Kindred Spirits’ annual open house celebrates a much-needed addition for older dogs
It’s family at Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary, a place of comfort for older dogs, horses and poultry.
Salvador, crippled from years of abuse — most likely as a pit-bull bait dog — is sure to greet visitors at the gate with a friendly wag. Other dogs — some holding back, letting more gregarious canines be among the welcoming party — excitedly await a friendly pat or a smile. In the distance, one can hear the contented clucks of poultry, nestled around a huge juniper.
Off to the side is the pasture and stalls of two rescued horses, Bo and Loki, abandoned by their previous owners. The lovingly tended animals, both 28 years old, can be found sunning themselves or simply patiently awaiting attention.
First-time visitors to the animal hospice and elder care are often surprised that this sunny spot off N.M. 14 near the Lone Butte General Store isn’t a dumping ground of gloom; a sad spot where animals come to die.
Longtime volunteer Tom Alexander says that impression quickly disappears the moment one steps foot inside the gate. “The fact is, this is a very happy place,” said Alexander, a Kindred Spirits board member and humane educator/youth board adviser for the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society. “There’s a lot of joy and a lot of love here.”
And for many of the larger dogs, the place they call home has become even more comfortable. Volunteers are putting the finishing touches on a large room off the main house. It provides refuge for the big dogs and room to hold workshops and conferences to carry on the nonprofit’s secondary mission: outreach and education about caring for senior animals.
To celebrate, Kindred Spirits is hosting its Spring Grand Open House from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and May 11. Aside from tours of the serene sanctuary for rescued animals, there will be free talks on senior care from health-care providers.
But the new room is the highlight of the open house, said founder and director Ulla Pedersen.
The much-needed addition has been a major undertaking since October. Area contractors and builders donated much of their time and materials after a few key people visited the sanctuary and saw the need for more shelter.
“They really have done this for the old dogs,” Pedersen said. “While they were here building, we didn’t have the fence up, so we had to have the dogs on leashes. The contractors all had a dog on a leash and Salvador was sitting up there with a hard hat on. It was fun for them.”
Doug Cox volunteered to be general contractor for the project and pulled in friends and associates, Pedersen said. Gary Ehlert with the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association joined the effort, along with Centex Homes and Douglas Maahs of Honey Do Home Repair. Cox said in Kindred Spirit’s newsletter that working on the project has given him a chance to give something back for all the unconditional love dogs have given him over the years.
The timing was wonderful, Alexander said, because of the cold winter. The room was ready for the dogs by Christmas, although volunteers have been busy with the finishing work since then. More help is needed with landscaping and drainage, Pedersen noted.
“This room represents a lot of things,” Alexander said. “It’s a warm winter quarters for older dogs, but it will help to bring our message outside of the gate. We have a perfect place for workshops.”
The larger dogs — smaller ones are sequestered in the main house or in the front portal area — have quickly claimed the space as their own. On a recent visit, several dogs gathered around Pedersen and then settled comfortably into soft, cushiony dog beds. Assuring that the animals — most abused or abandoned — are comfortable in their final days is the sanctuary’s mission. It’s what sustains Pedersen, a nurse, to continue the often labor-intensive work.
“When I feel the joy and the restored sense of trust in being alive in many of these old animals, that restored joy and trust in life, however short, it makes it totally worth it,” she said. “It can be difficult, but that feedback (from the animals) is really rewarding.”
Riot Anasazi, a dachshund who recently died, is an example of the kind of healing that takes place at the sanctuary, Alexander said. Dropped off at a northern shelter after his owner had died, the dog was gravely ill and wouldn’t eat. Unadoptable, depressed, unable to walk and with no future, the dog somehow found his way to Kindred Spirits, where he was diagnosed with cancer.
“Everyone thought he just had days to live,” Alexander said. The dog rebounded in the safe environment, regaining his strength. He lived almost a year at the sanctuary.
“That little trooper, once he started eating a bit,” he started to enjoy life and interact, Pedersen said. “The thing is, they get the sense of a community of their own kind, feeling safe and welcome and wanted. Somehow they get something and just blossom.”
The hospice focuses on pain management, restorative care and proper nutrition, Pedersen said, not invasive treatments such as chemotherapy and surgery. “We keep them comfortable and give them medication. There’s a lot of what we call ‘brush and cuddle.’ ” Anasazi died peacefully during his siesta, Pedersen said. “It just couldn’t have been better for that little fellow.”
Incorporated as a nonprofit in 2002, the sanctuary currently has 20 dogs, about 65 poultry and two horses. Some 14 volunteers help Pedersen with daily care, but there’s always room for more, she said.
With the new room, Pedersen said, she hopes workshops can expand. Aside from end-of-life care of animals, coming workshops include nutrition and estate planning. Previous workshops have included sessions on celebrating the life and grieving the loss of a companion animal.
The best place for older animals, Pedersen said, is at home among those who love them. “Some people think that they can bring them here, and that’s not the case at all,” Pedersen said. “Hopefully, people will be inspired because of what we do. It’s not the only way to do it; but basically, the message is: go home and do it at home.”
Kindred Spirits Open House
10 a.m. to 4 p.m., May 10 and 11
3749-A N.M. 14
Visit the Web site at www.kindredspiritsnm.org
This story by Ben Swan was originally published in the May 4, 2008 edition of The New Mexican.