Karen Martiny has lived in Summit County for 24 years and been an animal lover her entire life. She'd been involved in various animal-related volunteer organizations and causes, but decided that she wanted to go further. In 2003, she founded Animal Rescue of the Rockies (ARR), an nonprofit organization that alleviates strain on shelters by placing animals in foster homes and promoting their adoption online."We pull pets from shelters. When they get too full they contact us and ask for help and we take as many as we can according to how many foster homes we have available," Martiny said. "We place the pets in foster homes where they're socialized with people and other pets."Although the ARR originated in Summit County, it has since expanded to include shelters along the Front Range. The program includes anywhere from 50 to 75 foster homes at one time, ranging from Fort Collins on down to Colorado Springs. ARR has a special place for cats - the Cat Casita Sanctuary at the Chow Down pet supply store in Fairplay. As many as 17 cats live there at one time, hanging out together in a large playroom as a community, with no cages. The adoption process requires potential adopters to fill out an application online and then schedule a home visit. If approved, adoption papers are filled out, the fee is paid and the animal comes home. Adoption fees depend on a handful of variables, such as breed, and usually run between $150 and $300. The proceeds go directly to the ARR and are used to have each animal microchipped, spayed or neutered and vaccinated before adoption."If you get a pet for free and take it to your personal vet, you're probably going to end up spending $250 or $300 just to get the pet spayed or neutered, then it's an extra $50 for the microchip," said Martiny. "You're going to end up spending quite a bit more than the adoption fee."On average, each animal that comes through the ARR costs the organization around $250, Martiny said. Some that require further medical attention or behavioral conditioning rack up higher expenses."Some pets have cost us several thousand dollars if they need surgery," she said.Daunting veterinary bills don't keep the ARR from extending their help. The purpose isn't to make money off the animals, Martiny says, but to connect them with safe, loving homes. She recalls one dog from several years ago that had been found wandering the highway in southern Colorado. She had been hit by a car, then had medical complications when her shattered pelvis healed incorrectly. The ARR promptly took up her case, paying for a rare veterinary procedure that had only been done a few times ever in the state. They expected to wait weeks before being sure of the outcome."We were all so surprised when two days after her surgery, Lizzie was standing up, walking, playing with her toy. It was amazing," Martiny said. "Now you would never know anything was ever wrong with her."Quickly adopted into a family, Lizzie stands as an ARR success story."It feels good when you can help a dog like that, that everyone else has given up on," Martiny said.
Although most of the shelters that the ARR animals come from are on the Front Range, the organization still maintains its Summit County connection, through the shelter in Frisco and also the For Pets' Sake Thrift Shop in Breckenridge.The thrift shop sits right on Main Street, offering deals on all kinds of items including clothing, books, housewares, ski gear and more. Opened in 2007, the store serves as another income source to help ARR pay for the care of its animals. "We definitely curate the items to make it more of an upscale place," said store manager Shelly Michell. Donations come almost exclusively from private individuals, anyone from locals doing some cleaning up to visitors on their way out with excess items. When space becomes an issue, the shop forwards the donations on to the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC). Both locals and out-of-town visitors come through, Michell says, and many show interest in the cause behind it. Michell herself is passionate about the work done by ARR."I love thrift stores, I love the cause," she said. "It's a fun environment and we get such great comments from people that it really starts to feed your feeling of pride in what you're doing. It's rewarding to work for a cause that you really believe in."
ARR continues to expand. Its most recent project is to create a sort of "halfway house" for animals between shelter and foster home or adoption. The organization recently purchased a lease on 160 acres outside of Fort Collins. The idea is to have a place where the animals can receive temporary care, including veterinary and behavioral training attention, before moving on from the shelter.Martiny also hopes to host retreats and educational seminars at the location."It's a relaxing place, it's pretty and quiet. It will be a great place for the animals to relax," Martiny said. "We're really excited about that."
The spark behind Martiny's quest to help shelter animals came from her personal experience - a poodle/terrier mix that she adopted from the Summit County Animal Shelter."She was a little ambassador for me," Martiny said. "She had the best little spirit and determination, and never let anything get her down. She was such an inspiration to me that I wanted to start helping other pets that weren't as fortunate. She really opened my eyes to the needs of shelter pets, and how many of them die without the chance to be loved."Martiny urges adoption over buying an animal for a variety of reasons, including cost, health of the animal and the fact that pet overpopulation is a large problem across the nation. "It's going to save money, for one thing, and then you'll be saving a life, too," she said.Dogs and cats aren't the only beneficiaries of adoption, however. Martiny said she has seen the effects on the people involved as well. She receives many comments and messages from adopters whose lives have been changed by their animals."This dog has been a lifeline for them," she said. "We're not just helping the pets, but the people and families, too."