From moments of ugliness can come great beauty. One day in 1997, Sophia and Lee DiClemente were driving down New Mexico’s Highway 550 when they saw a small dog being hurled out of the car ahead of them.
“They pulled over immediately and found a matted and parasite-infested Schnauzer mix,” says Sara Garrigan, executive director of Watermelon Mountain Ranch Animal Center. “That dog, whom they named Miss Molly, would change their lives.”
And the lives of thousands of others, both two- and four-legged.
Services Were Desperately Needed
The DiClementes came to New Mexico with backgrounds in both child and animal welfare. Their dramatic rescue of Miss Molly drew their attention to the need for additional animal welfare organizations in the Land of Enchantment, and they founded Watermelon Mountain Ranch.
“Sandoval County is one of the largest counties in New Mexico, and also one of the poorest,” says Sara. “Much of the population is not able to afford proper vet care for their animals. Mobile spay and neuter services that can visit the townships and pueblos are greatly needed, as well as low-cost programs that can access these rural areas.”
Sophia and Lee Set out to Meet These Needs
The DiClementes took out a loan to purchase a 10-acre facility to set up the shelter. They launched mobile spay/neuter and low-cost veterinary programs.
Then, using their child and animal welfare experience, they began setting up programs that benefit people as well as pets. Their Juvenile Justice Program brings troubled teens to WMR to help care for the rescue animals; nine out of 10 teens who do this as part of their community service return to WMR as volunteers. “They find a peace working with the animals they may not find in their own lives,” says Sara.
Molly’s Mercy Missions, named for Miss Molly, rescues animals at the highest risk of not beig adopted through other shelters. There are many more programs, and WMR must be doing something right: Since their start, they’ve placed over 150,000 animals in forever homes.
PetSmart Charities Grant Provides Needed Funding
Two of those pets belong to Dave Foxley, a PetSmart District Leader in New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.
“Knowing Watermelon Mountain Ranch fights so hard to ensure that every pet finds a home makes you push that much harder to be part of the effort,” says Dave, who was on the team that nominated WMR for a PetSmart Charities grant. “Knowing that we’re emptying kennels and helping their cause makes our adoption events that much more important.
“And each time I visit them, I’m reminded of how much they need partners like PetSmart, and donations—their facilities are lean, and their tenants are hungry!”
As Long as It Takes
WMR stands by the pets they rescue for as long as it takes to find them a home—and in some cases, that’s a mighty long time.
“Bali is a dog that wouldn't last long in a traditional shelter,” says Sara. “He’s a 9-year-old German Shepherd mix who wants to be an only child. That’s a hard placement around here. He came to us in October of 2014; that means he’s spent 1,500 days hoping for a family to come take him home. We know they’re out there. We won’t give up on him.”
For Sophia, Lee, Sara, and everyone at Watermelon Mountain Ranch, helping one animal is just the start of doing so much good for so many.
“We’re not only helping pets find homes, we’re helping people find a new family member,” says Dave. “There’s nothing cooler than seeing a family embrace a new dog or cat when heading out of an adoption event.”