Dogs romp in large fenced pastures on a 16-acre ranch in western Oregon’s rolling green countryside. Swiss milk goats, alpacas and bunnies frolic nearby. Bordered by a park, a golf course, lush woods and the Nehalem River, the cage-free boarding facility known as Oregon Canine University at Indigo Ranch looks like an idyllic solution for Portland-area residents who need to board their dogs. But it’s a solution of another kind for Indigo Rescue, which takes on some of the region’s most challenging (and expensive to maintain) homeless animals.
This small, grassroots group, based in Beaverton (just outside Portland), has turned to the for-profit world in a way that could be a model for other organizations. Executive director Heather Hines sums up the challenge simply: They’re competing for donor dollars against much larger, more highprofile shelter and animal-welfare organizations, and traditional fundraising events, drives and grants won’t get them where they want to go. To achieve their goals, they need to be innovative.
Hines and two others founded Indigo Rescue 14 years ago to find homes for hard-to-place dogs and cats. Partnering with Washington, Multnomah and Columbia county shelters, Indigo Rescue takes in ill, injured and disabled dogs and cats who would otherwise be euthanized (or simply not accepted by some shelters). In other cases, they provide foster homes for animals who are failing in the shelter environment.
The founders initially funded their work out of their own pockets, with donations and through traditional fundraising efforts such as dog-wash events. They had an early, out-of-the box success with their “one-man’sjunk recycled jewelry” sale, for which they collected and sold donated jewelry. Now in its 12th year, the jewelry sale is highly anticipated and always a big success.
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Then, in late 2005, the group received a bequest. “We went, holy moly, we’re somebody,” Hines says. “And so we thought, what should we do? Should we squander this bequest on vet bills and various other expenses or should we try to build a legacy and a perpetual source of funding? We decided to embark on a business.”
In addition to hiring Hines as the first and only staff member, Indigo Rescue bought the ranch in Vernonia, 32 miles northwest of Beaverton. In its first six months, the ranch was beset by a string of troubles. Real estate values plummeted. The cost of gas rose. People stopped traveling or, if they did, relied on friends and family for dog-sitting. A flood, the first in documented history, hit Vernonia. And Hines was diagnosed with cancer.
Suddenly, the rescue’s driving force was faced with a stressful, long-term treatment regimen and possibly death. “We had a meeting and voted,” Hines says. “I really pushed for going forward. I said, ‘If I do die, I want you to continue on. I worked my fanny off for this.’”
That didn’t change; Hines worked every day through treatment. She’s now in her final year of oral chemotherapy, and the ranch is on the verge of breaking even. Once it turns the corner, all profits will go to Indigo Rescue.
Continuing to think big and cover their bets, Indigo Rescue launched a second business last October. The idea grew out of the Indigo Ranch shuttle, which transports canine clients. For fun, Hines and volunteers decorated the windows with vinyl decal portraits of the various shelter dogs.
The results were so adorable that they decided to make them available to others through digmydog.com (as well as digmykitty.com and digmybuddy.com). A long-time supporter and professional sign-maker creates the decals; Hines and another volunteer do all the digital work, as well as the trimming and shipping. The hope is that this will become a second source of income for the rescue.
The seriously type-A Hines is motivated by a bigger vision. Once the rescue is fully supported, she plans to take aim at aggressively promoting spay/ neuter, especially in low-income communities and for Pit Bulls. The businesses are about providing long-term funding for long-term solutions, a bold and praiseworthy goal.