On June 11, 2013 a fire broke out in the Black Forest located just north of Colorado Springs. The evacuation area covered 94,000 acres (147 square miles). By June 20, 2013 the fire destroyed 509 homes and pets, large animals and livestock were taken to three locations including the Elbert County Fairgrounds near Kiowa.
On the night of June 11 John and Linda Kryder of the “Great Pyrenees Rescue and Sanctuary, Inc” (PY Rescue) were trying to evacuate the animals from their location off Windy Pine Drive South-West of Kiowa. After several phone calls Trent (T.C.) and Pamela (Toby) Chappel of “Lonesome Dove Rescue” 3 miles south of Kiowa became aware that they would have to help John and Linda move the animals. When they got the call the police were already closing roads and the Chappels could see an ominous glow in the direction of the Kryders.
Forest fires are very unpredictable and dangerous. The fire can suddenly leap to another location, the smoke alone can kill you and if you don’t know exactly where it is it’s best to know you have an alternate route. But Elbert Road, where the Chappels had to travel, is a long 23 mile stretch from the Chappel’s home without many exit options. Later they wrote, “The truth is all we wanted to do was get the animals loaded and get out of there. Dropping our daughter at a friends home and driving into the fire zone that night felt crazy. The glow of the fire, smoke like thick fog and the empty roads left a sense of doom. This was probably the first time I had driven the Elbert road and not seen wildlife (and) that made me feel uneasy. The news reports were vague as the fire was too hot and moving too fast for anyone to really say where the fire was and going. The Kryders had lost phone service. Turning off Elbert road we could see the flames of the fire and the news report says the fire had crossed Meridian Rd. headed East one mile west of the PY Rescue. It’s not a night we will forget.” In the end, the animals were loaded, the Chappels made it home around three in the morning and the fire was eventually stopped one half mile from PY Rescue.
I became acquainted with Pamela Chappel (“Toby”) of “Lonesome Dove Rescue” in January of 2014 when she emailed me with some questions. She and her husband “T.C.” were trying to explore ideas on how to advertise their activities. It may have been as simple as that but the enthusiasm that came across in her emails intrigued me so I went and took a closer look at their website.
In a January 31, 2014 email Toby expressed their mission in a way I thought was unique. She writes, “Our mission is to help and save animals and their owners in desperate situations and offer assistance and the hope of a better future for all involved”. That’s not a typical mission statement and the words “animals and their owners” is worth noting. In an email sent February 1, 2014, as I was working on this article, she writes, “I will call you sometime soon, today we are heading to a horse rescue four abandoned, two are in poor shape yesterday we had a call on two abandoned llamas! This has been a tough season for everyone with the hay prices”.
In every case, whether it is their website or an email, I am struck by the sense of community. They are not only sensitive to the animals they’re also sensitive to the owners. People who may not understand how to properly take care of an animal or may have just found themselves in a bad financial situation. By not stigmatizing the owners as bad people they encourage them to surrender animals they can no longer take care of and they can often help to educate owners in a way that the animal does fine.
Toby started feeding a starving horse she acquired and started leash breaking puppies for a breeder at age 11. She is a professional groomer, worked as a Veterinarian Technician, managed pet stores and worked with and for many of the top horse trainers in Colorado. I am told that Lonesome Dove Rescue started when a horse named Mattie bucked off her owner. They picked up Mattie just one day before she was going off to a slaughter buyer, restarted her and found her a new home.
Every time I looked closer at and heard from this family I couldn’t help but think there’s a lot more going on than just rescuing animals. It’s the bigger story of sentient beings (animals and people) and community spirit. The idea of the Chappels working to spare the animals and the owners from suffering. Write about the Chappels saving animals and I’m right back knee deep in “community”.
Case in point. When we hear about animals being starved we are tempted to curse the owner, shake our heads and wonder how on earth could this happen. But while we’re pointing our fingers we don’t often consider that something is going on behind the scene or that there is a salvageable situation there.
Early on there was a horse named Lucy and other horses listed on Craigslist so the Chappels went out to see them. The owner was nervous, scared and angry. His horses were starving. While visiting the Chappels learned the man had children, was out of work and that he inherited both the herd and the bills. He was blaming the horses for the loss of his father and his situation. The other members of the family were demanding top dollar for the horses and refused to help him with the feed bills. The Chappels tell me they “left shook up that night” and “decided to take a chance on a mare” even though they were working out of pocket trying to help. But the mare died during the night. They found a new home for Lucy and the money received for her was used to buy hay and feed for the other horses.
Still trying to help the Chappels found a buyer for the rest of the horses, but because of the family demand for top dollar the offer was declined. Another friend knew of a job for the man and a feed store donated close to a ton of damaged hay. As they tell it, “We let the hay fall off the truck on his driveway, told him about the job and let him know if we didn’t see improvement in the horse’s condition he would be reported.”
The Chappels note that to this day, “he still calls to thank us for our kindness and giving him a hand up instead of a hand out”.
As they were still forming the policies for their new rescue organization people were losing their homes due to the economic down turn. Still working out of pocket people were now calling them to take their animals. Every time they tried to stop their was someone else asking for help. No kill rescues were full “and the odds were stacked against the animals at kill shelters.” When people tried auctioning off their horses the slaughter house buyers seemed to be the only ones willing to pay.
Now that the Chappels run “Lonesome Dove Rescue” as a 501(c)3 they’re still doing many things out of pocket. They handle most of the minor veterinarian, farrier, and grooming work themselves as well as dog and horse training. They have taken in horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, sheep, llamas and various birds. They socialize and retrain animals to help them find and keep a “forever home”. And they have educational programs for first time owners and youth, working with the 4-H and groups like the 4-H geared toward the youth. This spring (2014) they are starting a “Kids Go Light” project to teach kids how to properly work with and respect horses. The expressed intent is, “to save the unwanted horses, to teach kids how to build a lasting relationship with their horse and keep kids safe”.
The “kids Go Light” program will be teaching “soft hands”, gentle technique, how to better communicate and build a trusting relationship with your horse. It will emphasize safety, knowing your horse’s anatomy, de-spooking, rail work, arena work, trail rides and the power of being gentle.
One day a mother called Lonesome Dove Rescue and wanted to turn their horse over because she felt the horse was crazy and too dangerous for her 11 year old son. Toby went to the county horse show where he was showing and worked with four kids around the same age. The boy came up to her after the show and told her he took “reserve champion” (second place) in his class. Toby said she was so proud of him and that he was her champion. He is now going to ride in “Kids Go Light” and his mother kept the horse.
T.C. and Toby work together at Lonesome Dove Rescue (LDR) with a gracious lady named Bonnie Wilkinson and Scott, Cindy and Kevin Houghton. Bonnie supported LDR so much, adopting two horses and a Silky Terrier, donating food, dog houses, providing foster care and helping with some difficult rescues she is now Vice President. Cindy does the photography work and helps maintain the LDR website and along with their son Kevin they either help with rescues, or look after the animals at LDR when T.C. and Toby have to be away. They also adopted several of the horses.
We don’t often think of animal rescue people among our unsung heroes, but the next time you see a disaster on the news pay attention to the people out there stacking animal carriers and the people who are missing the animals they dearly love. Try to think about these family groups constantly trying to feed and care for the animals they have to look in the eyes every day. These are not well off people doing this as a hobby, they’re dedicated people often working out of pocket to take in animals others either can’t or won’t. People trying to help the helpless among us. People who feel the pain of an animal thrown in a ditch.
Take a look around once in awhile. Go out and participate in your area. Donate a little time and money so they can feed the animals and get them medical care. Think about adoption. It can be fun and will leave you feeling just a little bit better. And if you see Toby and T.C. out there, take a moment to thank them for all they do; tell them I said Hi. For all the people who give so much to the community, let’s give a little back as a community.
For more information on “Lonesome Dove Rescue”, to donate, learn about upcoming activities or how to sign up for the “Kids Go Light” program click here: http://www.lonesomedoverescue.com
A Final Note
As I was working on this article Toby sent me some bad news. A horse named Peaches which they dearly loved passed away on January 18, 2014. Twenty days later in Virginia Beach, at 11 am February 7, 2014 Casey, my little shadow, passed away. It was a moment when a sense of community reached across borders between people who have never met. So me and the Chappel family thought we would memorialize the animals, who give us so much unconditional love, by sharing with you their pictures.