VALLEY — Colorado Animal Rescue Center (ARC) is the seven-year-old brainchild of Drew Nelson, director and animal rescue enthusiast, who said he’s been in the field for about 20 years but is “a newbie” next to his partners.
The center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, previously located in Gunnison, recently purchased land in the San Luis Valley but is still in the process of closing the deal and applying for an address for the 115-acre plot, Nelson said.
Nelson, along with Matt Ceiski, director of veterans’ initiatives, and Crowwolf, director of Native American relations, began the program as a way to draw in tourism, assist veteran and Native American communities within the San Luis Valley and rescue animals.
“There are actually five operations under this 501(c)(3) operating all over the country, but within the San Luis Valley we specialize in archaic canids,” he said, meaning breeds that are genetically similar to ancient ancestors of dogs.
The ARC rescues wolf dogs, New Guinea singing dogs, believed to be a predecessor of the Australian dingo, foxes, dingoes and less exotic animals like dogs, cats and horses, Nelson said.
He said 115 acres is just a starting point for the organization, and the group is bringing in about 30 animals to start.
“Most of our animals are rescued,” Nelson said. “But in some cases, zoos don’t have room for more of a certain species, which is what happened with Kuni, our New Guinea singing dog.”
He said what typically happens is an individual gets a low-content wolf dog and takes it out in public. Others see the dog, become interested and get a high-content wolf dog, which is an entirely different animal. Those animals are surrendered to sanctuaries like Colorado ARC.
Nelson said the animals at the center will be used to draw tourists to the San Luis Valley, and the money charged to visit the center will be used to help train the rescues to be therapy animals, as well as to rescue dogs from local shelters to train as therapy dogs for veterans.
“We already have some amazing connections, but we are always looking for more volunteers. Veterans are always welcome, and with our guidance they can help train the dogs meant to be veteran therapy dogs,” Nelson said.
“They’ve given so much to us, and it’s a really important prong of the ARC’s mission to give back to returning veterans,” he said.
Nelson said a part of the assisting veterans mission will be inviting a veteran and his family to come to the center and spend a few days with the animals and participate in Native American drum circles and arts.
He said the center aims to educate individuals, fuel tourism, assist Native American communities within the Valley and rescue animals to become therapy pets to help veterans.
Veterans interested in the center’s veterans programs are encouraged to call Ceiski at 719-992-4081. Anyone interested in visiting the center or volunteering can call Nelson at 970-901-4027. For more information, visit coloradoarc.org or the ARC Facebook page.
Guinne Stropes is a staff writer at the Mountain Mail. Photo by Jennifer Alonzo.