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Forced to find a new home: Happy Dog Ranch moving after 17 years because of encroaching development

Non-profit is hoping for donations to help move more than 40 horses
Posted: 6:04 PM, Aug 24, 2023
Updated: 2023-08-25 14:01:59-04

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — A horse sanctuary in Douglas County is on the move after 17 years in the same location. Happy Dog Ranch is facing the same fate as many other rural ranches and farms, squeezed out by housing and commercial developments encroaching on rural areas.

“When we bought the place about 17 years ago – we had two big Mastiffs and we were actually so happy because we were living in a town home,” said Bernadette Spillane, owner of Happy Dog Ranch. “We had no idea we were going to become a rescue or horse sanctuary. It just kind of kept expanding to where veterinarians would ask us, trainers would ask us if we could take in a nice horse that was probably going to be put down otherwise. And then, as we rehab the horses, we find out that they’re helping us. It helps our volunteers; we use a lot of horses in our mental health work.”

Happy Dog Ranch is now home to more than 40 horses and one of the region’s most well-respected horse sanctuaries.

“We have horses we rescue from as far away as Phoenix, Arizona,” Spillane said.

“I’ve traveled all over the world teaching, and I’ve not found a ranch that’s even close to this,” said Duey Freeman, licensed therapist and co-founder of Gestalt Equine Institute of the Rockies. “The level of compassion, the level of caring, the level of holistic perspective here is unlike anywhere else.”

Freeman is a horse therapist who works with those who have physical and mental disabilities, dementia patients, at-risk youth, cancer patients and many others.

“Being able to have contact and connection with the horses that we’re working with,” Freeman said.

But Happy Dog has now outgrown its location on W. Titan Rd. between Highlands Ranch and Roxborough Park.

“Three sides of us will be almost complete development,” Spillane said. “And what that means for the horses is that it’s no longer quiet and safe in pastures. They have lights, construction equipment and dust. They just seem more stressed.

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Like so many other places on the front range, this once rural oasis is quickly being gobbled up by growth.

“It’s beautiful, but I also realize that going forward, this won’t be like it is now,” Spillane said.

So now, Happy Dog is on the move, and they’ve found a new home about 15 minutes south of their current location.

“Jarre Creek Ranch,” Spillane said. “It’s a historical ranch just outside of Sedilia on the way to Deckers.”

Jarre Creek Ranch sits on Colorado Hwy. 67 and is twice the size of Happy Dog with a giant, heated indoor arena.

But in order to get there – Happy Dog, a non-profit, is hoping for some financial help from donors for the big move this coming October.

“What is the price tag for this move?” asked Denver7’s Russell Haythorn.

“It’s going to be $50,000, maybe upwards,” Spillane said.

For now, head trainer Gray Kyle-Graves is working with the horses in advance of the move.

“We’re trying to practice loading the horses on trailers,” Kyle-Graves said as she attempted to load a horse that she had never loaded before. “And if he’s comfortable just walking on – we’ll let him walk on.”

“We’re practicing trailer loading the animals so this is not a traumatic change to the new place,” Spillane said.

And while the move is daunting after 17 years, this ranch and the hands that make it a happy place are ready.

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“I think once (the horses) get there, they’re going to love it,” Spillane said. “But we still have to get them from here to there.”

“The new place is going to offer the umbrella of nature in a way that doesn’t get offered here,” Freeman said.

If you’d like to help Happy Dog Ranch with the move, we’ve set-up a drop-down link where you can donate on the Denver7 Gives page. Just click here and choose Help Happy Dog Ranch Move in the drop-down menu.

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