Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary is a unique place, the only sanctuary in the United States that cares for animals used in research and laboratory facilities. At this property, you’ll find horses, cows, sheep, pigs, cats and dogs.
The small team at Kindness, which is a fairly new sanctuary at only 12 years old (founded in 2006), work hard to care for the animals and maintain their large Wyoming property to the highest of standards. Animals that can be rehabilitated are put up for adoption; the others will simply remain at the property with a secure and safe home for life.
I have just finished a week of work with the dog care team at Kindness, discussing things like behavioral adjustment programs, enrichment, gait analysis, physical rehabilitation and senior dog care. I also introduced them to the range of flower essences I use to support emotional health whilst working on training and rehab.
I chose to travel to Kindness Ranch because, for anyone who follows my blog, I often include items about research. I’m a self-confessed science geek. But I am not naive. I know that much of the research which is published involves dogs as study subjects. The life of a lab animal, in most cases, isn’t pretty.
The ranch is in remote Wyoming – Hartville to be exact with a permanent population of 69 people. For this reason, if you’d like to visit Kindness (there are 4 guest yurts on the property which can be hired for your stay – and these are well-appointed and very comfortable), you need to book ahead. The ranch is also a good place for a digital detox, too, because the guest yurts do not have television and cell phone reception is patchy at best. WiFi is available but is slower than most are used to and not suitable for streaming.
Dogs coming from a laboratory situation often have unique needs. Most have never experienced grass under the feet, the sights and sounds of the home environment, and some will have healthcare issues that require attention before adoption is possible. Many have never been house trained. Their ages vary depending on how long they were used for study.
And while Beagles are the dogs most often associated with laboratory research, expect to see other breeds of dogs, too. Larger breed dogs are often used by veterinary schools, for example, so students can learn blood draws, how to vaccinate, etc. These dogs become living pin cushions and are not surprisingly fearful whenever a needle is presented.
I deliberately chose Kindness as a destination because of the special niche it holds in the animal rescue world. It takes special people to liaise with laboratories and encourage them to release their animals rather than choosing to simply euthanize them (described as the ‘cost effective’ option). Kindness walks a tightrope of sorts to ensure that the animals are given safe passage out of the lab and onto the sanctuary whilst maintaining the confidentiality of the labs.
And it also takes special people to live remotely and care for these animals.
I hope you enjoy these photos of my time at Kindness and, if you believe in their mission, please consider making a donation. Every bit helps.
Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand
Hank was the first dog to stay with me overnight in my yurt. Hank is an older boy who spent the first 7 or 8 years of his life in a laboratory. He’s a bit stiff, and has trouble with stairs (as many of the Beagles do).
One of Hank’s favourite pastimes is being held like a baby on your lap. He makes himself totally relaxed and floppy and will stay for as long as you like. It’s amazing how trusting these dogs can be given their treatment at the hands of others.
Rocky is a big boy who doesn’t know his own strength (he needs more training about walking nicely on leash) and he’s afraid of men. We suspect his life as a veterinary school practice animal meant that he didn’t have a positive relationship with a male lab assistant and/or vet students. So we worked on setting up a system where the men on the ranch will visit and quietly enter and feed him high value treats. Handlers will praise Rocky when he is quiet and doesn’t bark and will start using a ‘click for quiet’ approach to clicker training.
Frieda is a pit bull who loves to go to the dog park on the ranch, appropriately called the K9 Corral. She has good recall and knows most of her basic cues including sit and down. She’s very intelligent!
Gus is another senior Beagle used in pharmacokinetic studies for at least 7 years. (These studies introduce drugs and watch their effects on other organs in the body.) He’s a bit achy in the joints, too. Gabapentin and muscle relaxants prescribed by the vet have helped him a lot and his caregiver says that he is a different dog with the support of his meds.