It’s the cat’s meow, a doggie door to a new home and soon perhaps, a Mustang morning for more than 200 abandoned and rescued animals at Living Free animal sanctuary tucked away in the mountains above Hemet.
Even if a home is not found for every rescued animal at Living Free — dogs, cats, rabbits and now donkeys and Mustangs — will live free and have a place to stay for life. It is an animal sanctuary located at 54250 Keen Camp Road in Mountain Center.
This sanctuary has been the home of thousands of rescued animals in the past 26 years. It has grown with the help of animal lovers, Hollywood stars, television personalities, animal rights groups and conservationists, but still needs support and help from those who express their love and want to help animals.
Living Free is a dream come true and a legacy of Emily Jo Beard, who died in 1989. Emily created the sanctuary, today the home of more than 200 rescued animals. Beard’s vision was “to provide refuge and to bless our fellow creatures. If homes cannot be found for them, they will live out their lives in dignity and peace at Living Free.” She perhaps was, in her own way, the leader of today’s “No Kill” animal lovers dedicated to saving as many neglected, abuse or abandoned dogs, cats, and the other large and small domestic animals from euthanasia across the world.
Fulfilling her legacy is Living Free Executive Director of Animal Services Sharon Caughron, Randall Harris, co-director and president Living Free board of directors, and their 12 full time staff members. More than 150 Living Free volunteers help with the animal care and feeding schedules throughout the year.
“Let’s get rid of the myth that there isn’t enough homes for adoption (of abandoned and abused animals),” says Harris with strong conviction. “There are plenty of homes out there…there are 18 to 20 million people out there in the market for companion pets.”
Rescue animals healthy, loving
He suggested that people in the market for a companion pet not look at the retail stores or the breeding “mills.” He said the people believe that rescued animals have more health and behavioral problems than breeder animals. “That is not true,” he emphasized. “We get purebred animals all the time, they are great dogs and cats… If only they could change their perception that rescue animals are all damaged.”
They are not damaged, as a visit to the sanctuary will show. Many of the Living Free rescued animals have been unintentionally lost and not claimed. Some purebreds and been well cared for by their “lost” owners. Many are friendly, housebroken and loving to those whom they meet. The Living Free staff devote many hours helping the dogs and cats, who have become fearful of humans and other predators they may have faced, to overcome their anxieties with love and patience. Each animal brought to the sanctuary is given a complete health checkup by a veterinarian, shots and other medical treatment as needed. They are quarantined, treated and made certain they are well before going to clean open air kennels, catteries and play yards throughout the property.
Such is the case with Executive Director Caughron, who on a tour visited with “Ginger” and “Buddy” a matched pair of dogs left with Living Free with a “legacy” gift by their former owners. As Sharon opened the kennel gate Ginger and Buddy wagging their tails ran up to greet her and with “doggie kisses” and all the affection they could muster. Caughron, like all of her staff, try to know each of rescued animals by by their known or given names.
“They still can be adopted,” Caughron said, “but they have to go together. They are inseparable.”
In another visit, Caughron, was met by the one of the sanctuary’s newest rescues, “Liberty Bell” or “Libby” and she is affectionately called. Libby is the first Mustang horse rescued by the sanctuary on the request of the Bureau of Land Management. Libby, turned back to the BLM by the adoptive owners who could not care for her, was extremely shy of humans on arrival at Living Free but with the love and care shown by staff walked over to Caughron waiting for a nose rub.
Another staff member working with Libby said the Mustang now particularly likes children and comes up to people without fear.
Mustangs for Vets program seen
Libby doesn’t know it yet but she may be the first of her breed to welcome American war veterans suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome to Living Free. The proposed program “Mustangs for Vets” is being initiated by Living Free in the hope that rescued Mustangs will become companions to those veterans who will be able to live at the sanctuary and help care for the animals, according to Harris. Horses and suffering veterans seem to form symbiotic relationships and help each other in their life’s journey, according to recent studies.
It is an ambitious project for Living Free who will soon be setting up the program with psychologists and others familiar with similar therapy programs. They estimate the program will need at least $2.5 million in donations to build new corrals, bunkhouses for the veterans, and barns on the 160-acre property. “We have room for it here,” said Caughron on the tour. It will be unique in the fact the veteran’s will have a place to live near their own charges at Living Free.
Emily Beard, Living Free founder, began the sanctuary in 1980 after purchasing the land from a former ranch resort and YWCA camp. Before that the property was once the home of the Cahuilla Indians who left behind substantial archeological evidence of their presence. In the early 1900s, John Keen purchased the property and turned it into a camp and later the resort known as Tahquitz Lodge.
The Living Free staff has been careful to preserve the sites heritage and the what remains of the stone fireplace of the old lodge still stands on a dedicated historic site in the center of the property called “The Court of Friends.” In the 1920’s the lodge and surroundings were used in films starring Mary Pickford, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and John Wayne to name a few.
Stars favor pet rescue facility
Living Free today is also known to many animal loving Hollywood and television actors and models like Melissa Etheridge and Olivia Munn who have contributed to the sanctuary’s success.
Since Emily Beard founded Living Free with only one cattery and kennel it has continually, with the help of contributors from all over the world. Facilities now include a big dog kennel, a little dog kennel, new state-of-the-art puppy palace and kitery, a treatment and quarantine building, three catteries, horse corrals and barn, a one acre play yard, several memorial parks, greeting yards and an administrative building. The greeting yards are fenced in grass areas where potential adoptees can meet, play with and get to know their adoptable pet before taking them home. Almost all the animals are adoptable at the sanctuary. Visitors are welcome from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Wednesday at 5420 Keen Camp Road in Mountain Center.
Adopt a companion pet today
There is a $195 fee for dog adoptions, $75 for cars and $295 for healthy puppies. The fees offset the costs of spay and neutering, physical exams and necessary shots.
Living Free does not accept unwanted or found animals brought in by the public. Living Free does accept small animals from shelters and other public and private animal rescue facilities.
For more information: see www.living-free.org or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone is (951) 659-4687 and Living Free can be seen on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.