This profile was published in Kansas Alumni magazine.
Lawyer heads to the hills to tend abused animals
Gracie the paraplegic cat. CeCe the dog with muscular dystrophy. Beauty the blind mare. Katie the pet cow who was on her way to a butcher. Myrtle the sheep whose ears were chewed off during a pit bull attack. Lola the hog whose herd was abandoned one winter by a pig farmer who left them in a pasture with no shelter, food or water.
These are the animals that might not be taken in because of space constraints and staff limitations or that wouldn’t be given enough time to be adopted if they went to a traditional animal shelter. But these souls find peace and comfort at Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary, run by Alayne Marker, l’84, and husband Steve Smith in Ovando, Mont.
Some of the 80+ animals can be placed in new homes, it just takes a little longer to find the right match. Many, though, will live the rest of their lives on this ranch that covers 160 acres of grassland in the Blackfoot River valley of western Montana.
“We fill that gap so the animals don’t fall through the cracks.” Marker said. “We give them the chance to live their lives here or the time to find the families that can handle their special needs.”
After graduating from law school, Marker took a job in her native Wichita with Boeing, which eventually moved her to Seattle. She went to a local adoption fair where she found her dog Spats and discovered the animal rescue group movement. Soon afterward she found Steve, also an animal lover.
“We just came together and this is the direction we took,” Marker said. “We didn’t even have to talk about it. We both had the passion and silently moved toward it.”
Marker and Smith bought the ranch in 1998 with the idea of moving from Seattle when they retired 10 years down the road. But in December 2000 they gave up their lucrative jobs to open the sanctuary.
“The need was there and we had the ability to do it,” Marker said. “We have no staff and this is a very physically demanding job, so we’re not sure we’d haven been able to do it if we’d waited 10 or 15 years.”
They do not take a salary from the sanctuary, so between feeding, medicating, taking animals to the vet’s office an hour away, pitching hay or digging out snow both work from home – Marker does legal work and Steve is a marketing consultant. They’ve put their life savings into the sanctuary, which now has two barns, three animal cottages, three large animal sheds and their home.
The sanctuary is supported by contributions: the more money they raise, the more animals they can take in. But they are careful to control their growth so that each animal gets the care it needs.
“Words cannot describe how it feels when you can help in this way,” Marker said. “People place so much faith and trust in us, it’s overwhelming. It’s a wonderful feeling. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”