from the ranch in May by Bozeman resident Shannon Malone. Shannon discovered Kindness Ranch while searching on PetFinder after the loss of her male beagle. She and her husband went to Wyoming to meet the dogs available for adoption and that’s when they fell in love with Winnie. Shannon was greatly impacted by her visit to Kindness Ranch. During a phone interview, she told me she feels the ranch “uniquely embodies” the spirit of Bozeman in that it is both dog loving and eco-friendly. She was eager to return home and spread the word about this organization to people in her community. Shannon contacted Bozeman Magazine and was the motivator for this article being written. She also reached out to local pet supply company WestPaw Designs who sent two boxes of toys and beds to the ranch and placed the sanctuary on their list of adoption agencies to receive periodic donations throughout the year.
Shannon says that Winnie’s acclimation process was brief and she is thriving in her new home after only a couple of months. Winnie was shy at first and afraid of riding in the car but is making improvements each day and has come to love the car because she knows it means she’s about to go on a hike! The newly adopted pooch gets along great with the other beagle Shannon owns, something the ranch staff tell me is quite common. In fact, based on the feedback they get, it seems that most of the ranch dogs do better when they go to a home that has at least one dog already. Having a canine companion or two seems to make it easier for the new dog to learn the habits and expectations of the household.
While it might be shocking to learn there are so many animals being used in research facilities in our country, it’s important to realize that the compassionate folks who work at Kindness Ranch are not activists. It’s not their goal to end animal testing or picket laboratories. Stephanie pointed out that they do try to use products from companies who don’t test on animals whenever possible. However, in order to continue to receive these animals, it’s crucial that the ranch maintains a respectable relationship with the labs. According to the ranch staff, the facilities who use these animals for testing have no incentive to release the animals for adoption. It has taken years to build these relationships and the labs must be able to trust the ranch. This means the sanctuary never releases names of labs or information about where a specific animal came from. Instead of focusing on the unfortunate past, they want to look ahead to the positive potential for each animal.
Both of the women I spoke with at Kindness Ranch stress that the message they most want to get out about the work they do is: the animals that are released from research laboratories are “very adoptable”. There is a common misconception that lab animals would be damaged but I was told that is “overwhelmingly not true”. Tamra informed me that the labs won’t release animals that are aggressive or have serious medical problems. While some of the dogs and cats available for adoption are considered “special needs”, that usually means they may require a special diet or medication.
Most of the adoption applicants find Kindness Ranch through their Facebook page or through word of mouth from other adopters. One of the biggest needs of the ranch right now is foster homes. According to Bilbro, a lab will occasionally have more animals ready for release than the ranch can take at one time.
Fortunately, the labs will hold the animals until space is available but if there are foster homes for the dogs who are currently ready to leave the ranch, that opens more space in the yurts for the dogs who need to go there right away.
Kindness Ranch is open to visitors by appointment only. Since they are in a fairly secluded location, the ranch has several guest cabins available for rent so visitors can stay and spend time with the dogs and cats before choosing their new furry friend. The ranch staff also welcome visitors for day visits or volunteer opportunities.
For more information or to contact Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary, visit their website at KindnessRanch.org or their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kindnessranch.