At Nuzzles & Co., a small but mighty staff is saving lives

The Summit County shelter helps hundreds of animals a year, from Navajo Nation and across Utah.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Vet technician Heidi Siddoway gives a puppy vaccinations and a sedative prior to neutering surgery at Nuzzles & Co. Rescue Ranch on Mar. 6, 2023. Nuzzles & Co. Pet Rescue and Adoption is a private, non-profit no-kill facility that seeks to give animals of all sizes a chance to thrive.

Peoa • Chromis, a black puppy with floppy ears and specks of white and tan in his coat, is a favorite among the staff at Nuzzles & Co., who affectionately call him “Charlie.”

“He cheated death twice,” said Arin Mead, director of operations at the private nonprofit no-kill animal shelter’s 100-acre Rescue Ranch facility in Peoa, in Summit County.

Charlie, Mead said, was brought in from the Navajo Nation — where a large portion of the animals cared for at the ranch come from — as one of a litter of eight. Three of his siblings died before the Nuzzles crew could get down to the reservation to transport them up to Peoa.

“He came in with parvo [canine parvovirus], which is why we had to inject him with antiviral meds,” Mead said. “He almost died but pulled through.”

Later, when Charlie was taken in to be neutered, he died on the table — either from a bad reaction to the anesthesia or because he simply wasn’t strong enough, said Alyssa Hughes, the medical director of the ranch’s veterinary suite.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Veterinary technician Falon Siddoway shaves the hair off Bobcat in preparation for neutering.

Parvo, Hughes said, is an incredibly hardy virus — it doesn’t die in direct sunlight or cold temperatures, and is easily transmitted among puppies. “It attacks multiple systems in the dog, the inside of their intestines and immune system,” she said. “It’s sort of like a double whammy. … [Puppies] are not competent to fight off this deadly infection.”

Parvo is also preventable, Hughes said, with the proper access to vaccines — which may be financially out of reach of many people.

Darrell McCurtain, Nuzzles & Co.’s intake director, is Navajo — and he recalled that while growing up on the reservation, he always saw free-roaming dogs that he wanted to help. That’s what led him to help craft the organization’s Rez Rescue program.

The Navajo reservation — covering parts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico — is so remote, McCurtain said, tribe members don’t have proper access to veterinary care for dogs. Even in border towns, the cost of spaying or neutering an animal can be expensive — let alone treating an animal for infectious diseases, like parvo, or even common problems, like ticks during the summer.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Darrell McCurtain, the intake director of the Native American reservation programs for the Navajo Nation and Ute Indian Tribe, loads bags of dog food and animal carriers into a vehicle to distribute on tribal lands.

The ranch brings in dogs from Navajo Nation with a range of problems, from a broken hip to cloudy vision, McCurtain said. Of the 1,203 animals that Nuzzles & Co. took in during 2022, 473 of them — 39% — were from reservations.

Dogs, McCurtain said, are crucial to life on the reservation. “The reservation has working dogs, used to protect livestock, guard dogs [for] protecting sheep and cattle,” he noted, especially because dogs help protect against coyotes.

Hughes said, “some infectious diseases that in vet school, I was taught, ‘you’re never going to see this’ … we do see those, especially in Navajo Nation dogs, because they just have no access to veterinary care.”

Nuzzles & Co. also runs spay and neuter clinics on the reservations, where they charge $25 to help tribe members who are strained financially. (A private veterinary clinic might charge between $100 and $300 to neuter a male dog, and $300 to $600 for a spay, depending on the size of the dog, according to United Spay Alliance.)

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Veterinary technician Falon Siddoway says goodbye to siblings Badger and Racoon that were recently adopted.

What ‘no-kill shelter’ means

Hughes said her job as a shelter vet is made easier than it might be at other facilities because Nuzzles & Co. has the resources, and gives her the opportunity to make the best medical decisions to save animals and get them ready to be adopted. Last year, the organization arranged for 998 adoptions. (Nuzzles & Co.’s adoption center is at Outlets Park City, the shopping center in Kimball Junction.)

The ranch’s veterinary suite in 2022 performed 1,941 procedures — spay and neuter surgeries, repairing ligaments (known as TLPO surgery), mass removals, dental work and more. That’s more than five a day, not factoring in weekends or holidays. The veterinarians there estimate 96% of the procedures saved an animal’s life.

“Anything about 90% is considered a no-kill shelter,” said Lindsay Ortega, Nuzzles & Co.’s executive director — adding that keeping animals alive and healthy is part of the group’s mission. “We don’t euthanize for space,” she said.

That 96% survival rate has a lot to do with the medical care and other programs the organization offers, Ortega said. Her personal favorite is Working Cats, for cats that work on barns and other private properties.

The rescue ranch, the hub of the organization’s work, has a feral cat community in back, where more than 40 cats on the property are free to come in and out for a warm space in the winter.

At other places, Ortega said, “cats in Utah are euthanized at a much higher rate than dogs, especially community cats.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The newly-renovated shelter for feral cats.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Volunteer Aliks Homan, left, chats briefly with Josh Stasinos before Homan takes Scooby outside for playtime.

Fostering pets and more

The staff, which numbers just over 20, works around the clock, efficiently giving animals proper medical and emotional care, and getting them ready for adoption. On one day in March — a couple of weeks before International Puppy Day on Thursday, March 23 — Nuzzles & Co. had 122 animals in its care system.

Animals like Scooby, a golden-haired dog who was hit by a car, the veterinary workers believe. Scooby had to have one leg amputated, and had surgery on another. Every day, staffers get him on a walk to get some exercise — so his good hip and remaining legs won’t seize.

Ranch manager Tali Yoked said every day is an adventure. “It’s a really fulfilling job,” she said. “I can’t even describe anything that makes me happier than coming here in the morning and seeing the progress of any dog that’s been taken care of.”

Mead said an integral part of their care is the foster program — which helps acclimate animals and sometimes quarantine them. Scooby, she said, is a good example of what the foster program can do.

“He went out to foster due to his medical situation, because he had to come in and get an amputation and then we had to wait for that to heal,” Mead said. “In the meantime, instead of just waiting up here, we sent him into a home where he could be doted on and he had some couch time. … It was the perfect situation for him to wait while he went through everything and now he’s available for adoption.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) One of 50 Yorkie puppies rescued from a hoarding situation in Summit County leaves Nuzzles & Co. after getting adopted.

Nuzzles & Co. also helps save animals found in hoarding or breeding situations. Earlier this month, the ranch workers were preparing a case of Yorkshire Terrier pups for transport to the adoption center. They had been pulled from a group of 50 found in a puppy mill in someone’s home.

“We are helping every animal that we bring into the program,” McCurtain said. “We’re gonna do everything we can for them and then try and buy them a home. I know that they have a second chance with us.”

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