It was loving day. The kittens purred. Dogs rolled over for a tummy rub. Children cautiously approached the horses and donkeys while parents stood by with concerned smiles. Bands under the canopy played music for the old and the new. Young and old lounged about in comfortable lawn chairs and blankets on the cool green grass under shady trees.
It was the annual “Howl and Yowl” fundraiser for Living Free Animal Sanctuary tucked away off Highway 74 in Mountain Center Saturday, Sept. 24. The $15 admission fee was far less than the enjoyment of the 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. event that brought nearly 900 caring people from all over the Inland Empire to the sanctuary to help the more than 200 animals living there.
The turnout, better than last year, said Ed O’Rourke, chairman of the Living Free board of directors, at the new kitery building at the facility and other board members attending the special event. The donations to the 160-acre go to the maintenance and operations for the dog kennels, catteries, corrals all designed to provide a safe home for the hundreds of animals rescued from euthanasia in public animal shelters and maltreatment as long as they need it. All the animals from cats, dogs, and even rabbits are up for adoption to caring people. Thousands have been adopted through the more than 30 years it has been open.
Emily Beard, the late founder of Living Free, would have been delighted to see the turnout to this year’s special event.
The event brought many vendors, nonprofit animal rescue and therapy organizations, members of the Riverside County Mountain Rescue team, artists, four top bands sponsored by Go Country 195 radio, and food and drink concessions. Family dogs and companion animals were also invited to the festivities. The bands invited Honey Country, Jason Powers, Black Swan and Michael Thomas played throughout the special fundraiser.
A surprise guest, “Max” the duly elected canine Mayor of Idyllwild, barked his welcome to the many canine relatives and their masters to the celebration.
Max’s handler and mayoral assistant Phyllis Mueller said with a bit of humor, the blue and white tie dressed, civic-minded Golden Retriever was in a very generous mood that day. Keeping informed about the upcoming Nov. 8 general election, he offered presidential candidate Donald Trump some of his shiny hair in the event of its loss in the upcoming election debates.
Adding a touch of down-home country to the event were hayrides offered by Granpa’s Hayrides out of Thousand Trails resort in Idyllwild. The mules “Kit” and “Kat” patiently awaited their next group for a tour of the mountain animal rescue facility.
Especially delighted with the Howl and Growl event was 13-year-old Ava Dekeyser, Living Free co-director and board president Randall Harris, who began with a trip to the new kitery and loving the kittens and ended with a visit with “Libby” or Liberty Bell, a rescued Mustang horse. “I love animals, “said Ava. “I come her two to three times a year.”
On the pasture where Libby and her corral mates were introduced to sanctuary visitors, Living Free co-director Harris, said the Howl and Growl fundraiser event offered the public an opportunity to meet Libby who will soon become a companion for American war veterans suffering from PTSD and other war-related handicaps in a new unofficially named “Mustangs for Vets” program planned by the board and its staff.
Harris explained with the Mustangs for Vets program “We hope to connect the vets back to the real world. Sort of a boot camp for transitioning the guys back to life.” He noted that horses and humans seem to have a close human/animal connection. The center is beginning the program with Libby, but will be accepting more rescue horses in the future in addition to their dog, cat and small animal rescues. Living Free will make further announcements about the planned $2.5 million unique veterans program in the coming months.
Staff members at Living Free while the festivities continued introduced some of their rescued charges to potential new human companions in the nearby memorial parks and greeting yards. A number of animals left with their new caring and loving human families.
Living Free invites others interested in rescuing or adopting the animals to go to their website at www.living-free.org or firstname.lastname@example.org. Living Free telephone is (951) 659-4687 and can be seen on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. Living Free is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organization.
Living Free, dedicated to “saving humanity one animal at a time,” is located at 54250 Keen Camp Road in Mountain Center. It does not accept unwanted or found animals brought in by the public. Living Free does accept small animals from public and private animal rescue facilities. All small animals at the sanctuary are up for adoption to caring families.