New Mexico's Pet Resource FALL 2003



Text and photos by Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.


Just south of Santa Fe on the Turquoise Trail is a four-acre oasis, which provides care and hospice for unwanted and elderly dogs, horses and poultry. Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary’s (KSAS) unique mission is accomplished through direct services to more than 50 animals and educational programs focusing on the aging process and needs of elderly animals. Spend an afternoon at the sanctuary and you will come away with your spirits renewed by the enchanting cast of senior residents and the woman who brought them all together.


The animals at Kindred Spirits are part of the family. The 10 dogs roam freely through the fenced-in rural setting. The two horses have a large arena for exercise and individual stalls, barn and paddock for their comfort. More than 40 chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl and peafowl live in a huge poultry yard with trees, roosts and shelters. The avian area is secured from predators by a high, protective mesh covering. Throughout the grounds, framed photos - fond remembrances of past residents – peak out from flowerbeds or under trees. The elderly thrive here. In fact, the care is so good that many of the residents live longer than average lives. There is Henrietta, a 10-year-old turkey hen. Two of the canine residents are 19 years old. Most of the residents have some type of chronic ailment associated with advanced age. Whether blind, deaf, or arthritic, the care is top notch and most improve dramatically once they are on sanctuary health programs designed for their special needs.


Ulla Pedersen is the director of KSAS. A registered nurse, Ulla has always been drawn to providing compassionate care to those who are in the last stages of their lives. She is a lifelong lover of animals. The sanctuary’s name describes her feelings about the bond that she feels with all living things. In the 1990s, Ulla decided to focus on her passion for and the comradery she felt with animals and older humans. She began to rescue unwanted dogs as she continued her work as a critical care and hospice nurse. She saw similarities in the needs of elderly humans and dogs. She dreamed of the day that she could put her knowledge of end of life care to use in helping aged animals.


For 10 years, Ulla took in needy animals. She did this selflessly, and handled all of the expenses herself, creating a network of veterinarians, rescues, shelters, and feed stores who shared her vision. By word of mouth, people learned that there was a knowledgeable, caring woman who was devoted to giving long-term care and permanent homes to older dogs. Eventually she took in older horses and poultry, too. Ulla was raised on a farm in Denmark. Often while her parents were in the fields, she and her siblings stayed in the barnyard with the chickens as their babysitters. The farm also had horses and dogs. For Ulla, these animals are her “kin,” the ones to which she has been most personally connected in her life. The calls for help grew, and she knew that it was time to expand her efforts. In February, Ulla incorporated her dream, Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary, as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization.


Animals find their way to KSAS by many paths. Each resident has his or her own story. Take Chaco. His life was spared when a Santa Fe Shelter worker saw the dignity in this deaf and homeless dog nearing the end of his years, and called Ulla. Chaco, now 15 years old, thrives at KSAS.


Willie is the canine founder of Kindred Spirits. He came to Ulla in 1988 frightened of people, his skinny body full of shot pellets. He had been found surviving on pinon nuts in the forest east of Santa Fe. He was unapproachable. A kind woman fed him throughout the winter of 1986-87, and eventually was able to take him to the Santa Fe Shelter. With his fearful nature, he was not adopted. Ulla found out about him and brought him home. Willie is now 19 years old and one of the living legacies of KSAS.


Tico is the smallest of the resident dogs, but has one of the biggest hearts. A mere handful of Chihuahua, Tico was found running with a pack of large dogs outside Pecos last September, spotted by someone concerned that the frail little fellow would not make it through the winter. His owner was found, but no longer wanted 18-year-old Tico. He arrived at KSAS full of fleas, all skin and bones, no hair, and no teeth. In a spiteful domestic dispute between the husband and wife dog breeders who had first owned Tico, the husband had all of Tico’s teeth pulled out so that the wife would no longer be able to show him in competitions. Though frail with osteoporosis, Tico is still a charmer with his trademark pink tongue smile. Now 19, Tico knows the security and care of a permanent loving home.


Why did the chicken cross the road – or in this case I-25? Last April, this chicken apparently lost her way, and was found walking along I-25 in Albuquerque. A motorist scooped her up and brought her to KSAS. Highway Rita, as she has become known, is a beautiful red hen. Named for Rita Hayworth, she is doing well at Kindred Spirits, and there is a certain handsome red rooster - Big Red - of whom she is rather fond.


Sophie, a bundle of blonde poodle fluff, is 14 and blind in both eyes. Her blindness was trauma-induced. She was the only survivor of a horrible case of neglect involving multiple animals in Tennessee. As law enforcement officials carried out the dead animals, someone noticed this poor creature hiding under debris, tethered by a tractor chain around her neck. At the time of her rescue she was 13 years old and weighed just nine pounds. The people charged with this extreme cruelty were convicted. Sophie found her way to KSAS in May of 2002. She now weighs 21 pounds, and is happy and healthy, her spirit revived by the unconditional love she receives at KSAS.


Ulla limits the number of animals at the sanctuary so that each receives the best of care. Currently the sanctuary is full. New residents are admitted only as space becomes available. There are specific criteria used by Ulla to admit animals to the sanctuary. Only dogs, poultry and horses are accepted. Animals must be elderly and exploited, infirm or needy in some way that makes them unadoptable. Animals must be compatible with other residents. Ulla also considers the financial resources of the sanctuary. As funding becomes available to expand the facilities, the number of residents will be increased.


A hospice unit is being planned for animals with less than six months to live. Based on human hospice models, each animal at KSAS ends his or her life with dignity, surrounded by compassion, respect and the best palliative care possible. We should all be so fortunate as to live out our final years in an environment of unconditional love and unparalleled care that are the hallmarks of Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary.


Please visit the KSAS web site: . You can volunteer to work at the sanctuary, select an item to donate from the wish list, sponsor a resident, and donate money. Special events are planned, such as the KSAS Benefit Art Opening on Friday, September 26th. This event will feature the art of the Cuban-American artist Olga Deulofeu. Twenty-five percent of all sales that evening will be donated to KSAS. The sanctuary is not open to drop-in visitation. Please phone ahead for an appointment (505-471-5366), or visit during one of the great special events. See the web site for details.

Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is an animal behaviorist and educator who worked at the Boston Zoos for 15 years. She lives in Cerrillos with her husband, five rescued dogs (three greyhounds, two terriers) and three horses.

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