Kentucky

Owner of flood-damaged Elliott County animal shelter seeks higher ground

Dogs gathered around Randy Skaggs, who runs a no-kill animal shelter in Elliott County. Skaggs began bringing animals to his shelter more than 20 years ago. He now houses more than 150 dogs and 80 cats. The dogs consume more than 200 pounds of food each day while the cats eat 40 pounds. His shelter sustained damage, top, during recent flooding.
Dogs gathered around Randy Skaggs, who runs a no-kill animal shelter in Elliott County. Skaggs began bringing animals to his shelter more than 20 years ago. He now houses more than 150 dogs and 80 cats. The dogs consume more than 200 pounds of food each day while the cats eat 40 pounds. His shelter sustained damage, top, during recent flooding. Randy Snyder

STEPHENS — Flooding from July storms washed away a chick and a foot or more of ground along Little Brushy Creek at a place called Eden in Elliott County, an animal sanctuary where about 250 dogs, cats and chickens live.

The flooding caused $8,000 to $12,000 in damages at Eden, destroying a newly built culvert, compromising the integrity of several wooden foot bridges over the creek and leaving a muddy residue inside the sanctuary's office building. The flooding also has hampered the construction of Pauly's Place, an enclosure for cats named after a kitten called Pauly Dactyl because it had six toes on each paw.

Randy Skaggs, operator of Eden and founder of the non-profit Trixie Foundation, which supports the sanctuary, showed visitors around last week to get a look at the damage.

Skaggs, a long-time animal rights activist who has fought to get Kentucky counties to maintain minimum standards at their animal shelters and to stop euthanizing animals in what he considers inhumane ways, began the Trixie Foundation about 20 years ago. It's named for a dog that died in his arms after being attacked by other dogs.

Eden is a no-kill shelter, meaning it does not keep an animal for a certain period of time, then euthanize it. Skaggs also does not allow any of Eden's animals to be adopted. There are plenty of dogs and cats at other shelters for which homes need to be found before they are euthanized, he said. Once an animal comes to Eden, it stays there for life.

The shelter began with a handful of dogs and 2 acres of land. There was no electricity or running water. Now, Skaggs says Eden has about 150 dogs, 80 cats and several chickens — all of which would have probably come to horrible ends, according to Skaggs. Although the Trixie Foundation has purchased 151 more acres of land over the years, most of it is undeveloped.

Eden is home to smaller creatures. Some have been abused and abandoned near the shelter. Others have been brought to Eden by owners, who for one reason or another no longer can care for them.

"Every animal you see here was a throwaway. People drive by here and push them out," Skaggs said.

He and two helpers live at the sanctuary, which has a couple of cabins and several wooden, metal-roofed dog houses. They care for and play with the animals, who eat nearly 300 pounds of food each day. Skaggs gives immunizations to the animals and provides other medical care. Each dog and cat has a name, and they are allowed to pick their own friends. The dogs live in groups, based on how well they get along together, with a large fenced-in area for each group, while the cats roam freely throughout the property.

Skaggs would like to move the whole operation to the top of the hill behind it. Then he wouldn't have to worry about flooding, he said. But that would be costly, and money is tight because of a tough economy, the flooding and bad-mouthing from bloggers.

In 2009, the Humane Society of the United States inspected Eden after receiving a number of inquiries from a variety of concerned individuals. Skaggs extended an invitation. Pamela Rogers, Kentucky state director of the Humane Society, said in an e-mail that the final report on Trixie suggested some areas for improvement, but said the animals seemed to be well-cared for.

Since the investigators' visit, the Humane Society has provided "significant funds" to help with spaying and neutering, vaccinations and other veterinary care of dogs and cats at Eden, she said.

"Trixie is about the only game in town" when it comes to humane societies or animal rescue groups in Elliott County, Rogers said. There is a lack of resources for the care and housing of animals in the region as a whole, and the Humane Society is trying to work with county governments to change that, she said.

Skaggs' detractors have said that Eden smells bad and that there is too much barking.

Skaggs still has a long list of faithful supporters. He said the Trixie Foundation has received donations from as far away as Australia and England.

Nanette Leslie of Northern California, a long-time regular donor to the Trixie Foundation, has never met Skaggs but heard about his work while working with a national animal rights organization. She was impressed by his commitment to the animals.

"He'll take some scroungy old dog that's on the verge of death. Nobody else will do that," she said during a phone interview.

Skaggs, a graduate of Morehead State University, said he has been an animal lover all of his life. He has fond memories of his father taking the family's German shepherd Jonah out regularly for ice cream.

When he was just out of high school in 1970, Skaggs buried his parents, who were fatally injured when a plane piloted by his father crashed. Over the years Skaggs has been married and divorced three times. He does not see much of his two grown sons.

"Somewhere along the line I learned to empathize because I'd felt pain, too," he said of the animals.

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