In 2002, Steve and Alayne Smith bought 160 acres of rangeland in western Montana and created a safe haven for animals with disabilities. Here, in the awe-inspiring Blackfoot River Valley, surrounded by magnificent mountain ranges, clear skies and sprawling pasture land, animals with disabilities can find security, comfort and care.
The ranch is home to thirty dogs and fourteen horses–half of which are blind, as well as fifteen cats and a few rescued farm animals. This is not an easy task for two people who still retain full-time careers, but dedicated volunteers help get the job done. “We have about ten core volunteers who come out on weekends, but we also have people who come from all over the country to stay and help out during their trip,” comments Smith. “It takes a lot of hard physical work to keep this place running everyday–it’s not just about playing with dogs. It’s a lot of outdoor work, too, no matter what the weather’s like. But everyone who has come here has left feeling like they really accomplished something, because they can see what they do directly affects the quality of life for these animals.”
While the majority of animals are blind and/or deaf, others have disorders such as Muscular Dystrophy and handicaps such as missing legs. Travis, for instance, is a strikingly handsome dog with stunning blue eyes, but unfortunately a fused jaw prevents him from opening his mouth. When he was dumped at a veterinary clinic in Spokane, WA, animal control called the Smiths to see if they could take him in. The Smiths gladly stepped up to the challenge, and when they came face to face with the good-natured pooch, it was clear they were taking on quite a responsibility.
“He was really emaciated from not being able to eat,” Smith recalls. “But we began feeding him through a stomach tube, and eventually he gained a quarter-inch range of motion in his jaw due to drug therapy. Now he’s able to slurp a special liquid diet through his teeth.” Travis wears an assortment of fleece garments to protect his stomach tube, and as a bonus, he has earned the title of Best Dressed Dog at the sanctuary.
Watching a disabled animal adapt and lead a normal, happy life is an extremely rewarding experience for the Smiths. “That’s why we love doing this,” says Smith. “Here are these animals that people have given up on, animals that didn’t have a chance otherwise, and they’re happy and doing well and have a really great life. People come out here and can’t believe that many of these dogs and horses are blind or handicapped … the dogs are out there roughhousing and having a great time, and the horses are out at pasture loving life. It’s an amazing feeling to stand there and know you’ve helped make it happen.”
Volunteers are invited to stay in the 500 square-foot volunteer cabin, which is fully furnished and has a cozy covered porch overlooking the sanctuary.
400 Rolling Dog Ranch Lane
Ovando, Montana 59854