Lakota Spoolman and her Desert Rescue Animal Sanctuary are both proudly off the grid.
Located in Cold Creek, some 40 miles northwest of the Strip, Spoolman’s 6-year-old nonprofit shelter isn’t prime real estate for attracting animal rescue donors or volunteers, but it’s perfectly suited for rescue cases most urban shelters would never see.
“Just this morning, we took in a dog that was lost in the mountains six months ago,” Spoolman said Oct. 11. “This hunter had come up to the mountains, and his dog’s tracking device failed. He got in touch with us from a (Utah) area code, but he didn’t think (the dog) was ever coming back.
“This is why we do it. Cases like that make it all worthwhile.”
Spoolman, a former veterinary school student and canine behavioral specialist, wishes all the sanctuary’s cases were that uplifting.
These days, most animals housed on the sanctuary’s ranch aren’t so much lost as abandoned — casualties of everything from neglect to an ongoing economic downturn that’s seen plenty of horses left in the desert by owners who can no longer afford to feed them.
Spoolman said the sanctuary houses five such cases, including Spirit, a mustang she and sanctuary volunteers spotted wandering the desert “half dead” a few years ago.
“When we found him, he was just skin stretched over bone,” she said. “He had a brand on him, so we searched him in the brand (registry), but most of the time we don’t find an owner.
“In those cases, when we can’t find an owner, they’ll stay here for life. They go through a two-week quarantine for medical and psychological evaluation, but then they’re staying with us.”
The recession hasn’t been all bad news for Desert Rescue. Spoolman suspects lighter wallets have left many pet owners unable to splurge on new pets, making this a banner year for sanctuary adoptions.
But adoption fees collected by the sanctuary don’t come close to defraying the cost of food, shelter and medical care for five horses, four sheep, three rescued cats and a grab bag of more than a dozen chickens, turkeys, goats and iguanas.
That’s where Desert Rescue co-founder Donna Mead comes in. Mead, a project manager for Las Vegas-based architecture firm Steelman Partners, found $6,000 to fund the nonprofit out of her own pocket last year.
It wasn’t the first time the 49-year-old dipped into her own bank account to fund the sanctuary and, with Desert Rescue’s board still working to finalize the nonprofit’s federal tax-exempt status, it might not be the last.
Even with a federal nonprofit designation, the sanctuary could face an uphill battle for attention from business donors and a shallow pool of full-time volunteers, though it attracted unwanted buzz over the recently announced closure of the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center.
Planned shuttering of that federally funded facility could see the euthanization of hundreds of desert tortoises previously protected by the Bureau of Land Management, a move that earned the ire of prominent conservationists and plenty of confused residents who called volunteers at the similarly named Desert Sanctuary.
Within a week of the Desert Tortoise Center’s announcement, sanctuary board members posted an online disclaimer registering shock over the move and clearing confusion between their group and the BLM conservation outfit.
The irony, of course, is that if Spoolman and Mead could have collected a dollar for every phone call meant for the “tortoise killers” at the Conservation Center, the pair might be in a lot better position to take on the flood of tortoises the sanctuary has seen in the past few weeks.
Such is the luck, Mead said, of a nonprofit volunteer.
“The biggest hurdle (to volunteering) is always the financial burden,” she said. “There’s a lot of things I’d like to do with the rescue — build a nice tortoise environment; rebuild horse stalls — that’s why we’d really like to get (federal nonprofit status), to get those people who would like to donate for the (tax) write-off.
“But I haven’t run out of money, and I don’t think there’s a limit to how much I’ll put into it because the alternative is not trying to find a home for (the animals), and I can’t do that.”
For more information on Desert Rescue Animal Sanctuary, contact the group at 702-275-2125 or visit desertrescue.org.
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at 702-477-3839 or firstname.lastname@example.org.