Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sanctuary Spotlight: Rolling Dog Ranch

During the course of my work at the shelter, there are many days when I dream of rounding up all the hard-to-place, special needs animals and whisking them off to a tranquil haven where they will be loved, understood, and cared for unconditionally. Believe it or not, such a place does exist in a remote Montana valley. Rolling Dog Ranch is a remarkable sanctuary that's devoted exclusively to disabled animals.

Husband and wife team Steve Smith and Alayne Marker founded the ranch in 2000 after several years of preparation and scrupulous saving. Both Steve and Alayne used to work for Boeing in Seattle, and the couple used their nest-egg to purchase acreage in Ovando, Montana (population 71) in order to start the sanctuary.
You may think that “Rolling Dog” refers to pooches in wheelchairs, but there was a different inspiration for the name. On their website, Steve and Alayne share the reason:

“From the outset, we named the ranch the "Rolling Dog" because our dogs love to roll around on their backs in the sagebrush- and grass-covered meadows on the property. We'll have as many as four dogs at a time rolling around upside down, feet straight up in the air, scratching their backs in the fields.”

What a charming image! I can picture Dewey and Greta joining in with the rolling dogs and getting a nice, long back scratch…

Over 30 special needs pooches reside at the ranch. Their disabilities range from blindness to cerebellar hypoplasia - a neurological condition that impairs balance and motor control. Some, like Bailey the dachshund pictured above, have spinal problems. Despite his bad back, Bailey is leading a life full of mischief and glee. His penchant for stuffed animals is limitless and you'll often hear stories about his antics on the Rolling Dog Ranch blog (I should insert a disclaimer here: once you begin following the RDR blog, you may become hooked!)

The sanctuary is not just for canines, however. Over 20 blind horses and approximately half a dozen disabled cats also call Rolling Dog Ranch home. In fact, the first animal to arrive was Lena – a blind mare. Steve and Alayne had cared for cats and dogs in Seattle , but they were inexperienced when it came to horses. Through Lena , they were able to learn the basics of equestrian care, and her gentle spirit and love of life inspired Steve and Alayne to take in more blind horses and begin a website called

The ranch is sustained entirely by donations, bequests, and grants. With so many needy animals, it is truly a labor of love that entails 14 hour days, physically demanding work, and limitless compassion. Still, Steve and Alayne insist that they are living their dream. "I can't imagine doing anything else" Alayne told The Bark Magazine in a 2006 interview.

And, so, during those moments of despair that inevitably arise at my job in the shelter, I give silent thanks for the fine folks at Rolling Dog Ranch and dream of a day when all disabled animals will get the same second chances that they do at Steve and Alayne's sanctuary.


apple + chelsea said...

way to go rolling dog ranch!!

I'z appreciate all help for us K9's and we all hope to give love in return.

<3 Apple

Roxie, Sammy and Andy said...

Now that is TRUE love. It is easy to love us when we aren't a challenge, but it takes very special people to take on dogs that aren't "perfect". We are going to start following their blog ... like we don't have 100 others to keep track of too. We hope we can make a donation to them too since we really, really believe in what they are doing.

Roxie, Sammy & Andy

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