At this Utah rescue, dog sledding is part of the rehab program. The other part is the owners’ commitment to helping every dog find and live their best life.
Rancho Luna Lobos, outside Park City, Utah, is all about the dogs. More than a decade ago, Fernando Ramirez, with the help of his wife Dana, was able to combine his long-standing passions for dog rescue and dog sledding into a new type of hybrid: a non-profit rescue and rehabilitation center and a professional racing kennel. While you won’t find many purebred Siberian Huskies here, you will see their DNA in many of the blue-eyed, long-legged, lithe dogs that call this place home.
Rancho Luna Lobos is family owned and run by the local family. Every day Fernando, Dana and Jon Rameriz (Fernando’s brother), the ranch manager, spend hours looking after the dogs, working with local animal control and rescue groups for northern breeds, and helping people understand what their dogs need to keep them can at home. Not to mention raising their kids and giving the dogs the opportunity to do what they love: run.
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Running fits in perfectly with Fernando’s other passion, dog sledding. Part of the rehabilitation program is putting dogs on the gait line and seeing how they react. Fernando and Dana wholeheartedly believe in directing dogs’ energies into something that suits them. Ultimately, however, it’s up to the dogs. “We believe dogs can show us what they need to thrive. Only if they absolutely love it will we train them to run with the team. “Those who don’t love it are put on their way to their best life, whatever that ultimately may be. Some of the dogs are adopted by people who have attended the summer camps and musher programs. Without a good fit, others become permanent residents – sleeping in the sun or running and playing in what Dana calls “doggy pueblo,” a fenced-in section of the ranch with heated and cooled dog-sized houses to relax in .
Most of the dogs at Rancho Luna Lobos are owner surrenders. At first, many of the dogs came from animal shelters, but as the program grew and the news broke, people began dropping their dogs off in the Ramirez yard. Eventually they installed a gate in their driveway and asked people to call ahead. Nowadays they have a waiting list of people who feel they have to give up their dogs. With Fernando and Dana asking shelters and other rescue groups to send them their most severe cases first, this list can get quite long.
One way to shorten this is to help people understand the breed and better integrate their dogs into their lives. Dana describes the process as follows: “If we can train and / or rehabilitate a dog, then we work with the family to find the perfect mix for their everyday life. That is our goal. Dogs sometimes stay with us for six months or more before reuniting with their family. It’s a wonderful experience helping families who really love their dogs but just need a little extra work to find their groove. “
Luna Lobos Dog Sledding is Fernando’s professional racing team. Unlike most pro kennels, these dogs are not specially bred. Rather, they are donated by other kennels or recruited from the rescue program. There is disagreement about sled dog racing. Some find it inspiring, others find it exploitative. As Dana says, “Often times people worry that dog sledding is cruel and we make these dogs run. But that’s the only thing we can’t teach, this drive and passion for running. “At Luna Lobos, the balance always falls on the side of what an individual dog wants and needs.
Both processes are time-consuming and resource-intensive. To support them, Fernando and Dana offer a variety of paid services, including boarding, day care and training, and various seasonal, education-based programs. The money earned on the racetrack goes to Sledding for Hope, the kennel’s non-profit organization, and ultimately to their rescue work.
Something Fernando says at the end of Moon Dogs, a documentary about the rescue, kennel and race teams, sums up well why he and Dana do what they do: “Those dogs – I believe in them.”