Second Chance Sled Dogs | bark
At this Utah-based rescue center, pulling a dog sled is part of the rehabilitation program. The other part is the owners’ dedication to helping every dog find and live their best life.
At Rancho Luna Lobos, outside Park City, Utah, it’s all about the dogs. More than a decade ago, with the help of his wife, Dana, Fernando Ramirez was able to combine his lifelong passions for dog rescue and dog sledding to create a new hybrid: a rescue and non-profit rehabilitation and a professional racing kennel. Although you won’t find many purebred Siberian Huskies here, you’ll see their DNA in many of the lithe, blue-eyed, long-legged dogs that call this place home.
Rancho Luna Lobos is family owned and operated, and the family lives on site. Every day, Fernando, Dana and Jon Rameriz (Fernando’s brother), the ranch manager, spend hours caring for the dogs, working with local animal control and northern breed rescue groups, and to help people understand what their dogs need so they can keep them at home. Without forgetting to raise their children and to give the dogs the possibility of doing what they like: to run.
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Running joins Fernando’s other passion, dog sledding. Part of the rehabilitation program involves hooking the dogs up to the gang line and seeing how they react. Fernando and Dana believe wholeheartedly in channeling a dog’s energy into something that’s right for them. Ultimately, however, it’s up to the dogs to decide. “We believe in allowing dogs to show us what they need to thrive. So only if they love it, we will train them to run with the team. Those who don’t like it are put on the path to their best life, whatever it ultimately is. Some of the dogs are adopted by people who have attended summer camps and musher programs. Lacking a good fit, others become permanent residents – sleeping in the sun or running and playing in what Dana calls the “doggy pueblo,” a fenced-in section of the ranch with heated and air-conditioned homes the size of a dog in which they can relax.
Most dogs at Rancho Luna Lobos are owner-abandoners. At first, many dogs came from shelters, but as the program grew and word spread, people began dropping their dogs off at the Ramirez’s backyard. Finally, they put a door in their driveway and asked people to call ahead. These days they have a waiting list of people who feel they need to return their dog. Because Fernando and Dana ask shelters and other rescue groups to send them their most difficult cases first, this list can get quite long.
One way to shorten it is to help people understand the breed and better integrate their dogs into their lives. As Dana describes the process, “If there’s a way for us to help train and/or rehabilitate a dog, and then work with the family to find the perfect blend in their daily lives, that’s our goal. Dogs sometimes stay with us for six months or more before being reunited with their families. It’s a wonderful experience, to help families who really love their dogs but just need a little extra work to find their groove.
Luna Lobos Dog Sledding is Fernando’s professional racing team. Unlike most professional kennels, these dogs are not bred for this purpose. On the contrary, they are donated by other kennels or recruited as part of the rescue program. There are differences of opinion about sled dog racing. Some find it inspiring, others think it’s abusive. As Dana says, “A lot of times people worry that dog sledding is cruel and we force those dogs to run. But that’s the one thing we can’t teach, that drive and passion to run. At Luna Lobos, the balance always falls on the side of what a dog wants and needs.
These two operations require a lot of time and resources. To support them, Fernando and Dana offer a variety of fee-based services, including boarding, daycare, and training, as well as various education-based seasonal programs. Money earned on the racing circuit goes to Sledding for Hope, the kennel’s non-profit organization, and ultimately, their rescue work.
Something that Fernando says at the end of moon dogsa documentary on the rescue, kennel and race team, sums up well why he and Dana do what they do: “These dogs, I believe in them.”