Friday, May. 24, 2024

Danny Robertshaw And Ron Danta Give Dogs A Second Chance

After placing more than 800 dogs into new homes, these trainers earned national recognition from the ASPCA.

If you were a homeless dog—perhaps abandoned, lost, abused or injured—you would do well to try and find your way to Camden, S.C. For a haven exists there for any dog in need, thanks to the generous nature of hunter/jumper trainers Ron Danta and Danny Robertshaw.
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After placing more than 800 dogs into new homes, these trainers earned national recognition from the ASPCA.

If you were a homeless dog—perhaps abandoned, lost, abused or injured—you would do well to try and find your way to Camden, S.C. For a haven exists there for any dog in need, thanks to the generous nature of hunter/jumper trainers Ron Danta and Danny Robertshaw.

Danta and Robertshaw have always rescued dogs—dogs they found on highways, dogs that appeared at their farm gates, or dogs that ended up at shelters. But after Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005, they took their efforts to a new level, bringing trailer loads of dogs to their Beaver River Farm and finding them new families.

“After Katrina, our first concern was for the people—we got clothing and TVs, with donations from our customers,” said Danta. “Then we decided to start searching for animals.”

They knew that Dennis Mitchell and Kim Burnett were running horse rescue efforts, and although they offered to house horses at their farm, there were facilities much closer for that purpose. So they decided to focus on dogs.

After placing more than 800 dogs in new homes, they received recognition this year from the ASPCA Equine Fund and were awarded as 2008 Honorees Of The Year at the ASPCA Equine Fund luncheon on Feb. 3 in Wellington, Fla.

“It was one of the most meaningful things in my life,” said Danta of the luncheon, attended by 350 people.
Penelope Ayers, ASPCA board member and chairman of the ASPCA Equine Committee, as well as an amateur hunter rider, nominated the pair for the award.

“The spay/neuter/lifetime commitment message of the ASPCA is also their message,” she said. “I felt their time had come. I can’t think of anyone else who’s had an impact on animals the way they have, of anyone else who’s given back at a hands-on level. We want them to be an inspiration of responsible animal ownership.”

Robertshaw said the award was a surprise and a huge honor. “It was very emotional to us to know that many people came and were honoring us,” he said. “We had no idea the word had spread that much or that it meant that much to people. It really gave us the steam to go on.”

Open Doors

The dogs they rescued from Katrina came through the Kershaw County Humane Society, since rescue organizations in Louisiana weren’t allowed to send the dogs to private individuals.

“We’ve never run an actual kennel; we’re just doing little bits at a time,” said Robertshaw modestly. “This is just a house, and we’re just doing what we can do.”

It’s “normal” for Robertshaw and Danta to have 22 to 34 dogs loose in the house, and out of the hundreds of dogs who’ve passed through their home, they’ve only had one dog fight.

Amazingly, there’s also one unusually tolerant cat who lives in the house. “We’ve not had one dog go after the cat,” said Danta. “I don’t know why that works; it’s very unusual.

“Maybe the dogs are just so thankful to be in the house,” he added with a laugh.

The dogs learn to quickly adapt to the schedule and eat wherever they are placed. “It’s amazing to watch the routine,” said Danta.

Of these canines, Danta said there are 20 that he wouldn’t allow anyone to adopt, and eight of those are his dogs who travel to the shows with him. “The rest have health or behavioral issues and are not adoptable,” he said.

Dog Tips From Danta And Robertshaw

•    Put ID on your dog. “If you see a dog loose on the road, if a phone number is on his collar, anyone could contact the owner,” Ron Danta said.

•    Spay and neuter. More than 13 million dogs are euthanized in this country every year. “When I see a whole dog at a show, I just think of the millions of dogs who are euthanized who are great dogs,” said Danta. “As a human race, we need to come to the plate and do something about spaying and neutering.”

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•    Adopt! “Every dog placed is another person touched and another life saved,” said Danny Robertshaw. “I’m excited if people will adopt from anywhere; it’s not a pride thing about adopting from us. It’s like the ad for cancer, ‘I want to be one less.’ Well, we want to be one more—one more dog saved and one more person thinking about saving dogs.”

To protect their own dogs, Danta and Robertshaw are raising money to help the local humane society construct a quarantine building, for dogs who come in with respiratory problems or parasites.

The donation fee from adopting a dog goes into this fund, which has already amounted to almost $120,000 since it began in March of 2006.

But the money for the rest of the work comes from Danta and Robertshaw’s own pockets—$34,000 was their estimate for spaying, neutering and shots for 2005, although they’ve tried not to keep close count since then.

At first, the dogs arriving from the Katrina flood zone were terribly skinny, but when they started arriving looking fat, Danta knew something was wrong. Sure enough, his living room was soon crowded with six playpens of puppies, and some of their horse stalls were turned into whelping stalls.

“It got overwhelming,” said Danta. They gave the puppies shots and shipped many of them to no-kill shelters in Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Atlanta.

“The puppies go [find homes] easily,” said Danta. “They got rid of them in 24 to 48 hours. It’s the older dogs we take and keep.”

A Community Effort

Most of the dogs find homes by going to horse shows with Danta and Robertshaw and attracting someone who can’t resist them.

Nardeen Henderson of Virginia has helped Robertshaw and Danta start a website (www.dannyandronsrescue.com), but most of the dogs still find new homes via word of mouth in the horse world.

“Our horse community has been so exceptionally great in helping us find homes, including our customers and other professionals,” said Danta. “There’s no way we could have placed this many dogs on our own.”
The Deep Run Horse Show (Va.) always invites Robertshaw and Danta and even sets up a tent for their dogs awaiting new homes.

Finding new families through the horse show world means that Danta and Robertshaw know who’s adopting their charges. “We really know what their life is going to be,” Robertshaw said. “People who take care of animals well and love them tend to know people who take care of animals and love them. We’ve never failed anyone yet.”

It’s been rewarding for them to see so many of the dogs on a regular basis at the shows, and the dogs invariably recognize their old friends.

Not Just A Dog House

In addition to the 800 dogs who have passed through Danny Robertshaw and Ron Danta’s farm, almost 30 cats have found a new life there, as well.

Most of them are feral cats or ones who ended up at a veterinary clinic to be put to sleep. Chicken wire around stalls, the tack and feed rooms, ramps, straw storage, and an outdoor pen with a tree and shelter houses the cats in what they call the Kitty Hilton.

There’s one cat, however, who lives in the house. Watch Kitty (named because he used to grab people by the leg) lives indoors and has never once been intimidated by the many dogs who live with him.

“Every time I see Danny and Ron, they have a whole new batch of dogs on their golf cart,” said Ayers. “Sooner or later, if you go to the shows and know Danny and Ron, you’re going to have one of their dogs.”

When they select dogs from the local shelter, half tend to be dogs who are especially cute, who you’d expect to find homes quickly, and the other half are dogs that they think wouldn’t be adopted out of the shelter and would likely end up euthanized.

“Although at Blowing Rock [N.C.] this year, the ones we thought would be harder to adopt went first,” said Danta. “It all depends on whether the right person who has an open heart and falls in love with that dog comes along.”

Alison Firestone Robitaille decided she wanted to take one of the more challenging Katrina dogs and spent a day or two making friends with Jasmine, a Shepherd mix who was extremely timid at first, before taking her home.

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“She’s so loyal, and Alison loves her to death,” said Danta. “There are people who want to reach out to that type of dog, ones with behavioral issues who are not easy to place. You have to be there to really want to rescue—you might not get the exact type of dog you wanted, but you have to have a kind heart and really want to save a dog. So many of these wouldn’t have had a chance in a shelter.”

Worth The Work

The people Danta and Robertshaw have met through their rescue work have been an added bonus. They recalled a woman with Parkinson’s disease who lived alone and was worried that if her health prevented her from keeping her adopted little white dog, Dancing Lily, that she be allowed to return to Danta and Robertshaw.

“She still keeps in touch with us,” said Danta. “There are so many people the dogs have filled a void for.”
Don Graves, a friend of Danta and Robertshaw’s, who sells them their horse insurance, had long been a fan of Golden Retrievers before he adopted a mutt named Lucky.

On The Mend

Last September, Danny Robertshaw spent 18 days in the hospital with broken ribs and a bruised lung after a horse flipped over while he was mounting.

When he returned home and was still on bed rest, he had a special friend, a little white Maltese or Bijon cross named Wee Willy. “The minute I came home from the hospital, he’d come running into my bed. I’d have to hold up the sheet so he wouldn’t land on my ribs,” said Robertshaw.

Wee Willy was a small, furry white dog with a broken tail, who’d arrived as nothing more than skin and bones after being rescued from a puppy mill.

“He never left my side, and I was thinking I might have to keep him,” said Robertshaw. But then a family came along with two small children who had just lost a dog just like Wee Willy, and Robertshaw knew it was the right home for him.

Now, Robertshaw is back to riding four or five horses a day, although his right diaphragm still isn’t working properly, and he’s having further tests done to resolve that. With his right lung not filling, he said he doesn’t do back-to- back trips in the ring like he used to, but he’s coping well.

“I still know that I’m luckier than most people,” he said. “It was a freak accident.”

“He will tell anyone that Lucky is better than any purebred he ever purchased—he’s more loyal, more intelligent,” said Danta. “It’s very rewarding to hear feedback on how so many turned out to be great dogs.”

Horse trainer Pam Baker of Virginia adopted a 4-pound Chihuahua named Nemo, whom she nicknamed Chemo, because he was hairless. “He had one eye and was pitiful looking,” said Danta. “But Pam worships the ground he walks on.

“People have been really great saying to us how much they love the dog and how much the dog means to them,” he added.

Danta credited Elena Portu, who grooms for them, for her help with all the dogs as well. “She’s been incredible,” he said. “She’ll bottle-feed puppies, foster dogs at her home, and is great at taking the dogs around the shows on a leash, trying to find them homes.”

It’s hard to quantify just how large a role the dogs have played in Danta and Robertshaw’s lives.

“I’ve always had an incredible lovefor dogs—the loyalty and unconditional love a dog gives you is better than anything I’ve found in life,” said Danta. “They love you if you’re dirty, if you’re tired, if you’re crabby. They come home and eat the same food 365 days a year and are still so happy. If we had to eat hot dogs every day, we’d all be moaning and groaning. They give you unconditional love, and I have such a passion
for that.”

Although the ASPCA award meant a great deal to Danta and Robertshaw, they didn’t go looking for honors when they started this work.

“I’m really greatly touched [by the award],” said Danta. “We don’t do this for recognition—we do it to find homeless dogs homes. I had no idea a lot of people knew what we were doing, especially people on the ASPCA board. I’m really greatly honored.”

Family and friends traveled to Florida from all over the country for the awards luncheon, which raised more than $250,000 for the equine fund through donations, ticket sales and an ad  journal.

“The most meaningful thing is that so many dogs who would never have had a chance, that we and people who’ve reached out have made it possible for them,” said Danta. “Dogs really know when someone is kind and wants to reach out; they have a feeling. Danny and I both have a really strong love for them, and they can sense that.”

And the joy that the dogs have clearly brought into their lives won’t be going away any time soon. As Robertshaw said, “Each one has been a little part of our life.”

Beth Rasin

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