Lake Chapala: Two Full-Time Volunteers Share Dog Ranch Duties


Not a Walk in the Park

By Susan Spalding Munroe

Syd Sullins and Carolyn Cothran co-manage the Ranch, a no-kill rescue facility that transports many of their adoptable street dogs to US shelters where they quickly find homes. There’s a shortage of dogs in many states mostly due to strict spay and neuter laws. Also, many US dog lovers seek mixes from other countries to avoid inbreeding problems. This works in the Ranch’s favor. Syd and Carolyn estimate they will have sent 200 dogs north this year, a 20 percent increase over 2018’s 160 state-side adoptions.

Five years ago, when the Ranch’s first manager chose not to continue, Syd, then a volunteer, single-handedly took over the job, bringing new inspiration and innovation. Three years later, Carolyn, sharing her vision, came aboard. Together they changed the Ranch’s focus to a short-term paradigm aiming to quickly place adoptable dogs into forever homes.

Carolyn and Syd alternate three four-hour days per week at the shelter. But they estimate that each spends at least 40 volunteer hours handling multiple responsibilities. Whoever gets energized to maintain the database, record expenses or book animals for air travel gets the responsibility. But most duties bear no resemblance to standard desk jobs. The twosome organizes vaccinations, handles intake, pair up dogs to cohabit particular pens (no fighting, guys) and research emerging techniques used by other shelters to maximize the well-being of dogs and caregivers. Plus they organize volunteers: dog walkers, fundraisers, marketers, and PR people as well as paid groundskeepers and kennel cleaners.

Operations and medical aspects capture Carolyn’s heart. She focuses on running a smoothly efficient habitat. She reads Sheltering, a trade magazine and talks to US refuge vets to explore best practices. As a result, a new vaccination protocol designed for shelter dogs by the University of Colorado has improved the health of their charges.

Syd loves intake. “Every time we can make a space, take in a new dog, I’m happy. I know the dog will be safe and we’re going to find it a home…most of our adoptable dogs don’t stay for more than six months. We have a waitlist. I’d love to take them all in tomorrow.”

Each entering dog costs about 3000 MX to process. Expenses have increased because of updated health practices. In response, Syd and Carolyn fill in, spending their own money. Airport trips are expensive because of high gasoline costs and tips for helpers. They also cover their own air tickets to accompany their charges if receiving shelters cannot handle those expenses. Once adoptees are delivered, Syd and Carolyn shop for essential items too rare or too expensive to buy Lakeside.

Syd grew up and worked in the Kansas City metro area before moving to Ajijic. She and husband Matt live in La Floresta with four hospice dogs and one rescue brought from the US. Her hospice Perros are too old or ill to be eligible for adoption. “I tell Matt they’re on their last legs and don’t have long to live. But with love and attention, they often last two or three years.”

Carolyn, a Dallas native, lives in Rancho del Oro with husband, Michael, and dog, Julio. “Anytime anyone adopts a dog, it frees up space for more dogs. When we fly seven dogs north, we have room for seven more.”

Love of animals is a human and humanizing trait, but few folks can handle this heart- and back-breaking volunteer job without burnout. And it isn’t the dogs that stress the managers, it’s responding to the needs of various individuals. “Leading people has a different set of challenges than taking care of dogs,” said Syd. “Sometimes people desperate to place a dog don’t understand the limitations of the organization.”

“Every time I receive a call from a new volunteer who’s five years younger than me, I follow them around like a little puppy,” Syd said. “I keep hoping there’ll be someone to step in, bring a management change before there’s a personal crisis.”

The organization has matured. A salaried operations manager, two other paid staff, a strong supply of volunteers and a reinvigorated donor base illustrate changes that have brought order and professionalism to the Ranch. “We’re so proud of how it operates now. I think we’ve established a good reputation in the community,” Syd said.

*Lakeside Spay and Neuter Center

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