Elderly canines find sanctuary in Bertram

Living Grace Canine Ranch

The building at Living Grace Canine Ranch will have more than a dozen dog apartments, according to founder Rhonda Minardi. She, Blaze (left), and Gracie look forward to seeing it furnished and full. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

Living Grace Canine Ranch in Bertram will soon provide homes for senior dogs abandoned because of their age and frailties or the health of their aging owners. Founder Rhonda Minardi’s vision for the nonprofit rescue sanctuary includes separate apartments large enough to accommodate one big canine or two small dogs that come in as a pair or get along well. 

“Every apartment will have its own patio so they can go outside to get sunshine on their faces,” Minardi said. “At night, the door is closed and locked. We’ll have 14 to 16 apartments.”

This past spring, Minardi broke ground on the building, which will also have a dog grooming station, indoor and outdoor play areas, and overnight quarters for volunteers so someone is always on site to be with the dogs. Current plans also include a second building for more dog apartments that she hopes will be built in the spring. The sanctuary plans a soft opening on Dec. 12.

“We’re going to be full as soon as we open,” she said. “We’re getting so many phone calls.”

Minardi realized the need for a home for senior dogs last year after visiting a shelter where she picked the names of dogs off a Christmas tree. She wanted to buy presents for the animals. She noticed right away that most of the dogs on the tree were elderly. 

“Senior (dogs) have bigger problems,” she said.“Their medical bills are often higher. People take the seniors to shelters. That’s why we have so many.”

She also noticed that the older dogs did not fare well in those shelters. 

“In many cases, they’re terrified,” she said. “They’re not used to new surroundings with all the noises.” 

Once she discovered the overall need, the problem hit closer to home. When her mother, Carmelita, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her first question was who was going to take care of her dog, Lucy. 

“I never thought that would be the first thing out of her mouth,” she said. “I get it now. I said, ’Mom, we’ll find someone.’”

Lucy got lucky. She found a home with Minardi’s niece Kayla. 

“A lot of times, it’s to the shelter (for these dogs),” she said. “We have these dogs who always had love, but their owners passed away. The dog is devastated and gets put in a shelter and misses its mom and dad. These dogs become depressed, and they quit eating. No one should die alone, whether it be human or canine. No one should have that.”

Three dogs are already receiving care with Minardi: Gracie, a pit bull mix who was living in Corpus Christi; Rosie, a blue heeler whose owner had to move to assisted living; and Lucky, a 12-year-old beagle mix whose military owners were transferred overseas and couldn’t take him because he is too old to travel safely.  

Gracie was used as bait in dog fights.

“A lady called me in April saying, ‘Is there any way you can help this dog?’” Minardi said “‘She’s going to be euthanized.’” 

The dog had more than 100 bites on her head and a severe limp. A veterinarian diagnosed her as blind and hearing impaired. The vet also discovered a collapsed trachea as well as heartworms and hookworms.

Rosie, the blue heeler, is also blind. Minardi took her in and found her a temporary foster home until Living Grace Canine Ranch is ready for full-time tenants. 

And, then, there’s Lucky. He came to Minardi on Sept. 1.

“He’s totally depressed,” she said. “He’s waiting for his mom to come back. He sits and howls. He wants a person. I’m looking for a foster with no dogs.”

The need continues to grow as word gets out about the ranch. Currently, Minardi and her board of directors are seeking donations of money or equipment, such as a washer and dryer, a refrigerator, a stove, and furniture for the office and living space. She hopes to soon raise $70,000 to complete the first building. 

“We’re looking for sponsors to buy the dogs’ apartments,” she said. “Every apartment will be auctioned off, so if a company wants to buy an apartment, we’ll name that apartment after that company. Their names will be displayed forever.”

Even in death, the dogs won’t leave the sanctuary. Minardi is creating a cemetery for them on the 4.5-acre ranch.

“They’re here for the remainder of their lives,” she said. “They’ll come here and thrive and live the rest of their lives and feel loved and feel secure.”

A full list of the facility’s needs can be found on its website at livinggracecanineranch.org

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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