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Ovando's Rolling Dog Ranch fetches $20K Shelter Challenge prize


By MARTIN J. KIDSTON Helena Independent Record | Posted: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 10:00 pm

OVANDO - His name was "Gabe" and he arrived at the Rolling Dog Ranch both deaf and blind.

Only after Steve Smith and Alayne Marker agreed to take in the dog did they discover the cancerous tumor blocking his sinuses.

"He couldn't hear, he couldn't see, and now he couldn't smell," said Marker, who co-founded the animal sanctuary in 2000 with Smith. "He couldn't smell or taste his food. I had to feed him a bite at a time with my hands to get the food to register with him."

Euthanizing the animal would have been easier, but the Rolling Dog Ranch doesn't do things that way.

So Marker and Smith paid the veterinary costs to have the dog's cancer removed, and while they couldn't restore Gabe's sight or hearing, they did restore his sense of smell.

The story is repeated time and again at the Rolling Dog Ranch, which takes in disabled animals from around the country. That dedication and care has garnered the sanctuary its share of attention, making it one of the better-known shelters in the nation.

Despite the ranch's reputation, however, it came as a holiday surprise when Marker and Smith learned that Rolling Dog Ranch had won the most votes in the national Shelter Challenge.

The online contest, hosted by Petfinder and the Animal Rescue Site, includes a $20,000 first-place prize.

"Talk about a phenomenal Christmas present for the animals," Marker said. "We spent about $46,000 on medical (care) this year. It's one of our top expenses for the animals. This prize will help a lot with that."

The Rolling Dog Ranch edged out a strong field of competing shelters. A second-place prize of $5,000 went to the Denison City Pound in Iowa while a third-place award of $3,000 went to the Oasis Sanctuary in Benson, Ariz.

A winner was also selected from each state. In Montana, the Rimrock Humane Society in Roundup won the most votes, earning a $1,000 prize.

Based in Ovando, the Rolling Dog Ranch takes in a wide array of disabled animals, from blind horses to cats and dogs with neurological disorders.

As a result, medical bills are par for the course, though Marker said 2009 was an unusual year.

"We had some large medical expenses and procedures this year that all came at the same time," Marker said. "It's part of what we do. It's just that this year, we had some larger, expensive procedures."

"We give the animals every chance we can," Marker added. "As for Gabe, he's doing great. When he first came back from the vet, you could see the joy in his face when he realized he could smell again."

Helena Independent Record reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at (406) 447-4086 or [email protected].

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