Union Leader, July 8, 2012
Lancaster nonprofit farm offers disabled dogs, horses a safe sanctuary
By KRISTI GAROFALO
Special to the Union Leader
LANCASTER — A quiet dirt road in Lancaster leads to an extraordinary place of safety, laughter and most importantly, love and acceptance for disabled animals.
Steve Smith and Alayne Marker started Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary in Montana in 2000 as a place for disabled dogs and horses to live in a loving home-style environment.
In Montana, the animals were spread out in several “cottages” and winters were long and brutal even by New Hampshire standards.
But most of all, the husband and wife team wanted the best possible environment for their family of disabled animals.
“When we made the move to New Hampshire, we wanted to go from ‘home-style’ to a true in-home environment and get them all under one roof,” Smith said.
They changed the name of the nonprofit to Rolling Dog Farm when they moved to New Hampshire in 2010, bringing 10 blind horses and 30 dogs with various disabilities.
In their new home, each dog has its own “bedroom” in a cozy kennel in the “dog wing” and enjoys the outdoors in safe fenced environments.
“We tell people what we do here is like a day care center and a nursing home,” Marker said, holding a blind dachshund named Daisy. “And Steve always adds ‘there’s a frat house element, too’.”
Resident “frat boy” Travis is a handsome blue-eyed mixed breed from Washington. He has a rare muscle disease called masticatory myositis, related to muscular dystrophy.
His jaw is fused so he’s fed a special liquid diet, but his clown-like personality shows in his smile and his trick of greeting guests by “sharing” a mouthful of water in their laps.
Bugsy, a blind pug mix from North Carolina, had his eyes knocked out of his head. Since coming to the farm, he’s learned to trust Smith and Marker implicitly.
Horses, too, find Rolling Dog Farm to be a safe haven. The farm’s first official resident was Lena, a Quarter Horse mare blinded in a training accident. She now helps new residents adjust to the farm.
Cash, a Quarter Horse with championship reining linage, was born blind and joined the farm at 4 weeks old. He was trained for riding in 2010.
The couple knows each of their resident’s histories by heart, along with their quirks and personalities. They affectionately ask for — and get — good manners from all their pets.
“We expect the same behaviors and manners you would of any dog,” Smith said. “We don’t cut them any slack just because they’re disabled.”
Smith and Marker know their limits — they don’t take aggressive or paralyzed animals, or those with behavior problems. They have three barn cats, but don’t take disabled cat residents because Marker has severe allergies.
The farm is supported by private donations and residents come from rescue organizations all over the country. Most are adoptable, although some with special needs are residents for life.
In their years of running the farm, Smith said the attitude toward disabled animals has changed as people realize disabled pets can have a wonderful quality of life.
“All they want to do is love and be loved,” Marker said. “And they just want us to give them a chance to keep doing it.”