February 25, 2006 in City

Disabled pets get a home

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Brian Plonka photo

Steve Smith, of Ovando, Mont., with Babe, a blind German shepherd, at the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service shelter in Spokane Valley. Babe will be going to the Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary in Montana.
(Full-size photo)

How to help

Babe won’t ever see the 160 acres of her new Montana ranch home.

She never even got a last look at the owner who anonymously dropped her off a week ago at the Spokane County animal shelter with a short note and pedigree papers.

But the 9-year-old blind German shepherd didn’t hesitate Friday when Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary founder Steve Smith boosted her into his pickup truck for the four-hour ride east.

She was ready for a second chance at life.

Smith and his wife, Alayne Marker, have offered such second chances to blind, deaf and otherwise disabled dogs, cats and horses for the past five years, building multiple animal houses, stables and fenced-in areas on their 160-acre ranch in the Blackfoot River Valley, between Missoula and Helena.

No matter the disability, the shelter will help. The only requirement is that each animal be able to get along with other pets.

The ranch’s brood now totals 33 dogs, 27 horses and 13 cats. Ten of them came from Spokane where animal shelter staff are now on the lookout for disabled pets in need of a home.

“We try to save space for animal shelters because we know when the shelter calls us, that animal doesn’t have another chance,” said Smith.

Finding people to adopt disabled pets can be difficult, said Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service Director Nancy Hill, which makes places like the Rolling Dog Ranch that much more special.

“It’s nice when you find this group or individual who sees a need in a certain area and takes the project on,” Hill said.

Rolling Dog Ranch residents from Spokane include:

Spinner, both blind and deaf, was referred by SpokAnimal Care. The completely white dog explores her world solely by smell and touch.

•Patti, a shepherd mix, is unusual because her blindness was caused not by age or disease but by severe abuse, perhaps from being hit on her face by a shovel or hatchet blade. She required extensive surgery but now plays the ranch guard dog and climbs into Smith’s lap at any chance.

Also blind and deaf, the solid white cat Angel was afraid of the other cats when she first arrived at the ranch, but now ventures out of her private cat condo to touch noses with the other felines and seek out human affection.

Travis the dog has a rare condition that fused his mouth almost completely shut. But despite being fed with a stomach tube, he runs around the ranch as if he didn’t have a disability at all.

That’s the norm, said Smith.

“These animals do not feel sorry for themselves,” he said, adding that is an inspiration. “The rewards are watching an animal that someone else has given up on because it’s disabled, and watching it romp and play and enjoy life.”

Smith and Marker left their jobs working for Boeing in Seattle to move to Montana and open the ranch. But they aren’t retired. , Marker works as an attorney and Smith co-owns a marketing firm in Missoula.

For the first two years, Smith and Marker relied on their own savings to care for the animals, but now the nonprofit organization is sustained by donations.

Their first arrival, a blind horse named Lena, was the first horse – sighted or not – that Smith had ever owned.

The transition can be difficult for the animals at first.

“They go from a home where someone’s caring for them, and suddenly they’re dumped,” said Smith looking at Babe as she trembled slightly in the Spokane County Animal Shelter parking lot. “They don’t know what happened.”

But the ranch is a place where the animals are safe.

“When we agree to take an animal, it’s for life,” said Smith. To which Babe lay down, put her head on her paws, closed her eyes and sighed.


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