Joy Is Contagious
Laura Bratcher of Helena, Montana is one of the sanctuary’s regular volunteers. Two years ago, when she was looking for a place to donate her time, her daughter happened to see a photo of a Chow featured on the ranch website and urged her mother to check it out. Impressed, Bratcher contacted Smith and Marker to arrange a visit. “It took me two days to recover,” she said. “The passion and commitment of Steve and Alayne was so clear.” Bratcher learned the animals’ stories and about Smith and Marker’s vision for the sanctuary. “You get to touch and feel these animals. I had worked six months at the Helena Animal Shelter, and the atmosphere there was desperate—to place the animals. The animals felt it. At the ranch, it’s so peaceful. The animals are taken care of for life, and they know it. It’s just so different. I cried that first night.”
Bratcher is now a regular at the ranch. She makes the 150-mile round-trip once a month and helps any way she can. During her first visit as a volunteer, she built cat runs so that the cats could bask in the sunshine filtering through the windows of their house. “I learn something new from the animals every visit. They’re so happy. They don’t know they’re disabled!” Bratcher has adopted four animals from the sanctuary: Winchester the cat, who had been shot four times; Chance, an older, deaf Lab mix; Bandita, one of 28 cats rescued from the attic of a hoarder (only eight survived); and most recently Rudy (formerly known as Wobbly Wilbur), a six-month-old Jack Russell/Poodle mix with cerebellar hypoplasia, a condition that affects his balance and fine motor skills. Bratcher assures me that Rudy “is a pistol; he just bumps into things and keeps going!”
As can be imagined, it takes an enormous amount of work to shelter, feed and exercise such a collection of animals, let alone attend to their varied health-care needs and vet visits. “It’s a 24/7 job,” says Smith. “It’s a lifestyle, an intense personal commitment.” Despite living in such a beautiful area, not far from Yellowstone, Smith hasn’t gone trail running and Marker hasn’t gone hiking—activities they enjoyed back in Seattle—since starting Rolling Dog. Only in the last year did they feel comfortable quitting their day jobs and focusing completely on the ranch.
The added incentive—a special reward—that keeps Smith and Marker so committed and dedicated to their cause is the simple joy of living exhibited by each of the ranch’s animals as they romp and play. Others thought these animals were hopeless cases. At Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary, not a single animal feels sorry for himself. There is no hopeless case. “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” says Marker about working with, and on behalf of, these animals. Smith heartily concurs.