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Highland Ranch Sanctuary - Christmas Lamb


My first rescue was a Newfoundland puppy from a shelter and I never turned back - the pup lived with me in Boston and even went to work with me for about a year until a promotion took me from the loading dock to the front desk.

It was also my introduction to the sometimes distasteful side of rescuing animals - the previous owner who left the 10 week old pup at the shelter told the staff she wanted to make certain the dog got a good home but when I contacted her it seemed she what she really wanted was to charge me for the dog's AKC papers. Since I wasn't going to breed or show the dog I put the money into dog food instead.

The McGees Mills covered bridge near our country inn.
Highland Ranch Sanctuary,

That 200 lb Newfoundland bitch even accompanied me to some night school classes at Harvard where she was so quiet one professor didn't notice her for 6 weeks whereupon other classmates assured him the dog was no trouble at all. She was just quietly at my feet in the lecture hall until one day I got up to gather some papers - that's when this giant black head slowly poked up over the row of seats checking on me.

Some wild turkeys visit us most years.
Highland Ranch Sanctuary,

About two decades later after buying an old country inn in rural Pennsylvania (McGees Mills) Beth and I opened a Bouvier des Flandres breeding kennel and rescued a Bouvier at about the same time.

Her owner was in jail and his wife hadn't increased her food even though she had just given birth to 6 puppies - she was quite literally being starved to death at the end of her chain.

(Why does anyone get a dog just to keep it on a chain?)

When the owner got out of jail he promptly went back for what he did to his wife after learning how she had treated the dog.

Bouviers are very special dogs and require strict training. Given that training they make great pets or working dogs. Eventually we found it too difficult to match owners with these strong-willed and potentially dangerous dogs - after all, they herd cattle by getting in the face of bulls and making them go where the dog wants.

The breed is rare enough that we had buyers drive from Florida, Maine, and even fly in on a private plane.

Beth with our emu Harold, a rescue because the other emu where he lived were picking on him.
Beth with our emu Harold (don't ask me about the name, he had it when he arrived) - Harold was a rescue because the other emu where he lived were picking on him.
Highland Ranch Sanctuary,
But too few people who wanted a Bouvier seemed to be smarter than the dogs so we stopped breeding these wonderful herding and guard dogs. The Reagans had a Bouvier in the White House but Lucky got too big for DC and moved to their California ranch.

Unlike some unethical breeders, when we closed down we kept all the kennel dogs and moved them to our new ranch where they lived out their normal lives - not too difficult because all 13 had lived in our (large) home with us - never cadged - kennel referred to the business, not where the dogs were kept.

Two adult miniature horses running beside a 9 month old Great Dane. This isn't trick photography, the horses are only 31 inches tall.
Highland Ranch Sanctuary,

Bouviers are wonderful dogs but far too intelligent and strong willed for many owners to cope with. They were originally farm dogs (The Dog of Flanders) and were also used as war dogs - not exactly a substitute for a golder retriever.

When we moved to the ranch we quickly discovered a need for domestic large animal rescue, including some exotics and soon the ranch was filled with miniature donkeys, mini horses, some rare Jacob sheep, and even one emu.

Feeding miniature horses.

Highland Ranch Sanctuary,

The sheep we raised for petting zoos to help support the other animals.

We are getting a bit older (which is much better than the alternative) and are closing down the ranch due to an inability to properly care for the animals and recondition rescues.

We still have two miniature donkeys, one extremely rare miniature hinny (cross between a male horse and a female donkey - a mule is a cross between a female horse and a Jack) and a score of sheep.

St. Jacob Ram

Highland Ranch Sanctuary,

Due to the climate change which some people are for political or economic reasons denying, we are seeing earlier lambing each year - sheep mating season is governed by the first cold spell of the year and climate change means strange weather patterns, not just warmer weather.

The first lambs used to come in February but we already had two before Xmas this season. One is doing well out in the pasture with its "mamaaaa".

But we found the other one abandoned - since we are still a rescue operation at heart we brought it into the house to warm up. It took a while to get it to bottle feed and it still may not make it, but so far so good.

Bottle fed lamb at 3 days.
Highland Ranch Sanctuary,

We still have hopes some other rescue operation will want to take over - since we have gas wells with royalties the ranch actually does pay in addition to having a nice brick home.

One note about climate change - climate isn't weather so one year doesn't tell you anything, but plants and animals respond to long term changes and anyone in the northern part of the U.S. with a garden knows that growing seasons have changed so much that the decades old climate map everyone sees in those seed catalogs needs the zones to be moved at least 100 miles north - plants which aren't supposed to survive this far north are thriving almost to the Canadian border.

I intend to have a serious talk with Punxsutawney Phil about the climate situation this year right after Groundhog Day.

Read more about Phil in my NewsBlaze story

Find more photos of Highland Ranch at our community Web site,

There are winter scenes and photos of some of the other animals at:

You can keep up with Highland ranch at my Google+ site or Facebook and, if there is any positive response to this story, I'll be pleased to post more here about the animals at Highland Ranch.

Contact me through NewsBlaze if you want to read more about life here on Highland Ranch.

I even wrote a book about life on the ranch "Sheep in the Rafters" but never got around to publishing it - I may post some excerpts here on NewsBlaze if there is any interest.

John McCormick is a reporter, /science/medical columnist and finance and social commentator, with 17,000+ bylined stories. Contact John through NewsBlaze.

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