- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Deb Roberts can’t imagine a life without animals.

Just after 5 a.m. each morning, the executive director and president of Home on the Range Animal Haven is up and about, preparing food for more than three dozen animals in her care - protein and vegetables for the turkeys, hay for the goats.

Her nonprofit organization, which provides a home for old and abandoned animals, started with five donkeys and a horse; today, it is home to eight goats, seven donkeys, six chickens, six turkeys, five horses, four dogs, three cats and a sheep.

Some of the animals were injured or hurt before they came to Home on the Range. Some had owners who could no longer take care of them.

All of them are loved, reported the Laramie Boomerang (http://bit.ly/28ZusGm).

“These animals have been passed around a lot, so this is a sanctuary,” Roberts said. “They’ll spend the rest of their lives here. And also, a big, huge part of it is getting people out here to interact with the animals, to enjoy them.”

Getting down to business

In 1951, Roberts was born in York, Nebraska, to a family that cared for animals just as much as she did.

She still has fond memories of the family dogs and Goldie, the horse she owned as a junior high school student.

“She ended up out on the ranch with me when I moved to Laramie,” she said.

She and her former husband, who served in the U.S. Air Force, traveled to multiple states before finally settling down in Laramie in 1973, she said. The two of them started their own business installing insulation in homes.

“I like Laramie,” Roberts said. “I like the size of the town, the people, the university’s nice. You can get to a bigger place if you want, or an international airport. I mean, the summers and falls are amazing.”

Roberts has two grown sons - Wade, who often helps her with Home on the Range, and Shay, who lives in San Francisco - along with five grandchildren.

In 2000, Roberts and a friend launched Hydro Hounds, a canine water therapy business. She became the owner about two years later and continues to work there six days a week, she said.

“The water’s heated to 90 degrees, and the dogs come in and we do massage and stretching and swimming, about 45 minutes in the pool; I’m in the pool with them,” Roberts said. “And it’s really good for older dogs and rehabs, so people use it for good exercise.”

Right now, she serves roughly 35 dogs each week, she said. Her canine clientele spans a wide range of breeds, from “170-pound mastiffs” to tiny Yorkshire terriers.

“Typically, about half the time you can heal a dog if you’ve got them in the water,” she said. “So, a friend and I decided that we’d try something like that for our own dogs, and it just kind of snowballed.”

Labors of love

Each of the animals in Roberts’ care has a different story.

There’s Reo, a horse who once belonged to a roper; after injuring his knee, he was set to be put down before word of mouth brought him to Home on the Range. There’s Jesse and Dox, horses whose owner could no longer care for them after a fire.

And then there’s Benito - a donkey discovered near Woods Landing with his hooves in terrible condition.

“Somebody thought they recognized him, and they went to where he lived, and it had been abandoned,” Roberts said. “They tracked down the guy, and when we called him, he said, ‘Well, I didn’t want him. That’s why I left him.’”

Five years ago, Home on the Range began with the help of an angel investor who purchased the property off Howe Road, Roberts said.

“It’s mostly been word of mouth,” she said. “Now, we’re starting to do some fundraisers. . We got a grant from the city for two years, and we’ve gotten a grant from the Guthrie Foundation.”

The nonprofit regularly attracts volunteers and visitors, including elementary school students, Girl Scouts, 4-H members, Peak Wellness children and WyoTech students.

“She just has a way with animals,” said Pam Brekken, vice president of Home on the Range’s board of directors. “She’s really calm and brings out the best in them - the animals and the people.”

With 67 acres of land, Roberts said she has room for more animals, but there are limitations. Animal expenses run about $30,000 annually on a shoestring budget, and she is the primary person responsible for their care.

“We try to encourage people to take care of their animals,” she said. “I mean, part of the philosophy is that if you have an animal, you take care of it until the end of its life. So, I give them a little bit of time - maybe they have to contact me two or three times and convince me that really needs to be done.”

A helping hoof

In many ways, Home on the Range is a cyclical operation - a place where people help animals and where animals help people.

Roberts laughed as she described the way one of the donkeys, Chester, never cared much for harnesses. As soon as visitors stopped by, his entire demeanor would change, she said.

“You have somebody out here, like one of the ARK residents, or an autistic person or something, and he’s the first one with his head over the fence,” she said.

It’s “absolutely amazing” to see the way the animals work with children, she said.

“There was a little boy that had been kind of afraid of the donkeys . and then he ended up brushing them,” she said. “So, I was walking to the front yard, and he comes up and grabs my hand and says, ‘Those donkeys like me.’ And I said, ‘That’s good.’ And he said, ‘All the animals out here like me.’ And I said, ‘That’s really good.’ And then he looks up at me and goes, ‘Grown-ups don’t like me.’ And you just wanted to cry.”

As Roberts walks around the property, the animals immediately gravitate toward her; the chickens come waddling up from the henhouse, and the goats extend their heads to be pet.

“I believe that they’re beings, and they all have personalities,” Roberts said. “And I think if you just hang out with them, you just learn that.”

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Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com

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