HARTVILLE – John Ramer has worked in animal sanctuaries for most of his life but his introduction to Wyoming’s Kindness Ranch in March of 2018 was perhaps his greatest adventure to date. It wasn’t an animal adventure.
On the week that Ramer was hired as a care worker in one of the dog yurts, Wyoming experienced an extreme blizzard that pretty much trapped Ramer in his new surroundings with 12 large dogs. Since the trainers live in the yurts during a canine’s rehabilitation, he grew very close to those dogs and the dogs in the next yurt and the felines in the cat yurt.
Ramer was the only employee. The “new guy” if you will. The others could not get to through the drifts to feed or care for the animals. He was stranded there for 10 days before people could get through with food and supplies and much needed help.
“No animals died on my watch and I didn’t get killed,” said Ramer. “My director told me that if I could withstand that initiation, I would most likely make it at Kindness Ranch. And… I got a raise right away.”
Ramer is extremely good with animals after having worked in sanctuaries for 21 years before coming to Kindness Ranch. He is especially gifted when it comes to working with large dog breeds, mixes and even wolves. His talents were immediately put to use and after that raise, it wasn’t long before he was promoted to executive director of the 1200-acre sanctuary just off Highway 270 in Hartville. The promotion came after working at the 14-year-old sanctuary for 12 months.
The sanctuary was created and developed by Dr. David Groobman who is an Oregon psychologist who, according to Ramer, never really stopped practicing and utilized those around him, from friends to colleagues, who had expertise in the areas that would bring a quality to his vision. Ramer calls Groobman a “fantastic idea man who delegates very well and found the right people to put the right facilities in place to fulfill his vision.”
In other words, he did not micromanage people who had the expertise to see and implement his dream. He let them run with their talents and encouraged them to be creative in their giftings.
“He founded the sanctuary as a passion,” Ramer said. “He wanted to have animals that were used in laboratory research and teaching facilities to be retired rather than the alternative which was euthanasia and incineration. He’s a doctor who was aware of how many animals were being used in clinical trials, laboratory testing and veterinary teaching facilities.”
The fate of all of those animals 15 years ago was all euthanasia Ramer commented. Groobman knew from his medical experience that many of the animals used in testing could be rehabilitated and adopted out. He bought the property in two different phases and little by little over time invested a lot of money in getting the sanctuary that he envisioned.
“It was to be a sanctuary not only for the animals, but also provided a destination for people who wanted to experience Wyoming and be around animals,” Ramer said. “Also, that the animals were not needlessly disposed of. We could offer the animals a thank you for their service. We could also enrich the lives of people looking for a companion animal.”
The sanctuary is home for many domesticated animals. At this time, they have three cows, six pigs, 11 horses and mules, three sheep, a goat named “Kevin” and two rabbits.
“Currently we also have one dog on the sanctuary, but we have 44 cats,” Ramer said. “One of the most beautiful things that I love about living and working out here is the amazing ecosystem that’s actually on the property. The ecosystem is mostly untouched and on 1200 acres there is a lot of room for these animals to run and play. As an amateur photographer, I like taking pictures of them too.”
Ramer, like his friend and visionary Groobman has similar leadership styles in development of a quality sanctuary.
“I can see the end result of something and I have no problem delegating and finding people to help me attain that,” Ramer said. “That’s really important for a lot of moving parts out here with 1200 acres and at any given time, close to 100 animals and facilities maintenance, it’s more than one person can be skilled enough at. You have to be able to rely on a great team.”
With half of Groobman’s vision to create a place for people to enjoy the animals, there were yurts built on the property. Some for the animals, some for guests who wanted to come visit and perhaps spend some time with the animals, and he also developed his own summer yurt on the property that has spectacular views of Laramie Peak, and features five bedrooms and six bathrooms.
“People can stay on the property and volunteer with the animals, go hang out with some horses, go pet some cats, take some dogs for a walk,” Ramer said. “We have a fantastic pig right now named Sally who thinks she’s a dog and she’ll roll over on her back and let you scratch her belly. It’s not quite like Disneyland for animal lovers, but it’s an all-inclusive retreat for animal lovers to be able to come out and just be away from the sound of traffic and sirens and really just decompress for a while.”
The employee with the longest time of anyone at the sanctuary is Mary Miles from Denver, who primarily is in charge of the cat yurt and the 44 cats and actually lives in a yurt at the sanctuary.
“I’ve been here over nine years,” Miles said. “I started part-time and it turned into full-time. I just loved it from day one. I’ve always loved animals and this is the place to be. My greatest challenge is not falling in love with every cat and wanting to take him home. Actually, though we spend more time with these animals than we do with our own.”
The staff all live on the sanctuary and some actually live with the animals they are training.
“Our dog caretakers actually live and work with the dogs 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Ramer said. “They actually live in the same yurt as the dog. They are the most dedicated behavioralists that you could ever meet. They spend all of their time trying to rehabilitate the dog.”
Ramer began his life after high school in Rockaway, Ore., which is near the Tillamook Coast. He went on to college, majoring in music. Not a qualifier for working in sanctuaries, but then again, it was William Congreve who said, “music has charms to soothe a savage beast.”
For a kid from a small coastal town to working with primates, wolves and various other animals, he has established himself as a veteran and respected animal behavioralist. He was most recently contacted by Tia Torres, made famous by her show on Animal Planet called “Pit Bulls & Parolees.” She had taken on a project near Dallas, Texas, where a man was trying to breed wolves with wild dogs. According to Ramer, those dogs are valuable and in demand in the south. She called upon Ramer due to his success with large breed dogs and his success rate for rehabilitation.
Ramer took a team down to Texas and was used to help live trap these dogs on the property and to consult with Torres as to the future possibilities of these animals. They came to the property and found mass chaos and animal anarchy.
The also found the owner had hung himself and the wild dogs were feeding on this man’s corpse, suspended from a tree.
There is not much that Ramer hasn’t seen in his colorful past with animals, but the abuses and the filth in this situation brought tears to his eyes, a lump in his throat and a sickness to his stomach. The group that Ramer brought down teamed up with Torres’ people and the television show has taped it for the final two episodes of the current viewing season.
Ramer has contracted to adopt four of the dogs pending DNA testing. In Wyoming, there can be no dog rehomed with strains of wolf in the bloodline. One dog that Ramer has already brought back tested negative for wolf DNA, but was a wild and skittish dog who has a long road ahead of him.
The staff has named him “Q” and he now resides in one of the dog yurts on the sanctuary. According to Ramers, the dog is adjusting slowly to the new environment and to humans.
The entire interview with John Ramers and a special video of the project to live-trap the wild German Shepherds in Texas can be seen in an upcoming episode of our weekly television program, “Homespun.” For more information about our shows, please visit us at www.pcrecordtimes.com.
The hours at the Sanctuary for volunteer visitors are from 10 a.m. to noon and then again from 2-4 p.m. Their business hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ramer recommends that you call ahead to visit and set an appointment, especially if you are considering the rental of a yurt for a night which rents out for $150.
For information about Kindness Ranch, please visit them at: www.kindnessranch.org/ and for reservations for tours, yurt rentals, animal volunteers, employment or general information, you can call the sanctuary at (307) 735-4177. The Kindness Ranch is a full nonprofit and corporation and your gifts are not only appreciated, but tax deductible.