Happy, a bright-eyed, Long-Haired Dachshund, fell off her owner’s bed and ruptured a disc in her back. The accident left her partially paralyzed, and she would need extensive rehabilitation for a shot at a decent life---care her owner could not provide.
Fortunately, Happy was turned over to Danny Robertshaw and Ron Danta. In their professional lives, Robertshaw and Danta train show hunters. They also operate Danny & Ron’s Rescue, a nonprofit, no-kill rescue for dogs in need.
The rescue provided Happy the surgery she needed, as well as orthopedic therapy and lots of patience and kindness while she healed. Today, she can walk and run again. She will always require specialized care, but she now has a permanent, loving home with a woman who manages her own handicaps and understands firsthand the difference she can make in this little dog’s life.
Happy is one of more than 8,600 dogs that Robertshaw and Danta have rehabilitated and rehomed since Danny & Ron’s Rescue was established as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization in 2008. Back in the 1990s, the two began taking in shelter dogs facing imminent euthanasia, three and four at a time, and finding them homes. Then, after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005, leaving many pets abandoned and in need, their efforts expanded. Today, they continue to take in abused, abandoned and starving dogs of all ages and breeds---up to 1,500 per year. The rescue is strictly a no-kill operation, and they look at each dog as a lifetime responsibility.
“Once the dog comes into our rescue, they’re in our rescue for life, whether they’re adoptable or not adoptable,” Danta says. “We promise every dog that we take out of a shelter, or a cruelty case or a court case or anywhere, that once they enter our rescue they’re in a safe haven.”
Bringing them home
Danny & Ron’s Rescue doesn’t look like a typical dog shelter. “Our organization is very different, in that our dogs don’t live in kennels,” says Danta. “They live in the house, as part of the family.”
Most of the small- and medium-sized dogs taken into the rescue live in Robertshaw and Danta’s home in Camden, South Carolina. Larger dogs, and those that require rehabilitation, live nearby at Beaver River Farm, the 22-acre facility where Robertshaw and Danta keep their show horses. At any given time, says Danta, they might have from 30 to 60 dogs living with them in their home, including 14 nonadoptable permanent residents. They also house rescue dogs at their farm in Wellington, Florida, as well as in foster homes.
At each location, the dogs live together in a pack. This arrangement, says Danta, is natural for them, and it helps them learn canine social skills as well as recover from any social or mental issues they may have. Fearful dogs become braver, for example, in the company of more outgoing individuals, and high-energy dogs settle down and learn better manners from the calmer ones. Dog trainer John Martino also donates his time, working with the dogs on other behavioral issues they may have, Danta says.
Newly rescued dogs receive a full range of veterinary treatment, as needed, including flea and tick prevention, heartworm testing and treatment, spaying and neutering, dental care, grooming and bathing, and vaccines. They come from all sources: Some are surrendered by owners who can no longer care for them, or family members after the owner passes away. Some are “overflows” or dogs on the euthanasia lists at shelters. Others are abandoned dogs found wandering as strays.
“We are constantly getting calls like, ‘This dog is on the highway, can you come pick it up?’” says Danta. “We have to go pick them up. It’s an endless job.”
Dogs and horses
Robertshaw and Danta are well-known on the show circuit. Robertshaw is a member of the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) Licensed Officials Committee and serves with the USEF Hunter Breeding Judges’ Clinic. He received the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. Danta is Chairman of the USHJA International Hunter Derby Task Force and has received the USHJA President’s Distinguished Service Award four times.
Robertshaw and Danta balance the demands of operating a dog rescue out of their home while also keeping up with the travel schedule of the typical show season with the help of volunteers, as well as five full-time staff members, who care for the dogs at each location.
But their constant travel on the show circuit also works in the rescue’s favor---Robertshaw and Danta take adoptable dogs with them wherever they go, and they seek potential adopters at each event. “We’ve gone to a lot of big horse shows, but any place we go, we’re always taking dogs,” says Robertshaw.
Robertshaw and Danta and their dogs receive a huge amount of support from their network of equestrian friends. No matter where they go, Danta says, they have never run across a horse show manager who didn’t encourage them to bring the dogs to be adopted.
At the busy events, there are always volunteers ready to help Robertshaw and Danta manage the dogs they bring.
“We have a lot of horse show moms who love to give their time, and there are so many children who like to come and walk the dogs,” says Danta. “We set up a tent up at the top of the hill at the Grand Prix ring at a show recently, and we got seven dogs adopted in there.”
Debbie Smith, owner of Running Fox Equestrian Products, a tack shop in Caledon, Ontario, helps out by fostering dogs at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington each year, and she takes adoptable dogs back to Canada to place them in homes.
Danny & Ron’s Rescue also receives significant financial support from prominent members of the horse show community, including several who support endowments. John and Stephanie Ingram, for example, sponsor the Josh Labrador Fund, in memory of Josh, a Labrador Retriever once owned by Stephanie. And Betsee Parker, PhD, donates prize money won by her ponies and horses.
“There’s no way Danny and I could do it---saving the amount of animals that we do---if it were not for the true heartfelt animal lovers in our horse community,” says Danta. “It’s very special. We’re very lucky we survive strictly on donations.” They do not charge adoption fees for the dogs they place.
Danny & Ron’s Rescue also aids dogs owned by others. Trainer Missy Clark created the Dandelion Medical Fund, which is used to provide financial support for dogs outside of the rescue---to finance surgeries and advanced veterinary care for dogs whose owners couldn’t afford it and might otherwise have to give up their pets. Robertshaw and Danta also subsidize spaying and neutering when owners can’t afford the procedures, and they provide funds to help elderly people feed and get veterinary care for their dogs when they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to keep them. “I really enjoy that end of it,” Danta says. “The people that really love their animals---I love allowing them to keep them.”
Dogs ready for new homes are listed on Danny & Ron’s Rescue Facebook page. Potential adopters can see photos and read descriptions about each dog’s personality, preferences and history. Robertshaw and Danta very carefully consider what’s best for each dog, and they won’t let them go to just anyone.
“It doesn’t have to be a horseperson, but we have to know somebody somehow that has verification of what kind of dog owner this would be,” says Danta. “We want the type of person that’s going to follow up with their shots and whatever they need and keep them safe for the rest of their lives.”
If no one in Robertshaw and Danta’s extended community can vouch for a potential adopter, they’ll call that person’s veterinarian to find out how they treated their last animal. Robertshaw says they also carefully consider each individual dog’s personality, habits and background to decide what kind of situation it would be best suited for. While one may be the elderly woman’s perfect lapdog, another might thrive in a busy house with kids and a jogging partner.
“These dogs are rescues, so a lot of times they’ve been through a lot before they come to us,” says Robertshaw. “We pretty much know which ones will be suited for what. Some work instantly and some take a while to adjust fully to the home they’ve gone to.”
Because Robertshaw and Danta have promised each dog that he will never be in a shelter again, their adoption contracts are strict. An addendum states that if the owner can no longer keep the dog, at any point in his life, for any reason, Robertshaw and Danta will be notified and the dog will be returned to them. Per the contract, if the dog is taken to an animal shelter or given away to anyone else without the approval of Danny & Ron’s Rescue, a $5,000 fine is incurred. Danta happily reports that only one contract has ever been broken.
If Robertshaw and Danta ever need a reminder of the impact they have on dogs’ lives, all they need to do is go to a horse show. “Danny & Ron” dogs are everywhere. “No matter where I go, judging or anything, people are always bringing their dogs up to me that came from us,” says Robertshaw. “I judged the Royal Winter Fair the other year, and I must have seen 15 dogs there that came from us.”
The dogs don’t forget the kindness and care that was given to them, either. On more than one occasion, Robertshaw says, an excited dog has run up to Danta and him at a horse show because it recognized their voices from afar. It seems they are quick to remember the kindness that had a lasting impact on their lives.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #452, May 2015.