On the Trail 8-31-09
August 31, 2009
Tucked into the hills near Hartville, Wyo, is a ranch sanctuary for animals once used in medical or scientific research. Cats, dogs, sheep, pot-bellied pigs and horses all have a place “for life” as a result of the contributions they have already made to science.
From the highway Kindness Ranch looks like any of the other ranches in the vicinity. Pastures have good grass, there are barns – both older wood structures and a newer metal facility – a dirt road leads to a house, then another and finally a cluster of yurts.
But the yurts at Kindness Ranch are not simple and Spartan. Four of them are used as lodging for guests, people like me who come to the ranch to learn about what they are doing here in this remote area of Wyoming, and more often, people who volunteer to help with the ranch operations. Those folks come from all over – from just down the road to across Wyoming, from Colorado or Texas, or other points in the United States.
Their role is essential as they help with the chores on the ranch, and most importantly, work with the animals.
The dogs, cats and pigs have been used in medical research such as cardiovascular research and surgical training. Virtually all drugs, devices, and surgeries for heart disease were developed or tested at some point in dogs. Both dogs and cats have been used for the study of type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. And they have been used for other disease research ranging from colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, gastro-esophageal reflux, swallowing disorders, and nausea associated with cancer treatments to muscular dystrophy, and the decline in skeletal strength or retroviruses.
By far the majority of the animals used in medical and scientific research are euthanized, but Kindness Ranch offers a sanctuary for some of them. It is the only facility of its kind in the United States, in part because it takes in all types of animals that have once been used in research labs.
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“These animals give so much of their lives to us and many people benefit everyday from the studies that have been done to these animals,” said co-manager Dr. Karen Straight, a sociologist and former college professor who has come to Kindness Ranch for the “lifestyle choice.”
Founded and built by a Colorado psychologist, Dr. David Groobman, Kindness Ranch relies on the generosity of others. Dr. Straight and Matt Farwell manage the ranch, which also provides internships through a program at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo.
Heather, who lives and works at Kindness Ranch, refers to her job as “basically like a stay-at-home mom for animals.”
Before coming to the ranch, the animals were most often kept in sterile, restricted cages or living conditions. But at Kindness Ranch they are placed in “home situations.” The cats live together in a yurt. Here you will find 30-40 felines. They rub against your legs, purr in your lap, or perhaps retreat to a high ledge where they can keep an eye on things. They have an outdoor yard with toys and places to run and jump, to play and even chase mice that wander into their yard.
The amazing thing to me is that while I was there they did not fight. I have two cats that squabble, hiss, chase each other, and generally “fight” what seems to be all the time (when they are not sleeping that is).
Next to the cat yurt is a dog yurt, and here canines have their own home, complete with a TV room, outdoor yard for their own running, jumping, and playground.
Some new dogs, Walker Coonhound mixes, had been brought in just a few days before I visited the ranch. They were quarantined in the barn to be certain they adjusted to their surroundings and did not introduce some unwanted disease to the dog yurt. Three of the six were rambunctious, eager, friendly, ready to go for a walk or to play. Two others were quiet, withdrawn, but comfortable when sitting with a volunteer who petted them, or read to them. The final dog was extremely shy, nervous, obviously scared to be in new surroundings. I suspect after a week or so at the ranch, that dog, too, will relax and enjoy the sanctuary of the ranch.
Horses used for medical research in Canada have also found a home at Kindness Ranch. Mares and foals have free opportunity to move into corrals near the barn for shelter and supplemental feed, or they can roam a large pasture.
The sheep, like sheep everywhere, trail head to tail from the outside corral to inside pens where they are fed and watered, while the extremely rotund pot-bellied pigs have their own access to an outside pen or inside area where they are fed. Much of the produce given to the pigs comes from the Safeway store in Wheatland, Wyo. They scarf down bananas, lettuce, apples and peaches, but nose carrots out of the pan, eating them only when every other morsel is finished.
Kindness Ranch operates as a non-profit organization. Contributions of funding are always needed and welcome, as are contributions of volunteer time to work with the animals and show them how a home life can be. Although the goal of the ranch is to rehabilitate the research animals and eventually place them in homes, if some animals are unadoptable, they will be allowed to live out their lives on the ranch.
The ranch has a certain feeling of solitude due to its location away from any town or even a busy highway and that makes it an ideal choice for a get-away for people who love and want to work with and care for animals.
Each of the yurts has two bedrooms with a large loft sleeping area and small kitchen. You can do your own cooking at the ranch, but for dinner I highly recommend a burger at the Miners and Stockmen’s Bar in Hartville. I must say it is one of the best I’ve had anywhere in a long, long time.
For more information on Kindness Ranch, please visit http://www.KindnessRanch.org.