The cobalt blue house is a lone splash of color in the otherwise washed-out desert landscape east of Colorado Springs.
A spacious and fenced front yard is filled with pea gravel and a couple of large squares of used AstroTurf, left over from a long-ago football field somewhere in Colorado.
This is The Old Mutt Hut, a new rescue that accepts old, homeless dogs from shelters and rescues, and the baby of animal lovers Sharon Peters and husband and wife Terry and Debra Plotkin. The trio dreamed of a rescue where dogs could have free roam, never be crated or kenneled, snooze on couches and be loved on by a 24/7 caregiver.
“We’re targeting dogs who don’t have a home,” Peters said. “We have to walk a really careful, thin line. We want to help old dogs who need us, but we don’t want people who have an old dog to regard us as an easy outlet when the dog they’ve had for 10 or 15 years is a little less convenient, as old dogs, and old people for that matter, become.”
The Old Mutt Hut’s front door opens, and out trots the welcoming committee. There’s 16-year-old Molly, a beagle, the rescue’s first acquisition. Her owner died suddenly in a hospital, leaving three dogs at home that nobody realized were there for several days. When they finally were discovered, Molly wasn’t doing well. But with some help, she’s back to her old self and looking for her forever home. She ambles along, due to arthritis in her hips, but medication, regular acupuncture treatments and massage are helping with her pain and movement.
“Molly is loving because she’s been loved,” said Peters, who was USA Today’s pet columnist for five years and is the author of the 2012 book “Trusting Calvin: How a Dog Helped Heal a Holocaust Survivor’s Heart.” Before that, she was The Gazette’s editor from 2001 to 2005.
Then there’s white-muzzled Pinto Bean, a 5-pound, 15½-year-old chihuahua bundled into his sturdy winter jacket. He needs to be leashed at all times outside, as he can look like a snack to a hungry hawk.
Pinto was found on a busy Colorado Springs road and taken to Bijou Animal Hospital, where they failed to find a microchip. Staff worked to save the frail little guy, and he fought to stay alive. He now gets medicine for an ulcer on his eye and congestive heart failure, but he’s a trooper. He soaks up attention and wants a person and home of his own.
Chewy and Clancy, a Wheaten terrier mix and a retriever mix, respectively, round out the pack. Chewy’s the house dog. She belongs to Rebecca Robillard, affectionately known as the Mutt Mama, who lives full-time in the one-story house and cares for the dogs. Clancy belongs to Peters, a frequent visitor to the rescue.
“I always wanted to work with animals, and my mom and I talked about opening a sanctuary,” said Robillard, a former veterinary technician. “I love animals. They love wholeheartedly, and they can end up in unsavory situations. I want them to roam free and not be stuck in a kennel.”
Beginnings of a rescue
Longtime animal rescue volunteers Peters and Debra always commiserated over the fate of old dogs.
“We talked about how sad it was that the dogs wind up in kennels,” said Peters. “Old dogs are the most vulnerable. They wind up in a place through no fault of their own with strangers. Often they don’t make it out alive.”
Debra died of breast cancer right before Christmas three years ago, before the friends could make their dream a reality. And on Christmas morning, Terry showed up at Peters’ front door and told her they needed to make the rescue happen for his wife and the dogs.
About six months later, the two started to look at properties, decipher zoning laws and work on attaining nonprofit status. Eventually, they homed in on the rescue’s current location, a family home that had been on the market for 16 hours and already had two offers. They closed in February and started the renovation.
Volunteers spent more than 1,500 hours cleaning, laying flooring, painting, weeding, moving 24 tons of pea gravel, organizing fundraisers and securing donations of materials and supplies. Almost everything, including 2,000 square feet of vinyl flooring, gallons of paint and dog-friendly furniture, was donated.
“As a nonprofit, if the community supports us, we can give our care and attention to the dogs and not worry about the bills,” said Peters.
In late August, the Colorado Department of Agriculture issued the Mutt Hut a license, enabling it to start bringing in dogs. They’re allowed up to 15, though that number might trend lower, depending on the issues and care needed for the animals. Enough property was purchased for the creation of a second and third Mutt Hut, with each also housing up to 15 dogs, plus a caregiver.
Most of the area’s shelters and rescues and some veterinarians know about the Mutt Hut. Peters has received many requests to take in dogs, including from people who don’t want to care for their old animals anymore. She helps coach the owners on finding ways to care for the dog, suggesting to them that asking a 16-year-old dog to adjust to a new home with new people isn’t fair.
“Most of them have been OK with the reasoning,” she said. “We do what we can to keep them in the house.”
If the rescue does accept a dog, they’ll be vetted for aggressiveness, which would be a problem due to the living accommodations. They’ll spend a week in one of two isolation rooms, which also are used as an office and a bedroom, to make sure they don’t have a communicable disease, such as kennel cough. And then they can integrate into the pack.
Although The Old Mutt Hut has two available dogs, adoptions aren’t on the table quite yet. Because the rescue is still so new, there aren’t enough volunteers yet to do home checks, an important part of the adoption process and one that most animal rescues enforce.
“We don’t have to rush it,” said Peters. “We have to make sure the dog is a good fit for the environment.”
Once adoptions are up and rolling, if the ideal person or family wants to adopt a dog, there will be no fee.
“We will be thrilled that someone wants to adopt an old dog,” she said, “and pledges to care for him or her until the final day.”
Contact the writer: 636-0270