Animal Rescue of the Week: Episode 35 – Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary

Kindness Ranch is a 1000 acre ranch nestled among the rolling hills of Hartville, Wyoming and is the only sanctuary in the US that takes in all kinds of research animals. Their mission is to provide a sanctuary and place of rehabilitation for animals who have previously been used in laboratory research, working to rehabilitate dogs and cats in a home-like environment.


Welcome to the ARPA Animal Rescue of the week podcast, featuring outstanding organizations around the country that are helping animals & the people who rescue them. This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues & shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Let’s meet this week’s featured animal rescue.

Kindness Ranch is a 1,000 acre ranch in Hartsville, Wyoming who opened its doors with a goal to provide a sanctuary and place of rehabilitation for animals who have been previously used in laboratory research. They pride themselves for being the only sanctuary in the US that takes in all kinds of animals including dogs, cats, horses, pigs and sheep. Since its opening, they have provided sanctuary to over one thousand animals.

Hey Beverly, welcome to the show. Thank you. So you are the Executive Director at Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary in Wyoming. Why don’t you get us started with telling us a little bit about your organization and when and how you got started? We were founded in 2007 Dr. David Groobman who lives in Colorado, he felt he wanted to give back. So he saved his own personal money and got enough together and purchased the property that we’re at right now. We’ve received our laboratory animals in the fall of 2007 and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since.

So what kind of animals do you take in? We are not a public shelter we’re a public sanctuary. So we only take in former research and laboratory animals. We take in everything from a coyote to goats, horses, sheep, pigs, cats, dogs, beagles are the most prevalent species that we take in. They are our most popular animal used in research. With the exception of rodents, there are 860,000 of them in research facilities across the United States right now.

You mentioned that you take in animals that were previously used for research in a lab. So are those animals harder to adopt out, or do they have a good chance for adoption after being with you guys? They have a great chance for adoption. One of things that our founder and our board of directors is really about is we’re not a typical shelter. We don’t animals in crates, we don’t have animals in kennels. Our staff live in yurts, and the animals live with the staff. So there’s approximately 8 dogs per staff. So they are brought immediately into a home-like environment, which is really critical because these animals can be, you know, from 6, 10, 12 years old. And they spent their entirely life in the lab. So in order to give them the best chance of adoption, what we really need to do is sort of acclimate them to a home-like environment. So it may mean, we have to do things like turning that computer on for half an hour because they’re afraid of everything. They’d never been outside. They don’t know what grass is. We have a lot of work to do on housebreaking, so we get them the best possible chance and typically we have a waiting list for our animals.

And how do animals get onto that wait list? How do you hear about them? I have relationships with different labs throughout the country that we work exclusively with. We’re always looking for new relationships. We do not advocate for or against research. That’s not what our mission is. Our mission is simply to get animals out of labs and to get them lifelong homes.

You may have touched on this a little bit, but what if an animal comes to your sanctuary who is not available to be adopted? They’re not acclimating. They just aren’t going to be a good candidate for adoption. Do you keep them for the remainder of their lives? Yes. Yes we do. Actually we have one right now, Pixie, who could be adoptable but she would need to go to a home that’s very well versed. She’s a mixed Pit bull breed. She has some aggression issues, some resource guarding, and we work on that. But we would never place her just for the sake of placing her. If she has to stay here forever, then she stays here forever.

Do you offer any special programs at your organization? Or is it kind of just rehabbing animals back to health that come from those laboratory situations? Well, they’re fortunate because we do have 1,200 acres. We do guest lodging as well. So we do have a lot of different volunteer programs that come out. We’re working right now, and developing an education program. We feel quite strongly that the way for the future animals and animal rights really is to the generation that’s up and coming. So we are working on developing that. One of the programs we do offer is, there something in Wyoming called Cowboy Challenge, it is for teens who are at risk. They do come here every Friday and they do various jobs on the ranch. So we do have two different programs. Our issue is that we’re fairly remote, you know, either we’re about an hour and 45 minutes from Cheyenne. And then around an hour 40 minutes from Casper. So most of our volunteers do come in to stay. Most of them stay a week, a weekend, a few days and that’s our volunteer program. Okay, great.

So when they stay, do they stay in those yurts that you were talking about? Yes. We have different guest rooms. We have two-bedroom guestrooms that both have a loft with additional four beds above. And then we have two one-bedroom guest yurts and then we have a property that we refer to as the manor. It’s at the highest elevation on the ranch, so it’s about 5,100 feet elevation. And it is a five-bed, seven-bath home that is just breath-taking, and we offer that as well. It’s where people do family reunions, and that’s sort of thing. That’s really cool. So anybody can do it if they want. Anyone can rent the yurt out. Yeah, absolutely. And for doctors, there is no charge. We feel that it’s important that they spend a night with an animal first. A lot of times, people already have a dog or a cat at their home, we invite them to bring that animal with them so that they can have the experience with animal and there is to see that it’s a good fit for their family.

I think that’s such a cool idea. I haven’t really heard about anything like that before, where someone can bring their animal and actually like, spend tonight and see how the animals interact. And if the situation is gonna work out, that’s actually a really cool idea. Yeah, once we started doing that, the rate of return was very, very low. We don’t really get many of our dogs back, but we do take them back, and our cats as well, no questions asked. But since we started this program, it really does help you decide. It does give the family sort of a chance to see, ‘cause a lot of people don’t really understand that laboratory animals are very different from say, rescuing shelter animal. The majority of shelter animals have had some exposure to humans that have just been painful to them, for instance. These animals have not, so it can take them longer to trust. And people need to understand when they take them, you know, it’s not just gonna be a happy looking puppy or dog, who’s excited to see them. That a lot of times, the animals will take up to two weeks to really fully adjust in to their new home.

So I know you mentioned earlier you would run a vacuum for a little while or what are some other things? Televisions. Televisions are something that’s usually quite frightening to them, they’ve never seen anything like that. We actually had a Pit bull trying to hit a TV because she was so terrified of it. Poor thing. Yeah dog doors are a big thing for us because they need to learn how to apply properly. And one of the problems with that animal is that they’ve been crated or kenneled for their entire life, so they go when they want to go. They don’t know how to hold it. So we work a lot with teaching them to go in and out of the dog door because we find it easier to house break them using that than it is to try and train them to wait because most of them are older. It’s very rare that we get an animal lesson two years old. They’ve never been on a leash. They’ve never been outside. So a lot of times they’re very frightened the very first time they go outside. They have no concept of what that is. And since it’s sort of sensory overload, we do have to do it gradually, their exposure to the outdoors.

So I know you mentioned your on a ranch, and you kind of touched on it briefly. But what is the community like in your area? Are there any particular challenges for the animals that you take in besides them being previous lab animals? Not really. Our community, the closest town we have that’s more than 60 people is about 25 minutes away. So we are fairly isolated. The neighbors that we do have, the ranchers around us, they’re all excellent and good neighbors. If we need help, or they need help, we’re here to help each other. The community is very supportive of us. We do have an air rifle, a national guard based in Guernsey, and we do get quite a bit of volunteers that will come out here when they are on tour. That’s one of the problems that we do have here is because we are so remote that cell reception is next to nil. Okay. Because the animals are housed. We do have to use walkie talkies to communicate with each other. Oh, wow.

So that must be a pretty big challenge then? It really can be because you know each dog yurt, if you will. That’s an independent building that the next dog yurt is independent, the cat yurt is independent. The livestock farm animals rather are out in pasture and down in the barns, which is, you know, about a mile and a half away from where the other buildings are. So in order to really reach out to people, we have to use walkie talkies because there’s no cell reception here. And, of course, to spread Internet over 1,200 acres would just be astronomically expensive. Oh, yes, well, I think walkie talkies. That’s a good idea. That’s a challenge that I think a lot of people don’t really think about. You know, when you have that much space and you’re on a ranch, it’s the communication barrier. Yes, yeah. Even we try and explain that when we talk to potential guests and potential adopter and they’re “oh, can you please give me a call?” It’s much easier for us to e-mail. We do have satellite Internet, so that does work.

But sorry, to kind of go back a bit, the military is actually very, very good to us. They have offered their help. We had some snow again last year. And we had some 25 foot of snow banks and so heavy work that he need to be cleaned out. Yeah, they are really good, they would come and help us rebuild our roads. They ran across the street from us when the wildfires were coming towards us, they had water bombers on standby to help us.

So when you have challenges like he said, wildfire is in the snow. What do you do with your animals during those kinds of situations?

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Well, again, we’re luck that the staff live where the animals are. And actually, our ranch manager just drove the backhoe around for anybody that needed to get anywhere. And we had people in the back of the backhoe be driven around the ranch. Oh, you have to adapt to overcome. Yes, definitely. So I know you said that you have dogs and cats, and then you also have farm animals like horses, and pigs and sheep. Is the care any different for the farm animals? Do you look to get those adopted out as well or do these kind of remain on the ranch for their time being? Yeah, we do adopt some of the horses out. The majority of our horses, unfortunately, have cancer. Then they were injected with different viruses. One of the things that I think that people forget about is for every disease that an animal has. It’s treatable. That vaccine or that medication has been tested on animals, in order to make sure that it does work.

So a lot of our farm animals, we don’t adopt out because of health issues. And another issue we have, is really our pigs are not all mini pigs. We have full size Yorkshires. Who would want to adopt the 700 or 600 pounds pig, right? So we don’t adopt farm animals that people could use for food. We are a vegan sanctuary, all of our events are vegan. We don’t judge on what other people do. However, if you were to adopt a farm animal, we would have to know that you live a vegan lifestyle, that that animal would not be at risk.

Do you have any memorable stories you would like to share? Well, we have a pretty amazing sheep here. Her name is Crazy. She came to us from university in Montana. She was going to be used as a study subject. However, she developed an infection in one of her legs and the university was going to euthanize her. But this student asked if she could try to save her. So they contacted us and we brought her out here and our vet said that unfortunately where the infection was, it wouldn’t be treatable through antibiotics because when it’s in a bone joint, there’s not enough blood flow to treat that area. Okay. So long story short, we ran out of options. We have to look at either euthanizing her or amputating the leg and the vet said, “you know, we don’t really amputate sheep’s legs. We don’t have a lot of experience with this and it’s a back leg, so it could create some problems.” But I talked to my Board of Directors who are extremely supportive of, and if I may add, that our largest expense is our vet bills. Our Board of Directors doesn’t spare any expense when it comes to treating the health of the animals, and they said, “well, do you think we can give it a shot?” And I said, “I think it’s worth a shot.”

So we amputated the rear leg. Our ranch staff made a sling in her stall so that she could learn how to walk again on three legs, and she is running and playing. And you would never know that she is a three legged sheep. And it’s just fantastic to me because one of the things you know dogs and cats, especially dogs, are very easily adoptable. Farm animals are sort of looked over. They’re look passed. People don’t really understand what their plight is, and we want to do everything possible.

Another sort of story that we ran into is that for pigs. There is no commercial pig feed that’s made for longevity. All pig feed is made for fattening the pig and getting the pig to market. So our branch manager talked to a nutritionist, a slime nutritionist, and they put together a food package that means we have to make all of our own feed for our pigs. So two days a month we have three people and all they do is make mashed feed for pigs, so they can have a diet that sustains them in a healthy way. Oh wow. It sounds like you’re almost pioneering in a sense for these farm animals because, like you said, you made a sling for a sheep. Like I’ve never heard of anybody doing that before. So that’s pretty cool when you think about it.

We’re pretty blessed here. We are remote, and that could be difficult at times. But on the other hand, we really are true sanctuaries, just absolutely beautiful here. We’re in big Sky country. We’re in the Hills of Wyoming so it’s absolutely breathtaking. And some days when it’s a long day you just look at the beauty of everything around you and you remember where you are and what you’re doing. Yeah, I feel like stories like that can also help you, you know, on you’re tough days like “this is why I’m doing what I’m doing,” because I’m sure there are tough days. Absolutely. Especially like you said, when you live somewhere remote and it’s a little bit difficult to sometimes get the help that you need. It’s those stories that can kind of help you continue what you’re doing.

It is and you know, one of the things too, we have to face quite a bit is that sometimes when animals do come from labs. They don’t necessarily have a lot of time left. So sometimes our only job is to make them as comfortable as humanly possible. And to give them the love that they haven’t seen before they do pass. So it can be hard when you’re holding an eight year old beagle that’s never been outside, and has a terminal disease or has a tumor, or has cancer. And we have to make that really, really hard decisions. Those days are pretty tough because it feels unfair. But for every sad story we have 100 success stories. It’s just I wish they could all be success stories. Yeah, definitely. But that’s great that, like you said, you still you make them as comfortable as possible and show them the love and care that they deserve. So that’s great. Absolutely and a lot of times I take them home. I’m a bad foster fail. Now I have three beagles and a border collie. So you know, the top faces come home. Yes, that’s good, though I wouldn’t call that a fail. So that’s good.

So what does the future look like for your organization? Do you have any plans coming up or programs or events that people should know about? Actually, one of the really interesting things that’s starting to happen and I believe it’s nine states right how that have passed this legislation. That’s if there’s government funding that is received by a research or a lab facility. They’re going to be forced to adopt the animals out. So that something really, really exciting for us. We are a USDA regulated facility because we do have a lot of research animals here. It will give us an opportunity to get many more animals out of research and lab facilities. Not that they’re shutting down, but that they’re going to be forced to adopt these animals out instead of euthanizing them at the end of their studies. Okay.

And you said that’s for about nine states? Yes, yeah, Wyoming is not one of them yet, I believe Colorado is going to be passing that legislation. I believe in 2020 is when Colorado was looking at. In New York, I know for sure has already done it. There are a two other states that are already done it. So we are now reaching out, working with those labs to help them get homes for all of the animals. Yeah, that’s awesome.

How can people get in touch with your organization? You said cell service is not great. So is e-mailing the best? Website? Facebook? E-mail and Facebook are the best. We do monitor our Facebook regularly. They can feel free to leave a message. They can feel free to e-mail, it’s simple just Our website is just as well. So they can reach out to us. We do have a contact form on our website and we do answer all messages from Facebook as well.

And what does the role of fundraising play for your organization? Is that how you make the majority of your proceeds? You have any fundraising events coming up? We are 100% privately funded. We receive no money from the government, we’re not a shelter that has contracting a certain on the animals. So we do rely on our donor for 100% of our operations. We don’t do a lot of fund raisers due to our remote location. However, one of our staff members is actually a professional photographer, and he has done 10 shots, different shots of the ranch, different shots of animals and we will be auctioning those all shortly on our Facebook. Cool. That sounds great. Yeah.

What’s kind of the biggest lesson that you’ve learned through all of this through working at the Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary? I think patience sometimes I have a hard time with waiting. I want the legislation to move faster. I want more animals released from the labs. But even if we’re getting 10, 12, 15 animals at a time, that’s 15 lives that are saved. It’s just hard when I know there’s so many that are still sitting in laboratories, looking for homes. So I guess it’s really just the patience of having to work through the process. There’s a lot of red tape to go through when you do get animals out of labs, and I probably just want to take them all. Right.

Did you ever imagine that things would be where they are today when you started? No. To be honest with you, we’ve tripled the number of animals that we take in, just in the last two years alone, so that’s hugely positive. And being said we’re all moving in the right direction, and I’m not going to speak negatively of the labs. Just the more relationships that we can foster means the more animals we can get out. And knowing that we’re getting more out of the day means that we’re doing the right thing and heading down the right path.

So is there anything else that you would like to share before we wrap things up today? Adopt, adopt, adopt. We have a lot of cats looking for homes. For the very first time ever this year. Kindness Ranch reached out to some organizations in Florida because when Hurricane Dorian was going to hit, we knew that there was going to be very limited space for those animals. So we decided to help out. And we brought up 18 hurricane animals from a shelter in Florida so that we could find them homes. So that’s a first for us. Yeah, it’s really unique. It was a really good experience and more than half of them have already been adopted. So please check us out, if you’re thinking about adding a family member. We have lots to choose from. Well, Beverly, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ve learned so much talking to you and I had a great time. Thank you. Thank you very much for your time.

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