- Associated Press - Saturday, June 3, 2017

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Shelter animals that are old, sick, disabled or have behavioral problems may never find a home. They often go overlooked during visits, invisible to prospective adopters, but not to Ronnie Rosenberg.

Rosenberg, a longtime Fairbanks resident, is a devoted animal advocate and, as she calls herself, a guardian to many dozens of cast-aside pets. She has dedicated her time to helping animals find a home or giving them a home herself.

“I have a lot of animals. What I have right now,” she said with a chuckle, “is I have 11 dogs, three of whom are outside huskies and eight live in the kennel building that’s adjacent to the house. I have 10 cats, three doves, I’m down to three rats, which is a low, and two mice. That’s the group right now.”

Many of those animals are seniors, living out their lives with Rosenberg, who provides them whatever veterinary care the animals need. She said she takes her cues from the animals.

There are some animals, like 17-year-old Aries the cat, who has chronic pancreatitis, had part of his jaw removed because of melanoma and has had other health issues spring up in the three years he’s lived with Rosenberg. He’s kept on living and is “the most cheerful, affectionate cat you’d ever meet,” Rosenberg said. But other animals get sick and die in a matter of weeks.

It’s taught Rosenberg, who’s nearing 70, a lot about life, death and resiliency.

“Now that I’m a senior, watching them is a real example of, ‘How do I want to age?’” she said. “Do I want to be Aries or the arthritic dog who doesn’t want to take his medicine?”

But mostly Rosenberg said she just enjoys their company.

“I never have to ask myself what I’m going to do. I’m never bored. There’s always something you can do for one of them,” she said. “I love watching them interact with each other.”

She’s particularly fond of beagles because of their intelligence and tight pack bonds. She recalled with great fondness the time a pack of beagles escaped from her property only to be led by their impeccable sense of smell to the grill at Two Rivers Lodge, where some were glued to the grill, others were mooching pieces of salmon from a child and the aggressive young beagle had been snatched up by the veteran mushers who were watching sports at the bar.

Rosenberg also helped found the Fairbanks Animal Shelter Fund, a 501(c )(3) charity, when she was volunteering at the shelter in 2000. She saw a beagle with an abscess on its neck the shelter couldn’t afford to fix.

“(I was told) that was more money than they allocate per animal,” she said. “And I said, ‘Here, set up the beagle and tell me what clinic it’s going to and I’ll write a check.’ People had donated to the shelter, but there was no organized program.”

At that time, then-Borough Mayor Rhonda Boyles held an animal summit, Rosenberg recalled, of all the rescue groups and organizations.

“It became clear that we needed a support group for the animal shelter so that things like this or an animal with a broken leg - fixable things - could happen,” she said. “We could purchase extra items that weren’t in the borough budget so we could provide a higher level of care for the animals and they could be adopted.”

The group formally organized in 2002 and raised $6,000 during the first year. Fundraising has taken off since then, and in the 15 years since it organized, the foundation has raised $1.7 million for the shelter. It pays for extra health care for the animals, dental care and other things to help animals find a new home.

Rosenberg said one of the current efforts is to fix Penny the pit bull’s cleft palate.

Rosenberg wasn’t always an animal lover. As a child, she was leery of dogs because one had attacked her, but that changed when her dad decided to get her a puppy, a dachshund named Lickety.

“At first, I was kind of afraid of him. He would chew and nip as puppies do while they’re teething, and I would say, ‘He’s ferocious!’ But I quickly realized he wasn’t and we became good friends,” she said.

Lickety stayed with the family until Rosenberg reached high school, when he died. Rosenberg attended college at New York University, where she studied nursing. There, she and her roommate adopted a mix named Sunday, and before long, the animals started to accumulate. She became a nurse and sought to work providing health services to the homeless and eventually moved out of the city and into space where she could have more animals.

On a road trip, she stopped by chance in Missoula, Montana, where she found a job at a new hospital and more land for her animals. As she grew older, though, Rosenberg ended up pursuing a law degree, which she put to use helping people.

She moved to Alaska in 1991, where she worked as a case manager with the Fairbanks Resource Agency, the hospital and the Denali Center. She worked with the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks during the years the church was rocked with sex abuse scandals as its human resources director and legal coordinator.

She currently works as a case manager.

She has continued to work in part because it’s allowed her to continue to care for animals. Rosenberg said one of her heroes in life is St. Martin de Porres, a lay brother who lived the 1500s in Peru and cared for the poor and took in all kinds of old and disabled animals, often beyond his own limits.

“You need to know what your limits are in terms of time and in terms of money,” she said. “I don’t provide half-assed care to them, but it does mean certain sacrifices. I don’t do a lot of traveling or dining out or do the things that some other people choose to do, and I continue working even though I’m almost 70.”

Rosenberg said there are times people are critical of the attention she pays to animals, asking why she cares for animals when there are hungry kids. In response, she said the health of a community is the sum of many, many things and each person should do what they can to make it better.

“Part of that is spiritual. I believe we have a moral duty to care for these animals. There are not that many people who want a 14-year-old cat or something like that,” she said. “In that I’m able, I have the skills and the place to provide for them and I enjoy them, I feel that that’s what I should do. Other people are active in youth sports or the arts or the historical society, but this is something that I can do to make the world a better place.”

Rosenberg also helped staff writer Matt Buxton adopt his dog, Tuco, from the shelter last year.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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