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Rescue Ranch Offers Safe Haven for Four-legged Friends

Arizona Animal Rescue Friends volunteers Luann Herbert and Joan Melquist with Ramsey at the Mayer rescue center Thursday July 25, 2019. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

At the 10-acre “Out of Shelter Ranch” off Poland Junction Road in Mayer, the hill side views on a sunny, or cloudy day, are calendar worthy. The setting is conducive to long strolls and Frisbee.

The two-resident, western theme bunkhouses, with names like “Duke’s Diner,” “Miss Emma’s Schoolhouse” and the “Mad Dog Saloon,” I are cozy, climate-controlled spaces with room for two small beds. Each has a tiny door that leads to a small, contained outside porch area that leads into an expanded, fenced play yard. A boardwalk connects the houses.

This is no ordinary ranch neighborhood – it is a year-old, all-volunteer operated animal rescue and sanctuary that caters to abandoned, neglected or elderly canines.

Since accepting its first couple of dogs last October, the fledgling nonprofit officially known as the Arizona Animal Rescue Friends Animal Rescue and Sanctuary has provided a temporary home for about 100 dogs, most of them adopted into new families. All adoptions require a home visit.

For the few dogs who might not be suited to a prospective family, rescue volunteers assure that they become the dogs’ family. The AARF sanctuary is able to be their “forever home” until they cross the rainbow bridge.

“If a dog can’t be in a home, this is the best place to be,” declared volunteer Luann Herbert, a long time rescue volunteer who lives with a rescued Australian cattle dog “Suzy.” “We have people who just come and love on them.”

Most of AARP’s canine clientele come from overcrowded shelters in the area, strays picked up by city or county animal control officers or people surrendering animals because they no longer can care for them.

“While they’re here, they want for nothing,” declared volunteer Steve Stegmeir, whose sister, Liz, founded the rescue/sanctuary thanks to the generosity of an anonymous benefactor who donated the ranch property for the sake of abandoned and neglected animals.

Operating on a shoestring budget of between $12,000 and $15,000 this last year, all of it through donations, Liz Stegmeir said she is overwhelmed by both the need and community response to this endeavor.

“It’s been a blessing since the get-go,” said Stegmeir, who was inspired to start her own rescue a year ago after losing her seven-year job as manager of the Circle L Ranch in Prescott Valley when it downsized its operation.

Uncertain exactly how to start her own rescue, Stegmeir said she invited 50 like-minded people to a lunch to explore ideas. She expected a handful – 50 people showed up. Then it was a matter of finding a place. A gentleman approached with the offer of the ranch.

Suddenly, Stegmeir said, a wish morphed into what now is her passion – a safe haven for four-legged friends.

In April, Stegmeir said the rescue hosted an open house on the property she admits is a work in progress. Again, she expected a modest number; more than 100 people attended. She plans to have another in October.

“I’m thrilled,” Stegmeir said.

Though the rescue now is only for dogs, Stegmeir said she hopes in the next year or two to be able to accept abandoned and neglected felines.

In the near future, volunteer builders are slated to construct yet another western-themed bunkhouse – this one will be to house up to two mothers and puppies.

AARF has several families who now volunteer to foster rescues prior to adoption. One of them is caring for a Labrador mix that gave birth to 10 puppies.

Beyond the existing row of three double-occupancy dog houses, with plans for more to accommodate up to about 45 dogs, with some smaller houses for those who need some specialty care and socialization, volunteers have built a memorial garden with benches, a St. Francis of Assisi brick fountain and a rainbow bridge.

The garden – it is not a burial ground – is a contemplative space where rescue or volunteer’ animals can be memorialized.

A section beyond the parking lot is slated to be landscaped into training and off-leash play spaces. Volunteers, too, have converted a small barn into a “tiny house” caretaker cottage and a larger barn into a combination of office space, volunteer lounge and pet food preparation and medical care center.

Stegmeir said she hears from some who visit the ranch that they are spoiling these animals.

Her answer.

“Darn right, we’re spoiling them,” she said. “They’ve come through a lot; they’ve been dumped and discarded. They deserve to be spoiled. That’s our main focus.”

“It’s all about the dogs,” Herbert concluded.

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.


6639 S. Country Rd., Mayer, Az  86333

EIN: 83-0969545

Hours of Operation:

Tuesday - Saturday:  9am-5pm

Sunday - Monday: Closed

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