“Just three words,” he’d say if he could. “Location, location, location.”
Outside the picture window and beyond the wraparound porch, the Cimarron and the Sneffels ranges sprawl in jagged splendor across the horizon, splashed lavishly with fall color.
It’s a view that SCHS picked up for a bargain, exactly one year ago, when Angel Ridge Ranch, a 52-acre property just north of Ridgway on Highway 550, became available to them for a fraction of its list price.
This weekend, SCHS celebrates its one-year anniversary of moving to the ranch with its second annual Howl-o-Ween Party on Saturday, Oct. 20, 1-4 p.m. There will be tours of the property, a costume contest, apple bobbing, pumpkin carving and a candy hunt. Everyone is invited.
“I’ve always eyed this place as the perfect spot for our shelter,” said SCHS Executive Director Kelly Goodin. “I remember when it was on the market for $1.8 million – totally beyond our reach. It’s amazing that this happened.”
For several years, Angel Ridge Ranch had already been functioning as an animal sanctuary of sorts, primarily for horses. But there were plenty of other animals on the place too – dogs, cats, chickens, goats, bunnies.
When owner Denise Fischer suddenly died in the spring of 2011, a group of her friends got busy finding homes for all the animals. Many of the dogs and cats ended up, naturally, with SCHS.
That’s how Goodin got involved with the estate executors.
“I mentioned we would be interested in the property. They gave us a call. It really happened fast.”
In May 2011, SCHS entered into a contract that gave them time to raise money for the acquisition. Supporters caught the vision, bigtime. They loved the idea of being able to help the animal shelter move out of its cramped old quarters in Ridgway and into the bucolic Angel Ridge property, with its large house, barn and other outbuildings, and impossibly scenic grounds.
“In four months we raised $200,000,” Goodin marveled. “There were a lot of small donations and a few big ones – incredibly generous people that came out of the woodwork.”
What they couldn’t raise right away, they mortgaged. The entire transaction came in at $600,000, and the bulk of it went toward the purchase, with the remainder used for renovations that had to take place to make the space suitable for the shelter to move into right away.
Financially, the move made sense. The difference between what SCHS had been paying before for the place they rented in Ridgway, and their monthly mortgage payment for Angel Ridge Ranch, turned out to be minimal.
And for the shelter animals and people who care for them, the move has made all the difference in the world.
One of the bigger changes for the cats is that they don’t have to share close quarters with the dogs anymore. At SCHS’s previous location, a makeshift space along Highway 62 in Ridgway, the cats lived in cages in a small room through which the dogs had to frequently pass when they were being shown to prospective adopters.
Now, the dogs live out in the barn that was renovated after the purchase of the property to temporarily serve as a dog shelter, and never even cross paths with their feline counterparts. Some of the cats, like Elvis, still live in cages. Others share two bedrooms that have been converted into cageless cat colony rooms.
Needless to say, the cats are much happier now. The dogs are happier, too, although Goodin points out that for them, the change of location was more of a “lateral move” than an improvement in their living conditions.
COMING SOON: A DOG POD
SCHS has made it a priority to improve and expand its dog accommodations in the near future. It is well into a capital campaign to build a new “dog pod” on the Angel Ridge grounds. The purpose built dog facility will enable SCHS to house a higher turnover of pets. Currently, the shelter averages 10-12 dogs at a time. Its special use permit would allow the organization to house twice that many, if it had the capacity.
Fundraising for the dog pod got underway in May 2012, when SCHS closed on its sale of a lot it had bought a decade or so ago in the Ridgway Light Industrial Park as the site for a future new shelter. With the move to Angel Ridge Ranch, the lot was no longer needed. Funds from the $125,000 sale were quickly matched by another $125,000 in capital grants from The Animal Assistance Foundation (a foundation based in Denver that provided $50,000 toward the project in June) and The Telluride Foundation (which approved $75,000 in July through a special initiatives grant for capital improvements).
The dog pod will be a cageless facility with real-life rooms that replicate to an extent being in a home. Dogs will have access to outdoor runs. “We will build it to be energy-efficient. And there will be drains in each room, with separate air flow and ventilation. Simple things like that make a difference for shelter populations,” Goodin said.
The biggest difference in building a facility to these new industry standards is reduction of stress for the animals.
“Not sticking them in little cages keeps them healthy and more adoptable,” Goodin said. “It removes that depressing ‘sad little cages with puppy eyes’ atmosphere, so people enjoy coming and don’t avoid the shelter.”
Once the dog pod is complete, the barn will be converted into a medical facility, where spaying and neutering can be done on site.
When SCHS was working to acquire the Angel Ridge Ranch property last year, there was some to-do from a few folks who did not want to see an animal shelter in their neighborhood. But since the move, Goodin said, there has been “not one complaint.”
Shelter workers have worked diligently to keep the dogs quiet. “They are stressed out and want to bark,” Goodin admitted. “It’s a challenge.” Workers manage the problem by giving the dogs stuff to chew on, and rotating them into outdoor dog run areas. “It is definitely doable,” she said.
SCHS’s service area extends throughout Ouray County and into Montrose and San Miguel counties, as well. It has the only no-kill animal shelter in the region. Additional services include mobile spay-neuter clinics and microchip events, as well as a “Mobile Mutts and Meows” adoption program. Lately, the organization has started offering occasional spay/neuter clinics in Norwood, and has expanded some services into Nucla and Naturita, as well.
Prior to SCHS’s involvement, stray animals picked up in Nucla and Naturita were euthanized after five days. Now, they are taken to Angel Ridge Ranch for a second chance.
All this is paid for through revenues from the Second Chance Thrift Shop in Ridgway, as well as significant fundraising efforts throughout the year, including the annual Wine and Whiskers Carnival, and grants and budget allocations from local governments including Telluride, San Miguel County, Ouray County, the City of Ouray and the Town of Ridgway.
She’s not supposed to have a favorite, but when we walked out to the barn to have a look at the dogs, Goodin confessed there’s a soft spot in her heart for Christopher, an exuberant shaggy blond mutt who was recently picked up on the Navajo reservation and brought to Angel Ridge Ranch.
Shelter manager Heather Hart was just getting ready to take Christopher and another pooch pal out for some playtime and exercise. Sometimes, they get to go swimming in the pond on the grounds, down by the Uncompahgre River which flows through the property. The pond has a little island in the middle of it, which Goodin thinks would be perfect for doggy weddings.
There are parts of running an animal shelter that can break your heart, Goodin admits. Like the overlooked animals that just can’t seem to find the right forever family, and end up spending months, or years, at the shelter. But, she reflected, as she scratched Christopher behind the ears and gazed out at the view toward Mt. Sneffels, if you’ve got to be a stray pet, this is not a bad place to be.
Second Chance Humane Society celebrates the one-year anniversary of moving to Angel Ridge Ranch (177 County Road 10, two miles north of Ridgway) with its second annual Howl-o-Ween Party on Saturday, Oct. 20, 1 to 4 p.m. There will be tours of the property, a costume contest, apple bobbing, pumpkin carving, and a candy hunt. Everyone is invited. For more information call 970/626-2273 or visit adoptmountainpets.org