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|June 25 - July 1, 2009
PAALS for life
How one family found hope in a desperate situation
Story and photos by Dana Logan
When you wake up and your 2-year-old daughter can barely breathe, you do what any mother would do; you take her to the doctor.
That’s what April Hayes did a little more than a month ago, only to have Madyson, her little girl, admitted to the hospital, put on a nebulizer, poked, prodded and tested. Among the tests that were given, one that April dreaded would come back positive did. Madyson, it turned out, was allergic to dogs.
April herself is allergic to dogs, and Madyson has often complained of itchy skin, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise when the allergy test came back positive, but the foresight wasn’t any consolation. It’s hard to feel comforted by a diagnosis that means two members of your family will have to be banished from your home. And that’s perhaps especially true when those family members have been with you since before your family even existed.
April adopted Lucy, a golden retriever/chow mix, when the dog was about a year old. That was nearly a decade ago, before she met her husband, Gavin, and long before Madyson came along.
Gavin adopted Montana, a German Shepard/rottweiler mix, when she was just a tiny puppy. More than 10 years ago, a colleague of his had gotten her outside a concert and later decided she couldn’t keep the small dog. When she brought the pup into work, Gavin knew he’d found his dog, and Montana has been with him ever since.
When April and Gavin met and fell in love, they quickly became a blended family. Early on, there were growing pains as Lucy and Montana learned what it meant to be and have a sister, but they soon grew to love each other and, ultimately, became best friends.
As evidence of the family they became, April’s wedding band has four stones imbedded in it — one to represent her, another that represents Gavin, and two more symbolizing their two dogs.
At the end of each day, April and Gavin would return home to their dogs. At the beginning of the next, they would wake to a dog on either side of the bed.
But on the morning that April took her daughter to the hospital, when she found out that she had passed along her allergy, she knew that she had no choice. Though she had lived for years with mild symptoms of her own dog allergy, watching her 2-year-old in a hospital there was no question that she couldn’t put Madyson through the pain and daily discomfort that living with two dogs would cause the small child.
But knowing what she must do did not make doing it any easier.
April got to work making phone calls, searching for a home for her beloved family members. Ideally, Lucy and Montana would be able to stay together, as they had been for much of their lives. But the more phone calls April made, the less likely it seemed that they would find any acceptable situation, let alone an ideal one. She called friends, family and even the ex-boyfriend with whom she originally adopted Lucy, all in an effort to find homes for the dogs. She was ready to jump in the car and drive to North Carolina, California or anywhere that she could find someone who was willing to take Lucy and Montana.
Having been fruitless in her search for a real home, she called shelters in the hope of finding a no-kill shelter that could take them. But as both dogs are fairly old — Lucy is 10, Montana, 12 — and both have slightly aggressive tendencies (they would likely not do well joining a home where there were already other pets or small children), they would not be considered “adoptable,” and would probably be euthanized. She posted ads and combed the Internet for an answer, but had come to the realization that there may not be one.
In the meantime, she and Gavin had scheduled an appointment to get Montana, the older of the two dogs, a general check-up, just to see what her health situation was. But truth be told, they both knew that there was a good chance that visit might end with Montana being put down.
Devastating as all this was, there seemed to be nothing they could do to fix it. They were running out of options, and all the while, Madyson was sick, itchy and having trouble breathing.
Then, they found something. It was a farm. A farm in Colorado. Dreampower Ranch was its name. An animal sanctuary. A ray of hope.
April sent an e-mail and got a reply from a volunteer saying she should call and talk to Diane Benedict, the owner of the ranch.
Though there was finally hope, there was also fear and sadness, and those feelings prevented April from calling right away. But on a Friday afternoon, April, Gavin and Madyson were playing outside, and these parents who love their child and their dogs with all their hearts saw the pain that Madyson was in.
“Itchy, itchy,” she kept saying between sneezes. And Gavin looked at April and said, “Make the call.”
So she did. And to her delight, and also to her dismay, Diane listened to her story, the story of her family, and said, “Of course, I’ll take them. Can you bring them on Sunday?”
Two days later, April, Gavin, Madyson, Lucy and Montana were packed in the car and heading to Castle Rock, Colo. Tears were falling as they drove from their home in Longmont to the place where their dogs would live out the rest of their lives without them.
“We went inside the gate and there were horses everywhere — beautiful horses — and there was a donkey,” April recalls.
In fact, there are not only horses and several donkeys, there are chickens, turkeys, a pot-bellied pig, cats and, of course, dogs. The number of each type of animal on the ranch fluctuates as more animals are surrendered to the ranch, others are adopted and older animals who’ve come to live out their lives finally die.
April says that Diane Benedict and Rita deGroot were waiting for them when they arrived. Rita, a woman who herself was saved by Diane when the animal rescue she ran was being foreclosed about a year ago, now spends her days taking care of many of the animals at Dreampower Ranch — some of them animals who came with her from her own rescue operation.
In fact, people are a pretty big part of what goes on at the beautiful farm in Castle Rock. When the board of The Dreampower Animal Rescue, which was founded in 1990, made the decision that no animals over the age of 6 could be taken in, Diane formed a new organization with a focus on older animals and also on older people. She named it PAALS — People and Animals Living Synergistically.
But it’s not just the elderly who benefit from Diane’s vision.
“We have not only elderly people that visit, but we have people who are developmentally challenged that visit, and we have Girl Scouts that visit, and we have people who are homeless that come and stay for a few weeks or for the rest of their lives,” says Diane.
“I had to put the people and animals together because, as we all know, animals are really good for us,” she says.
And she adds that every animal on the ranch has a human story behind it, too.
When she heard April’s story, it was an easy decision. She was able to provide a place for these dogs to live together, so she did. She’s done it before, and she’ll do it again.
Lucy and Montana are not considered adoptable animals, but many of the animals on the ranch are available for adoption. There’s a beautiful mix of young and old, healthy and sick, people and animals. Diane pretty much helps whomever she can.
While many of the animals that come to her are on death row at a shelter before being saved by PAALS, Diane says she’s also heard every story imaginable from individuals who are in need of a place for their pet. With so many shelters at capacity, PAALS has become a kind of safety net.
“I could tell you stories for days,” she says.
Diane, who’s had a career as a rock singer, who’s been married five times, who grew up on a dairy farm, has always been drawn to animals. In fact, she says her intense love of animals may be part of the reason those marriages didn’t work out in the end.
But she certainly isn’t lacking in love. Between the love she shows the animals and people who come to her home, and the love and admiration those who come in contact with her have for her and the work that she does, Diane is surrounded by affection.
But it doesn’t come cheap. Running an organization like PAALS takes blood, sweat, tears and money.
“Medical costs and hay are the biggest expenses,” she says. “A bale of hay used to cost $4. Now it’s about $10,” she says.
She explains that when she started The Dreampower Animal Rescue in 1990, she had quite a bit of her own money and good funding. PAALS, on the other hand, didn’t have a large donor to start and throughout the years has struggled to stay afloat.
“This one has limped along, and for some reason, it’s supposed to exist,” she says of PAALS.
She says that those who surrender their animals and people who adopt from PAALS donate money, but those donations barely cover food expenses. Refinancing the ranch a few years ago has led to further financial difficulties and struggles with money continue. As a result, Diane says that anything helps. Donations of food, time, money, expertise (as in medical or construction) and materials are always appreciated.
And though money has been an issue, many animal lovers who hear about PAALS and the work that’s being done on Dreampower Ranch find themselves looking for ways to help.
Chris Kapechis, the Denver sales manager for Oskar Blues, is one such person. Upon learning of the nonprofit, he started teaming up with the Spot Bar & Grill in Golden to plan a fundraising event. The details haven’t been finalized, but he says that there will be some sort of occasion, likely an all-day fundraiser with bike races, food and a variety of other activities, on Aug. 29 at the Spot Bar & Grill. (Check Boulder Weekly’s calendar for more details as the date approaches.)
“It was a no-brainer,” says Kapechis, who has six pets of his own.
Having found PAALS, April is on a mission to recruit people to help the place that saved her dogs from the unimaginable.
“I really believe it’s a miracle,” she says.
“It was a rough, rough day. And the next day was rough. And we’re kind of having to learn to live without them and all of the things we just take for granted — the doorbell rings, and there’s silence, dropping food on the floor… Madyson drops food and just looks at it like, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ It’s been hard, but I know that they’re in a really good place and maybe even have a better life there,” she says.
And just as important, Madyson has a better, if somewhat lonelier, life, too.
“I thought it would take a long time for her to be laying on the furniture without saying ‘itchy,’ but besides the mosquito bites she has, she hasn’t said she was itchy since they’ve been gone. Her eczema is almost gone, too,” she says.
When Madyson is asked where Lucy and Montana are, she responds simply, “the ranch.”
And while it was the hardest decision that they’ve ever had to make, April is comforted by the fact that they can go visit the dogs whenever they want. In fact, April’s been to see them once already.
“They seem really happy,” she says.
Diane even told her that she could come stay with the dogs overnight if she wants. There’s a guesthouse for volunteers, and Diane has invited April and her family to use it when they need to see them and sleep next to their dogs, because no matter where they live, they will always belong to April and Gavin’s family.
As for Madyson, she’ll grow older, breathing easy, and one day learn that her dogs went to live on a beautiful farm. Some kids are told that same tale as a euphemism for having a pet put down. But this time it’s true.
Though she misses her pets, April says, “It’s just a real-life happy ending.”
How to help
People And Animals Living Synergistically (PAALS) is a program of The Dreampower Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.
P.O. Box 926
Castle Rock, CO 80104
The people at PAALS open their doors — and their hearts — to the unwanted or unadoptable companion animals that come to them from all over. They provide life-long care to the many that were once out of options, but now have years ahead to enjoy a good quality of life at their sanctuary on Dreampower Ranch, short-term care and adoption opportunities for adoptable animals. They also offer senior (and other) people and animals a place to interact therapeutically in a natural, beautiful setting. Through volunteering, becoming a sponsor, and/or providing the gift of in-kind donations, you, too, can help.
PAALS is a volunteer-only organization, so it is through the efforts of their volunteers that these things are possible. In return, their volunteers find it personally rewarding. They always need more volunteers to help animals get adopted at adoption events, to foster, or to help with fundraising or administrative tasks. If you would like to volunteer, please fill out the volunteer agreement (which can be found on their website at www.paalsforlife.com).
For questions regarding fostering, e-mail email@example.com
For other volunteer opportunities, e-mail . firstname.lastname@example.org
All of the efforts of the folks at PAALS would be fruitless if it weren’t for the generosity of individuals who, on behalf of themselves or through their employers, provide a majority of the necessary funds for medical, dental and nutritional needs of their wonderful “unwanteds,” particularly those that will live at the sanctuary for the rest of their lives. They operate primarily on monetary support from sponsorships large and small, from individual donations, endowments from estates, trusts or other financial vehicles, to corporate giving with some supplemental funding from grants and adoption fees. These tax-deductible donations are very important to their ongoing operations, and there are so many more homeless animals that need help. E-mail email@example.com for more information on in-kind or monetary donations.
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