By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
It takes a certain type of person to oversee an animal shelter, and John Ramer is one of them.
You have to be comfortable living isolated miles from the nearest town, he explains as he bombs along a single track dirt road in his van, and you have to have a big heart for animals.
He didn’t realize he had either of these qualities until a girlfriend, whom he later married, invited him almost two decades ago to visit her at a Utah shelter where she was working at the time.
Before receiving the invitation from his girlfriend, Ramer didn’t even know what a refuge was. After that one visit, however, he was hooked.
And although the marriage didn’t work out, her newfound passion stuck, ultimately prompting her to trade her old career as a high school DJ and music teacher for a new animal that saves and rehabilitates lives.
Today, Ramer is the executive director of Kindness Ranch, a sprawling 120-acre animal shelter off Wyoming Highway 270, north of Hartville, in southeastern Wyoming, with the sole mission of providing housing and rehabilitate laboratory animals that would otherwise be euthanized as a result of their medical research or clinical trials.
In addition to providing animals with a comfortable home, caretakers and home staff help them make the transition from life in the laboratory to life in the outside world among humans, the ultimate goal being to prepare them for the adoption.
Giving these animals a second chance at a better life was the heady decision behind the decision of Oregon psychologist Dr. David Groobman to buy the land in 2006 and turn it into a sanctuary with full-time staff. to take care of daily operations.
Currently, the refuge is home to more than 100 animals including a handful of pigs, goats, sheep, rabbits and horses and a bunch of cats and puppies who live in yurts with their trainers and keepers.
The round yurts are gathered in clusters on the hills and the meadow covered with sagebrush. There are even additional yurts that can be rented by guests, including a huge two-story five-bedroom, six-bathroom yurt known as the mansion, which is perched on top of a hill with a bird’s eye view from miles away.
Rowing briefly stops the pickup to signal the handful of thoroughbred horses grazing in separate pastures in the distance before giving the pedal a little gas to climb the windy switchback to a rustic barn. He parks in front of the barn and jumps out of the driver’s door – the engine still running – to quickly stop to see his favorite piglet, De Luca.
When he opens the door, little barrel-breasted piglets charge his feet, scurrying in a figure of eight around his ankles, vying for attention as Rowing greets them each by name – as he does for each. animal in his care.
The only one who ignores it is De Luca, who quietly walks around the group and walks towards a mud puddle on the other side, a closed ring and the belly collapses in the murky water with his feet spread like a super hero in flight.
“What a diva,” Ramer said, walking over to the mud puddle and leaning on one knee to rub De Luca’s mud-packed fur belly, reminding him that her name means cuteness in Hindi.
The whole time he’s smiling like a guy who can’t believe his good fortune that this is how he spends his days.
Next comes a visit to see the 35 new puppies that just arrived last Friday at what has been the most animal count on the ranch.
The beagles are among more than 100 that Ramer was able to save from a research center in Texas. Their release was negotiated with the help of two other rescue centers in California and New York. Further help came from a non-profit animal transport company that delivered the puppies to their various new homes.
Rowing cannot say more about the origin of the puppies or the nature of the clinical trial they were involved in, given the thorny ethics surrounding animal testing in general. He deliberately avoids discussing the matter and instead focuses on building relationships with research companies to facilitate the rescue of the test animals.
In this case, he made three separate trips to the research firm’s office to talk to officials and make them understand that he was serious about taking the puppies.
It can be a tenuous process, he says. With the number of animal rights activist groups who would like nothing better than to see these facilities closed, trust takes time to build.
Rowing prefers to focus on happy endings and save as many animals as possible.
The bulk of the puppies used in the tests tend to be Beagles due to their affectionate personality, submissive demeanor, and willingness to obey orders, as well as their small size, relatively straightforward pregnancies, and their large spans.
Despite their tiny bodies, when crammed into a tiny yurt, beagles can be a bit overwhelming, as Valery Yuravak has discovered since 14 puppies moved into his yurt less than a week ago.
To her credit, the 21-year-old dog trainer from Ohio doesn’t seem fazed by the barks of the group of older dogs circled in a corner of the main room of her yurt as she gazes at the puddle of urine that collects on it. feet in the kitchen floor.
The assailant, who had been relegated to the kitchen for a time out after biting another dog, looks at her with grim eyes when she asks him why the hell he would pee on her floor.
Getting no response, Yuravak rolls over an industrial-sized mop and bucket that will live permanently on his living room floor for the next four to six weeks, as the new beagle puppies acclimatize to their new lives outside. concrete blocks from the laboratory.
Dogs have already made a lot of progress, Ramer notes, moving from individual cages to small groups – the first steps in the process of eventually letting them roam together as a group once they have all been spayed and neutered.
During this time, they will live in tight quarters with Yuravak in the front half of the yurt, but she will be able to rest from the animals in the small apartment with separate bathroom and dormitory across the kitchen wall.
A row of crates line the curved arch of the living room wall. Looking through the floor-to-ceiling windows, two groups of dogs can be seen playing in separate enclosures filled with a stack of toys and a few children’s wading pools that the dogs don’t seem to know what to do with.
That’s because they’re not like other dogs, says Yuravak, who until now believed to have mastered dog training techniques and behavior quite well. This is not the case, she notes, and these new recruits teach her.
“They don’t act like normal dogs at all,” she says. “In fact, they behave exactly the opposite.”
Where most puppies jump on humans and want to be held, these guys shy away from attention and are reluctant to step outside. The sounds and smells freak them out as they are used to living in a sterile and calm environment.
Part of the socialization process is getting them used to the sound of a vacuum cleaner, blender or radio, as well as being around other dogs and humans. It is a process that can take four to six weeks and requires a lot of patience.
These animals come from controlled environments with little noise and distractions, so entering the outside world is sensory overload, says Ramer, and it takes a while for them to get used to all these weird noises. This is one of the benefits of placing them in a home environment with their trainer where they will slowly get used to the various sounds, smells and movements of normal life.
In the meantime, they all get used to each other.
Yuravak has already assigned all of the puppy names.
And Ramer has already memorized all these names so that he can greet them.