Monday, January 12, 2009

Multimillion dollar animal rescue center planned for Hewitt

Linda Robinson-Pardo’s life these days is poised between the heart-breaking and the heart-warming.

The heart-breaking: the death Friday of her 13-year-old Rottweiler, Rocky, after his long battle with cancer. This was the dog, dumped over her backyard fence about 11 years ago, she said, that taught her lessons of laughter, loyalty and love.

“He was so good with my son,” she said. Jordan, now 11, used him as a portable stool, sitting him down by the counter and climbing his back to get what he wanted.

Boy and beast bonded so well, she added, that the toddler thought he was a dog, too. “My son would bark at the postman,” Robinson-Pardo said.

The heart-warming: the fulfillment she finds in the work of her nonprofit entity Happy Endings Inc., the no-kill dog rescue organization she founded in September 2005.

After observing the plight of Hurricane Katrina evacuees who had no place to shelter their large-breed dogs, including Rottweilers, pit bulls, mastiffs and the like, she said she was moved to find homes for such dogs. Especially since these animals are often discriminated against under the charge that they are too dangerous to adopt out, she said.

“What people don’t realize is that these dogs are not born killers. They are what we make them to be,” she said. “Dogs want to please their pack leader. They are looking to us for guidance and acceptance.”

Through scores of volunteer foster families and with a temporary shelter in Hewitt, she says she has placed more than 2,500 abandoned or abused canines into loving homes during the last three years.

Now she’s preparing to pour her passion for the pooches into an ambitious project that sets out to radically change the model of animal rescue and sheltering.

Happy Endings Inc. is organized as a 501C(3) nonprofit, no-kill dog rescue. But it is also a for-profit, state-of-the-art animal clinic, animal hospital and research center for nonprofit and public use, according to its founder.

Robinson-Pardo says whatever funds are generated by its for-profit operations — including a planned pet boutique and do-it-yourself dog wash and grooming parlor — will be channeled right back into the nonprofit entity’s charitable work.

For example, people surrendering dogs will not be charged any fees to do so. People who rescue a stray that’s been hurt and who cannot afford to have it treated will be relieved of that financial responsibility, she said. People who want to leave a box of puppies on her doorstep will be offered free spay/neutering of their household pets to prevent unwanted breeding.

“I can’t stand to see any animal suffer,” she said. “Our whole mission is ‘no dog left behind.’ ”

Breaking ground

Early this year, Happy Endings Inc. will break ground on a proposed $5 million Happy Endings Hospital and Dog Rescue, Robinson-Pardo said.

The hospital/rescue complex will provide an economic boost to Hewitt, not only for those in the construction trade but as an area employer. Robinson-Pardo already has 42 workers on the organization’s payroll, from management and administration to vet technicians and custodians. She expects to double that number when the hospital is completed.

But she also wants to encourage volunteers to work with Happy Endings, especially in socializing and stimulating the dogs.

The problem with many shelters, she said, is that the traditional model of caged separation keeps animals isolated from beneficial human contact. Stressed animals either act out aggressively or cower defensively — neither posture very attractive for a potential adoptee seeking a home.

To overcome the traditional view of shelters as depressing repositories for sad, hopeless pets, she said, her rescue center will be an open, friendly place.

For example, dogs will be paired together in glass block kennels with clear-glass Dutch doors on top so visitors can give them a pat on the head. Robinson-Pardo said she has no fear of bites or aggression because all dogs are temperament-tested before they are put on the adoption floor.

Multiple play yards for the dogs, indoor and out, will include fountains to frolic in, and digging pits for the sporting breeds.

“Life will be serene” for the occupants, she said, who will lounge about inviting interiors boasting babbling water features, cheerful skylights and large windows to maximize natural light, radiant heat rising from the floor, soothing music piped into each room, and comfortable beds that fold down from the walls.

Robinson-Pardo said the hospital/rescue complex will be made with “green” sensibilities. For example, her team is experimenting with artificial turf at 516 N. Hewitt Drive as an easier-to-clean alternative to real grass.

“The less time we spend cleaning, the more time we have to work with the dogs,” she said.

Instead of being bagged up in plastic to linger in a landfill forever, she said, animal wastes will go through a macerator — a plumbing device installed in a drain line between a collection point and the soil stack to reduce solids to liquid form for the sewer system.

An innovative ventilation system designed for this facility will essentially eliminate airborne infections common in many clinics and shelters, she added.

Happy Endings has satellite facilities in Dallas, with 65 dogs, and Round Rock, with 20 canines.

Robinson-Pardo said she would eventually like to open similar facilities in areas that “straddle” between the big cities, to better serve rural regions without access to specialized veterinary care.

Her next step, before putting the project out for bids, is to conduct a town meeting for the greater Hewitt community to share her vision of “no dog left behind” and present the blueprints for Happy Endings Hospital and Dog Rescue. She said she hopes to have that scheduled by early next month.

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