By Dani Moritz-Long
Anyone who’s been to an animal shelter knows that the impulse to rescue as many animals as will fit into your car or trailer is a difficult impulse to squelch — particularly when said rescues are on borrowed time. Most of us, however, find a way to save any animals that we can, then look away and continue living our lives.
That wasn’t good enough for Big Dog Ranch Rescue founder Lauree Simmons, though.
After visiting a local shelter with the intention of rescuing a Weimaraner for her then-Weimaraner-focused rescue, Lauree encountered 14 other dogs on death row. Her heart sank, she said a prayer and informed the rescue’s coordinator she’d take them all. She loaded the pups into her car, hoped for the best and took the first steps toward creating one of the largest, most inclusive no-kill shelters in Florida.
A Sacrifice Worth Making
Today, 12 years after founding the rescue, sleep doesn’t come easy for Lauree, who balances her rescue work with her full-time roles in interior design and custom home building. But, she says, it’s all worth it. “Every time I look at the faces of the precious dogs whose lives we saved, it keeps me going,” she said.
An avid animal lover since she was a child, Lauree has always been surrounded by four-legged friends. She’s had dogs and horses her entire life and grew up riding Quarter Horses in hunters and jumpers until a few riding accidents led her to Western pleasure.
Today, she spends less time in the show ring, but continues to enjoy time on the ranch with her nine horses (many of whom are seniors) and the nearly 500 dogs who call her new Loxahatchee rescue facility home.
Big and Small, They Save Them All
Earlier this year, Lauree’s dreams to build a larger and improved facility in Loxahatchee Groves, just miles from the original Wellington location, came true. Designed to promote the dogs’ physical and psychological wellness, Lauree calls it Disney for dogs.
Featuring air-conditioned, cage-free bunk houses that back up to exterior play areas, intake and quarantine areas and an under-construction visitor center, state-of-the-art veterinary clinic and other buildings, the rescue’s new home is the ideal setting to help the canines — which come in all shapes and sizes — find their forever homes.
The family-friendly, engaging environment, Lauree explained, is crucial to helping families bond with the dogs — many of whom are perfectly healthy and happy pups who are simply victims of unfortunate circumstances. Despite common perceptions about rescue dogs coming with metaphorical baggage, Lauree says, “a rescue dog is not a flawed dog; it’s just a dog without a home.”
As if undergoing expansion while constantly accepting new dogs into the rescue wasn’t enough, Big Dog Ranch Rescue has also been busy rescuing dogs in the wake of recent natural disasters. Unfortunately, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria left many more dogs homeless and others without necessary medical care and nutrition.
Never one to sit on the sidelines, Lauree and Big Dog jumped into action. As urgent pleas arose from Texas as shelters prepared for the worst, Big Dog Ranch Rescue immediately dispatched vans to relocate the dogs and deliver crucial supplies. After becoming stranded in a flood zone, Big Dog’s rescuers took to airboats — never losing sight of their mission.
Then, as Irma approached weeks later, the rescue turned to allies like equestrian Georgina Bloomberg to fly out dogs in need on private jets. Similarly, as Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico, the rescue partnered with other rescue organizations to send and distribute supplies and bring back dogs in need of care. While the non-stop rescue work has been exhausting, it’s par for the course for Big Dog Ranch Rescue.
Of course, to ensure the continuation of Big Dog’s work, the rescue relies on donations and the support of friends, many of whom happen to double as dog lovers and equestrians like Jeanette Sassoon and Georgina.
Fortunately, Lauree said, “The connection between horses and dogs goes hand in hand.” Thanks to this connection, Big Dog Ranch Rescue finds support through events like Big Dogs Night Out, hosted at the Polo West Golf and Equestrian Club, and Wine, Women, Shoes and Dogs, an annual event hosted by Georgina and Lara Trump. Big Dog Ranch Rescue even enjoys parading adoptable dogs around the ring at the Winter Equestrian Festival at Georgina’s invitation.
Thanks to this kind of financial support and advocacy, Big Dog Ranch Rescue can not only save dogs who need help now, but prevent the problem from persisting. Deeply invested in educating owners about the importance of spay and neuter and instilling compassion in children, Big Dog is equally focused on reducing the number of dogs in shelters through education as they are through rescue.
Likewise, as one of Florida’s premier rescue organizations, Big Dog also empowers other rescue organizations by teaching them about establishing volunteer programs, promoting dogs through marketing and utilizing online tools. “A little bit of education goes a long way,” Lauree said.
Fortunately, Big Dog makes it easy to play a role in building brighter futures for dogs in need. Lauree offers an open invitation to Sidelines readers to “Come out, get involved, donate and attend events” and “join us in saving lives.”
For more information, visit bdrr.org.
All photos courtesy of Big Dog Ranch Rescue