Friday, October 9, 2009



Raven Woods Animal Sanctuary is a 501(c)3 strictly no-kill sanctuary for abused, abandoned, and homeless dogs located near Roseland, LA. In 1994, John and Rebecca Thornton began a labor of love trying to alleviate the plight of the many homeless animals who scrounged for existence in rural Tangipahoa parish. Over the years, the dogs kept coming and the sanctuary kept expanding until it grew to house over 200 dogs. Although Rebecca is now disabled and cannot participate in the animal care, her efforts were instrumental in the establishment of Raven Woods. John is retired from his job with Dow Chemical and now works 16 hour days year round as the primary caretaker of the dogs.
I serve as adoption coordinator and drive from my home in Mississippi as often as I can to help with the animal care, but the bulk of the responsibility falls on John who has dedicated his life to the dogs. It is our goal to find loving homes for every dog in our care, but every dog who comes to us has a home with us for as long as they need it. No dog is put to sleep for lack of space. Euthanasia is considered only when a dog is suffering from a painful and untreatable condition. Many of our dogs are not likely to be adopted because of age, chronic medical conditions, or the misfortune of being the "wrong" breed but we believe every life is precious and deserving of the best care we can give. Thats what makes us a sanctuary.

In the year after Katrina devastated south Mississippi and Louisiana, I worked with the Humane Society of Louisiana at Camp Katrina, the emergency evacuation camp in Tylertown Mississippi for dogs left homeless by the storm. After the crisis passed and the work at Camp Katrina scaled back, a fellow rescuer told me about Raven Woods and John Thornton's struggle to keep the sanctuary going with no outside help. It only took one visit for me to be totally impressed with John's work and dedication, and I knew where I belonged.

In early 2006, Connie Edwards an animal rescuer from Seattle Washington and tireless proponent of spay/neuter programs, came onboard with desperately needed financial assistance and organized our spay/neuter program. Connie's generous help has kept us going and allowed us to get all of the females spayed and many of the males neutered. Connie's contributions have helped us to make many improvements in the lives of our dogs including treating dogs for heartworms and the transportation of many dogs to no-kill rescues in the north where they have a much better chance of adoption.

The past 3 years have seen many changes at Raven Woods. Thanks to a comprehensive vaccination program, infectious disease very rare. All dogs are on monthly heartworm preventative. The dogs are all housed in chain link or galvanized metal kennels runs with concrete floors and tarp covers. Over 200 dogs have found homes, but it seems like for every dog who finds a home, another takes its place at the shelter. We are so full and have so little funds that we are trying our best not to take in any more dogs at all. But if a dog is dumped at the sanctuary we cannot just turn it away.

We were making progress building play yards and replacing the older chain link kennels when hurricane Gustav roared through, tearing the tops off of nearly all our kennel runs. Our money and effort had to be focused on repairing the kennels so everyone would be covered and protected from the weather. Just as we had nearly completed the repairs, last November brought a freak snowstorm that dumped 7 inches of snow and destroyed all the tarps again. John has managed to repair and replace tarps and kennel panels to the point that everyone has protection from sun and rain but our funds are now stretched so thin that there is no way to make more improvements that would add so much to the dogs quality of life.

We need donations, adoptions, and volunteers; and we need your prayers that against all odds we can continue our mission of providing care to some of the most needy and forgotten dogs in south Louisiana. These dogs have nowhere else to turn. And just like I believe God put me here to care for animals, I believe he will show us a way to continue taking care of the dogs He has entrusted to us.

Just keeping our dogs fed costs nearly $3000 a month. Add to that the cost of vaccinations, heartworm preventative, and vet care and our operating costs can easily reach at least $4500 a month. We need to replace the old chain link kennel runs--some of them have been through two hurricanes. We need sturdy weatherproof doghouses. We need to finish the exercise yards that were started before hurricane Gustav devastated the shelter. And we need volunteers to help put these improvements in place and help with day to day work like feeding and cleaning the kennels. Not only do we need help with the hands on dog care--we also need people who can research and write grants so we can have a long term solution to the financial crisis.

Please consider helping us. Donations are tax deductible. We need your help to keep the sanctuary going. I believe in what we are doing and I believe there is a solution. These dogs have so much love to give, and ask for so little in return. Please partner with us--for the dogs.

Leila Baldridge 10/09/09

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Utie is a happy but severely challenged little guy whose fate was sealed on July 4 2007. I was on my way from my house in Mississippi to Raven Woods about 4 in the morning, driving on a rural highway in a pounding rainstorm. Suddenly 6 tiny puppies darted out from a driveway directly in front of me. I swerved and somehow managed to miss all of them. Then the seventh puppy ran out of the ditch on the opposite side of the road and I heard the sickening thud as I hit him.

I pulled over and ran back to where the little guy was sprawled in the road. As I tried to pick him up, his mother charged from the yard and drove me back. She stood guard over her fallen son with teeth bared.
I ran to the house where the puppies had come from and beat on the door. Finally a large and very angry man answered. I told him I had run over one of his puppies and asked would he please help me get the baby out of the road. He looked at the other puppies who were crowded around us, and then to the tragic scene of little Utie and his grief stricken mother. "Oh, THOSE puppies." he said. "Why don't you run over them all and save me the trouble of drowning them?" I told him I was with an animal shelter and I would gladly take all the puppies if he would just help me get them into my car. "Take that bitch, too." he said. "All she does is drop puppies in my yard." I wondered if he was too dumb to understand the meaning of spay.

He tossed a rope over the mother and dragged her away from Utie. I picked the little guy up and was amazed to find he was still breathing. I laid him on the seat of my van and quickly loaded the other puppies into a crate in the back. When I looked around, I saw to my horror that the man was holding the mother dog in the air by the rope and she was hanging limp. "Gotta choke her down so she can't bite," he said. I took her in my arms and laid her in the crate with her babies, then returned to little Utie. There was not a mark on him but he was deeply unconscious.

Holding little Utie in my lap, I hurried on to the shelter where Amite LA vet Glen Hutchinson met us at his office. It was obvious that Utie had a severe closed head injury. He remained unconscious and began having continuous seizures.

We rushed him to the emergency clinic in Mandeville, LA where he was treated in the ICU. Several days later I took Utie home, still unconscious but stable. We had no idea if he would recover any function, but we were determined to give him a chance. He was able to swallow, and I fed puppy formula to him with a syringe. Over the next 10 days, Utie began to wake up, but was unable to move his legs. I gave him baths in a warm tub every day, gently moving his stiff little legs in the warm water. Amazingly, over the next few weeks he regained the ability to walk and began eating normally.

Today Utie and his mother live at the shelter and although Utie is not likely to be adopted, he is a happy little guy. He never progressed beyond a puppy mentally, he is visually impaired, and he continually walks in circles. But he always is wagging his tail and he is gentle and affectionate. All of his litter mates were adopted. John says that Utie gave his own life for his litter mates, so they would have a chance to find loving homes. Little Utie is one of the reasons Raven Woods exists. Dogs like Utie deserve a chance to live, too. We wish every dog we have could be adopted into a home of their own, but as a sanctuary we provide a place for those not adoptable for whatever reason to live out their lives. Utie is precious to us, like he is to his Creator, and he deserves the best we can give him.