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Ailing and injured dogs heal and find homes at Highland Lakes Canine Rescue

Highland Lakes Canine Rescue

Lab technician Devin Osbourn (front) with Highland Lakes Canine Rescue board members Vicki Davis (left), Janelle Boutte, and Michaela Black, as well as Survivor, who has overcome anxiety issues and other ailments with treatment at the rescue facility. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

He’s named for Marvel Comics’ Drax the Destroyer, but he was certainly not in fighting form when he arrived in July at Highland Lakes Canine Rescue with an enlarged heart, a bad case of mange, and anxiety. However, after only 30 days, Drax, 3-year-old Catahoula leopard dog mix, was transformed into a healthier, more relaxed pooch who should be ready for adoption by early 2024.

“You wouldn’t even know it was the same dog,” said Jeanette Murphy, a member of the Highland Lakes Canine Rescue Board of Directors. 

Drax and most of the 20-30 dogs at the rescue facility in rural Marble Falls come from other shelters that lack the space or facilities to handle animals with physical or emotional needs. 

Cedric, who was rescued from a hoarding situation, is another good example of how Canine Rescue works. The highly anxious dog was re-socialized and, after almost a year, was recently adopted into his forever home. 

“He never would have had that 11 months in any other kind of shelter,” Murphy said. “He’s a big beautiful dog, sweet, but he kept away from everyone. He was too anxious, and he was easily bullied by other dogs.” 

Those socialization skills only develop after hours of volunteer and staff time spent walking and playing with the dogs. In Cedric’s case, it also took anti-depressants, but the behavior of most dogs in the shelter improves with time, attention, and kindness. 

During the day, the rescues roam around in large, fenced areas with toys, shady trees, and one or two other dogs, depending on how they get along. They are given treats and put to bed at about 5 p.m. by facility manager Cody Broker, who lives on site.

The shelter’s mission began in 2001 with a group of people collecting and fostering dogs under the banner of the Highland Lakes Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “Banner” is an apt word. They had no facility and only took healthy dogs — into their own homes.

“We were tiny, and we didn’t have much funding,” Murphy said. “We didn’t even have a kennel!”

That changed in 2007 when Suzanne Owens and her late husband, Jerry, of Owens Sausage fame, bought the 15 rural acres that have since become Highland Lakes Canine Rescue. The property included a house and garage but nothing else. The couple installed large pens in the back for dogs. In the case of bad weather, the animals were crated and put inside the garage. 

A board of directors formed and established Highland Lakes Canine Rescue as a nonprofit. They also raised enough money to build indoor, climate-controlled kennels with piped-in music to keep the dogs calm. 

“These dogs are living the life,” said Devin Osbourn, lab technician and social media director for HLCR. “It’s not the same as in a home, but it’s pretty good.” 

As the shelter grew, the mission morphed into a focus on rescuing dogs with medical needs rather than taking in healthier strays and quickly adopting them out. Now, about 80 percent of HLCR’s pet population are dogs with health issues.

“We have found now that we are filling a gap that exists in the system,” Murphy said. “We help the big public shelters open up space so they can take in more dogs, while we take these dogs that need a little more time, a little more attention.” 

HLCR does not advertise where it is located or have signs on its gate. This helps prevent unexpected animal drop-offs.

“It’s dangerous and puts the other animals at risk,” said Janelle Boutte, a board member and volunteer coordinator. “We are a rescue and a shelter. We don’t take in strays.” 

Boutte organizes the many volunteers it takes to support the organization at full capacity, whether working directly with dogs or helping with communications or fundraising. 

The volunteers who work on site with the animals walk them twice a day, which is when most of the behavioral training is done. The volunteers are also trained. After an introductory session to learn about the shelter, new helpers go out twice with a dog and an experienced volunteer before taking off on their own.

“The dogs need to behave in a certain way, so we teach everybody to do the same things when they are walking them,” said HLCR Executive Director Brittany Osbourn. (Brittany and Devin are sisters-in-law.) “We are not set up to facilitate high-volume adoptions. Where we can best serve our community is to take and help dogs that need more time.” 

While laid-back country living does provide that, being so far from a city center has a few drawbacks. In the spring of 2022, staff, volunteers, and animals had to evacuate because of a wildfire. 

“We got a little religion from that,” Murphy said. “We applied for a grant from the Lower Colorado River Authority to put in a water tank, which is out there now. The caveat being that it’s available for the fire department, too.” 

The place is never left untended, which was a good thing when a major winter storm hit in February 2021. The dogs were brought into the house to keep them warm, but then the power went out and the water froze. The power came back on fairly quickly, saving the day, but the board decided to invest in a generator. 

“The generator is hooked up to the kennel, not the house,” Murphy said with a laugh. 

The indoor kennel also has a quarantine area and an intensive care unit to give sick animals time to heal. 

Brittany Osbourn came to Canine Rescue over four years ago after working for the Highland Lakes Humane Society in Buchanan Dam. Part of her job there was serving as a euthanasia technician. She has nothing but praise for the job done by local shelters to help strays, but she relishes the fact that Highland Lakes Canine Rescue is a no-kill facility. 

“The quality of life is exemplary here,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many dogs we have healed from heartworms, bad hips, the kinds of things that are reasons for public shelters to put an animal down.” 

Drax is a good example. His paws are now healing, and when he showed signs of a urinary tract infection, a vet discovered his heart problem during a full checkup. Drax was prescribed twice-daily medication to increase blood flow and ease pressure on his heart.

“If we can succeed in suppressing the antibiotic-resistant infections in his paws, he could just finish growing out his hair with adopters,” Devin said. “It is hard to say when Drax will be ready to go home with a loving family since his paws are still having flare-ups, but we have high hopes that he will be healthy before the new year.”

Like his namesake, Drax projects strength and loyalty. Is anyone looking for a superhero to join their family?

Lend a paw

Highland Lakes Canine Rescue is a nonprofit organization that depends on grants, donations, and volunteers. Here are a few of the things you can do to help fulfill the shelter’s mission of rescuing sick and ailing dogs. 

Donate food — Because of the special needs of the animals, the facility asks for any of six standard diets: senior, puppy, sensitive skin, grain-free, adult, and small bites. Check out the online wish list at

Donate medications — Antibiotics and leftover medications for heartworm, fleas, and ticks can make a big difference in a sick dog’s quality of life. Call 830-693-0569.

Donate money — Donations are accepted anytime online

Volunteer time — Volunteer opportunities include advocates for adoption and adoption followup; coordinators for social media, events, and inventory; graphic design support; dog transport; newsletter editor; photographers and videographers; database upkeep; and more. And, those who want to work with the animals can do so with just a little training. Find out more at

Foster — Every dog going into a foster home makes room for another that needs medical attention. Fostering saves dogs’ lives. Text HLCRFOSTER to 41444 to learn more. 

Adopt! — Check out Dog of the Week in The Daily, an email newsletter for, or call the rescue center to find out about available dogs. Fill out an application, have a phone conversation, and come meet your new family member.