Our Mission to Help the Underdog
There are many different types of organizations in the animal rescue world, and each serves a different purpose. In my opinion, municipal shelters, such as Animal Controls or city-run Shelters, have the most difficult task. They are required to take in strays, owner surrenders, and work with abuse cases (this of course varies depending on the city). One day they may have a comfortable thirty dogs in their care, only to wake up the next morning to have fifty animals arriving from a hoarding situation. They are on the front lines of helping local animals and they do not have the staff, resources, or kennels set up for animals to live with them long term. This is where smaller rescue groups come in to be able to alleviate the pressure put on the municipal shelters by the local community.
These rescues may have kennel facilities or they may be run out of volunteer foster homes, but they typically can provide more time and hands on care for their animals awaiting adoption. A large percentage of the rescue groups local to us here in New York only choose to rescue dogs that they consider “highly adoptable.” This can mean cherry picking the most dog/cat/kid friendly dogs out of local municipal shelters, or seeking out dogs from other states (often puppies from the South) that are more “adoptable” because of their age and/or breed. Sadly this leaves many adult dogs who are wonderful but without perfect behavior evaluation scores, or those that may be a less desirable (bully) breed stuck in shelters being housed long term or potentially put at risk for euthanasia. It also leads to less local adoptions for local animals. Many of the animals who are left in the local shelter system develop worse behavior during their stay due to long hours kenneled without interaction while their frustration continues to build. In some cases (both in municipal shelters and small rescues) the behavior and psychological quality of life of these dogs deteriorates to the point where they have two options: finding a sanctuary where they can live out their lives or euthanasia.
As someone who has fallen in love with the most difficult dogs since the first moment I walked into an animal shelter, I have spent many years desperately searching for a Sanctuary that would provide proper love and care for dogs that I loved, often as a last option rather than euthanasia. These dogs may have become too risky for kennel staff to handle or become so anxious from kennel life they began to injure themselves. I have spent a great deal of time searching the internet, social media, and asking other rescuers, trying to find a sanctuary I could trust. I am sad to say I have only found two that I believe to care properly for their animals, but these of course always have waiting lists stretching over years, full of dogs who need their help. There are many other groups who call themselves sanctuaries, but I have visited so many where it becomes clear that they are not what they seem.
In one “sanctuary” I visited, groups of 30 dogs were kept housed together with little supervision. This led to regular fights among the dogs and as I toured the facility I noticed several dogs who had lost limbs or lost ears due to these fights. As I listened to the people running this sanctuary describing their techniques for breaking up the regular fights (beating dogs with the flat side of wooden hair brushes or removing their teeth altogether) my heart broke.
I visited another “sanctuary” that appeared to be perfect. It sat on a huge piece of very well manicured farm land that was bustling with volunteers and staff. They had very powerful donors backing their work and on our tour of the facility they showed us all of the best parts of their work. It wasn’t until the time came to leave the dog we had brought there that the red flags began to pop up. She was a foster of mine for a year and one day I will tell her whole story, as she is a dog who truly changed my life, but to sum her situation up quickly: our options for her were either to euthanize her or find a sanctuary for her to live. They had promised she would be fostered with an experienced trainer, but by the time the tour was over the trainer had still not arrived. They said they would kennel her until the foster arrived, but would not allow us to see the kennel. Finally my boss (who had come with me) was allowed access to the kennel and returned quickly to let me know there was no way she could stay there. As our conversations went on, it became clear there never was a foster home. This sanctuary had planned to use this dog’s story to fundraise, and then keep her isolated in a kennel on the property, likely for the rest of her life.
A third “sanctuary” I visited made big promises of training and rehabilitation of difficult dogs. They posted photos/videos showing the progress they would make with dogs and then would quickly manage to adopt out these dogs who came to them completely “unadaptable.” Volunteers fundraised thousands of dollars to send their dogs to this facility which promised either rehabilitation/adoption or lifelong housing for difficult dogs. They seemed too good to be true, and sadly they were. Once again when touring the facility, I was not allowed access to the kennel area to see how the dogs were kept. Any questions I had about the training and care of the dogs went unanswered. Sadly, just a few months after I visited their facility, they adopted out a dog which killed a woman. The training they claimed the dog had over the just few weeks he was in their care was not enough to control him, and he never should have been released into the public.
New York State, in my opinion, is currently facing a unique animal overpopulation problem. We have several high volume open intake shelters in our state, where many animals are placed on “the list” for minor behavioral or medical problems and later euthanized should no rescue or sanctuary come forward to save them. There are many rescues in the state who could help save these local animals, and yet, they choose to import puppies or dogs considered “more adoptable” from the South. They find that they are able to find homes for the puppies much faster than the adult dogs, but this leaves our local animals in desperate need of help. Of the local rescues, within an hour drive of our facility, many turn away local owner surrenders, opting to import southern transport dogs instead in hopes of faster adoptions, higher yearly adoptions numbers, and more donations coming in as a result. Municipal shelters that have no choice but to accept these local animals, whether as owner surrenders or as strays (once they have been abandoned by desperate owners), struggle to find them homes and many dogs deteriorate in these kennels that were never designed for long term housing. If they try to save a dog who has manageable behavioral concerns by sending them to a rescue or sanctuary that claims to specialize in training and rehabilitating dogs, they may never know if that dog is truly safe, or if they were just used to bring in donation dollars and then forgotten. Experiencing this struggle firsthand, walking through the municipal shelters where kennel after kennel is filled with high energy, high anxiety dogs desperately in need of more one-on-one care than the overworked kennel staff can provide, is overwhelming. There are so many New York dogs who need help, how can we even begin to make a change?
In September 2016, myself and several of my friends sat around a table in my living room. We all had worked with animal rescues in the past and we all had the same problem: we fell in love with the animals that were less desirable for adopters. These animals may have had behavioral concerns, medical special needs or both, which made them less “adoptable”, but in our eyes no less worthy of a happy life. We had fought for dogs time and time again to receive training/rehabilitation and had sought true sanctuaries to care for them as an option other than euthanasia. Sadly, for many of these dogs we had failed, and we decided to turn our failures into a mission. We decided to stop just talking about starting our own rescue, and instead to actually begin saving animals. After much deliberation we settled on the name “Wayward Ranch Animal Sanctuary” and the following mission statement: To provide a quality life to the animals that need it the most. We decided to start trying to make a change locally one animal at a time. We began rescuing on September 30th, 2016 with our very first animal: a terrified pit bull puppy we named Gaia.
Wayward Ranch Animal Sanctuary, Inc.
(P.S. I want to point out that every private rescue is formed by different people with different missions within the animal rescue world, and that while those rescues who do southern transport are leaving the local dogs in greater need of help, they are still saving many lives. I believe there is a place for every rescuer and their personalized mission in this system to do good. We formed WRAS to support local animals, but that in no way elevates us in our minds over rescues that choose otherwise. This is simply what we as individuals are passionate about and what we chose to be as an organization.)