Honey, a white and tan pit bull, squirmed with joy as Jill Anderson, the co-director of Lompoc’s Shadow’s Fund, entered the room with a new human visitor — also female — for more socialization.
Sitting on the couch, the visitor gently rubbed Honey’s ears and chin, and then her belly, covered in scars. Honey, about 60 pounds and 2 years old, climbed right into her lap, scattering papers.
Honey started life as a “bait dog” being used to entice male pit bulls to attack during staged fights, Anderson said. Honey ended up in a shelter in Ventura, where another rescue group teamed with Shadow’s Fund to bring her to Lompoc and start the rehabilitation process to secure Honey a new home.
It’s the dogs like Honey, who still cowers, whines and shakes uncontrollably when approached by men or dogs she doesn’t recognize, who “do really well here,” Anderson said.
“Here” is the sanctuary that houses Shadow’s Fund, founded in 2009 by Anderson and her partner, Cody Rackley, to honor a dog named Shadow that the couple found abandoned outside a shelter with a note saying “he’s too old” to adopt.
They took Shadow, then 15 years old, to their former residence, a ranch on Cebada Canyon Road, where he lived another year, surrounded by the couple’s horses and other dogs.
Anderson and Rackley still work full-time “day” jobs, she at Lompoc’s nonprofit Return to Freedom, and he at Celite. They’ve since relocated Shadow’s Fund, now a 501c3 organization, to a 100-acre leased ranch off Miguelito Canyon Road, and named it the “Sheltering Oaks Sanctuary” to provide rescue, rehabilitation and adoption for the pit bulls, senior and other high-risk dogs that otherwise would be euthanized at shelters, or die on the street, or at the hands of abusive owners, Anderson said.
Rehabilitating the dogs, many of which arrive at the sanctuary anxious and aggressive toward people and other dogs, doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience, gentle voices and treats for good behavior.
When the owner of the ranch told them it was for sale, Anderson and Rackley jumped at the chance to buy it for the sanctuary. In early October, Anderson estimated the couple needs “four or five more months to get the money to buy the land in hand,” and hoped for more grants and, perhaps, publicity from the Animal Planet’s show “Pit Boss.”
A key part of Shadow’s Fund is the community outreach. Anderson, Rackley and their volunteers sponsor and staff once-monthly meet-and-greet adoptions at Carivintas Winery’s Solvang tasting room, where visitors who’ve never petted a pit bull are likely to soon be tickling the belly of Canelo. Canelo is one “who is especially good with the public,” Rackley said, and acts as an ambassador for Shadow’s Fund during events such as “Pit Bulls on Parade,” held recently in Santa Barbara.
The coordinator of a local program for at-risk youth, who requested anonymity to protect her clients, described in an email how the Shadow’s Fund canines help socialize the teens who come to visit them at the sanctuary.
“All the kids we bring out there are broken in some way . . . whether by their parents, circumstances, or their environment. Seeing them out there with the dogs and animals, and hearing the dogs’ stories and how they mirror their own, it’s such a healing experience,” she said.
Anderson and Rackley said they’ve been contacted by the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex about a program pairing rescue dogs with prisoners who display model behavior. “The dogs would live there, and be paired with an inmate for four months to learn socialization skills, just like in a foster-home situation,” she said.
At the sanctuary, Anderson, Rackley, her father and a team of nearly 30 volunteers spend hours showering the dogs with attention and basic training. About 12 volunteers follow a regular weekly schedule, creating a routine of outings to which the dogs grow accustomed.
One volunteer, a recent graduate of a canine massage school, was so eager to help the canine residents that she “obtained her own grant to fund herself” and now works massaging the sanctuary residents for about 20 hours each week, Anderson said. Her care is especially beneficial to the dogs who have been physically traumatized.
Two volunteers, Lompoc residents Denise Reece and Bea Rains, spend several hours every weekend brushing and walking dogs. Volunteering with the dogs “is good therapy and good exercise,” said Reece, who has three pit bulls of her own.
Anderson said that the entire team of devoted local volunteers “are the single reason why we decided to stay in Lompoc” when their rescue efforts outgrew the Cebada Canyon property.
Speaking of dogs in general, and not specifically pit bulls, Anderson cited a study that found only 10 percent of dog owners keep an animal for its entire life.
“When pups grow up, people give them up,” she said, and the unwanted animal is likely to end up in a cage at a county animal shelter. If the dog is social and good with children, odds are good it eventually will be adopted by another family.
But since it may take months for a shelter’s staff to adopt out even the most suitable dog, Anderson said, “most pit bulls taken to shelters only have a week before they are euthanized. Shelters are a one-way door for pit bulls.”
She calls the American Pit Bull a breed that is “grossly overbred,” often by back-yard breeders who want them as “the macho status symbol of the moment” — a label once used for Rottweilers and Dobermans.
“This means we hear more (news) about them, but it doesn’t mean pit bulls are naturally aggressive. In fact, they are quite the opposite,” Anderson said. She describes them as loyal, loving dogs who live to please. Like Rottweilers and Dobermans, however, Pit Bulls are strong, and in the wrong hands, can appear aggressive.
A few of the Shadow’s Fund dogs are older, and play a special role in socialization of the younger rescue dogs. “Our senior dogs teach the younger ones manners by growling and nipping at them,” Rackley explained. “The puppies teach the older, abused dogs how to trust again.”
The property is currently home to about 23 dogs, about 14 of which are candidates for adoption.
The remaining nine dogs are the sanctuary’s “permanent residents,” those that belong to the property’s residents: Rackley and Anderson, her retired father, Michael Anderson, who helps care for and feed the dogs, or Tony and Thea Dinuzzo, former owners of Tony’s Cactus Garden in Buellton and the resident “dirt engineers” who have designed a garden of plants native to the region.
Details: www.shadowsfund.org, email@example.com, or 735-3165. Volunteers are needed to walk, socialize and clean up after dogs. Tax deductible donations are welcome. On the second Saturday of every month, Carivintas Winery tasting room, 476 First St., Solvang, holds a pit bull adoption for Shadow’s Fund. Information: www.carivintas.com.
Freelance writer Laurie Jervis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.