Case Study: Saving Aussies

NorCal Aussie Rescue Sanctuary
By Marcia Barkley, June 2010, Updated February 2015

From the driveway, NorCal Aussie Rescue Sanctuary looks not much different from most other properties along the winding roads of the Sierra Nevada foothills in northern California. It’s fairly modest and well-maintained, and the steep slope is shaded by Douglas fir and manzanita. Look closely, though, and there are differences, most notably a double-gated entry. Then … Paddy is probably the first to come bounding out of the green-painted clapboard building into the sandy, fenced space along the driveway, followed closely by a tumbling dozen other Australian Shepherds. There are blue merles and a black tri and a couple of red merles … and a Dachshund puppy.

Kim Kuenlen had wanted a dog most of her life, but circumstances conspired against that until early 1999, when she acquired Buddy, a blue merle Aussie. When she eventually started seeking a mate for Buddy, friends awakened her to the fact that the world really did not need more puppies; a little Internet research quickly informed her of the thousands of dogs who are abandoned each year. She contacted a rescue group, asking “How can I help?” and in less than 24 hours, took in her first rescued Aussie. Kim’s professional career included high-level fundraising, and when she was given the opportunity for early retirement, she put those skills to good use. In December 2003, NorCal Aussie Rescue was born as a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. Kim’s goal was a full-throttle Aussie rescue operation.

The sanctuary, which sits high on a hillside in Grass Valley, Calif., opened in November 2006, with puppy-mill mama Noel and her pups as the first residents. Now it is home to 20-plus dogs at any one time. There is professional-quality kennel space for 14. The remaining dogs sleep in the house, and they are all rotated through the house for a few days at a time, giving each of them the opportunity to learn or retain the manners necessary to be a good pet.

In NCAR’s first official year, Joey sailed to his new home on Catalina Island, then Reno went to Sausalito. Cricket found happiness on a small ranch, and Moose got a home with a swimming pool. Thanks to foster families throughout northern California, and a small but devoted group of volunteers who help with grooming, transportation and property maintenance, that was just the beginning of this success story. The dogs are mostly Aussies, but there’s the occasional mix, or a “pocket dog” (like that Dachshund puppy). Kim is unceasingly vigilant about whom she allows to adopt—she knows that Aussies, with their energy and herding instincts, aren’t a good fit for just any household—and still she finds home after home for the unending stream of dogs that need help: nearly 900 in six years.

Visit the sanctuary at

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 59: Apr/May 2010

Courtesy of Marcia Barkley