HARTVILLE, Wyo. — The small caramel-colored dog darted out of her kennel and paused momentarily before sprinting back to comfort. She repeated this again and again, silent each time.
Watching nearby, in a large wooden yurt that held the kennel, was Maranda Weathermon, director of Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary.
“Ally is typical of what we see in dogs coming out of labs,” she said. “They have a lack of life experience and they’re shy.”
Ally lives with five other dogs and an animal care manager on a ranch outside Hartville. She has a large fenced-in yard and blankets in her kennel. She goes to the farmers market in town and wears a leash that says “Adopt me.” She has a training plan.
“Because they were in horrible conditions for most of their lives, they just get to live in paradise and enjoy themselves,” Weathermon said. “They give us so very, very much, so we need to give back to them, too.”
All the animals at the 1,100-acre ranch have been research subjects or were used to teach veterinary students. There are two dog yurts, each with six canines, reported the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/2bz4oQV). Twenty-eight cats live in a yurt surrounded by mesh, which allows the cats to spend time outside without getting out. There are sheep and pigs in the barn. Twenty-one horses and three mules wander the pasture.
Weathermon, a warm woman with a vibrant smile and cropped haircut, recently took over the animal sanctuary after the previous director moved away. A trained veterinary technician and former shelter director, she wanted to work with the “forgotten group” of rescue animals.
“People think about puppy mills, people think about shelter dogs and they don’t really think about animal testing animals,” Weathermon said. “It’s really kind of our goal to bring that forgotten group to more mainstream type of thinking.”
Labs ask the sanctuary to take the animals when they have completed their research. In exchange, Kindness Ranch promises the labs anonymity. Weathermon said the ranch tries its hardest to take in every animal or find another sanctuary to adopt the animals. Otherwise, the animals will likely be euthanized.
“They get just as attached as we do here,” Weathermon said of the labs where the animals come from. “They want to see their subjects go to someplace better.”
David Groobman opened the sanctuary in 2007 to rescue animals from research facilities. He designed the ranch to allow cats and dogs to live in spacious yurts with human caretakers, who provide around-the-clock care. On its website, Kindness Ranch calls itself the only sanctuary in the United States that takes all sorts of research animals. The ranch, which runs on donations, houses animals for their entire lives if they are too old or ill to be adopted.
Working as a veterinary technician and in shelters influenced Weathermon to pursue a career at a sanctuary like Kindness Ranch. She had worked at high-kill shelters and felt there was too much senseless euthanasia.
Weathermon fed a handful of fresh carrots to three white horses that came in from the pasture. The animals have bumps on their faces — melanoma, Weathermon said. The horses were previously part of a cancer research project. The cancer will eventually kill the equines.
The horses have a riding arena for enrichment where they’re learning to stand on objects.
Nearby, a group of pigs snorted as Weathermon turned on a sprinkler to create a mud bath. She fed almonds to the fat, pink animals. They’re being taught to sit and root for their food as part of an enrichment effort.
In an adjacent pen, a potbelly pig snored as she slept. Simone had been part of a pacemaker study because pig hearts closely resemble human hearts. She’s blind and arthritic, but ranch staff feed her blueberries and strawberries when she’s not snoozing.
After a short drive, Weathermon arrives at the cat house, where felines begin to swarm her: a mass of black, yellow, orange and gray fur. Each one has a name and the animal care managers know them all. The cats have scratching posts, beds and shelves to climb on. There are cardboard boxes to play in. Staff members clean out the litter boxes several times a day, so the yurt smells clean.
The cat house has air conditioning and heat. Weathermon plans to install a television this fall. It will show videos of gerbils, canaries and fish behind a Plexiglas screen.
The dog houses have live-in animal care managers. They walk the dogs and keep them on a feeding regimen. Sometimes they take them into town to social functions like a movie in the park. Some dogs undergo treatment, such as essential oil massages, to calm them down. Odie, the ranch’s oldest resident, spins in circles because he spent so much of his earlier life in a crate. The shepherd mix is being trained to spin less.
Most of the cats and dogs are available for adoption and to stay in foster homes, Weathermon said. There are six yurts on the ranch for volunteers to rent. A mansion that had belonged to the founder stands on a hill overlooking the ranch. It is available to be reserved with proceeds going to the animal sanctuary, a nonprofit.
Back at the dog yurt, a coonhound named Teva sat at Weathermon’s feet. The pooch, who has animated eyes and floppy ears, had previously been used in drug studies. Now she eats treats out of Weathermon’s hands.
“Coming to a sanctuary that gives them the forever chance, no matter how long it takes to find somebody, is really special,” she said.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com