One-Eyed Jack walks with the smooth strut of a river-boat gambler: assured, mischievous, congenial. His owners took him to a pound to be destroyed when he lost his eye. But now, the small, taffy-colored dog with curly hair resides at Living Free in the San Bernardino Mountains below Idyllwild.
When I met One-Eyed Jack, he was with his friend Jeremy Lynch, a college student who had come to the animal retreat to play with the dogs and to walk with his friends. When the director of the dog staff said, "We'll miss you when you go back to school, Jeremy," he grinned and said: "I'll be back at Christmas to see One-Eyed Jack."
Jean and Bill Camm, who live in La Quinta and are owned by a large cat, took me to the wonderful cat and dog haven to see the work the Living Free staff is doing.
The 160-acre mountain retreat was founded in 1980 by Emily Joe Beard to save cats and dogs scheduled to be put down at the overcrowded pounds. The land was originally a summer campground for the Cahuilla Indians, who considered it healing ground. It is certainly happy ground now, full of dogs and cats who live like lucky vacationers.
Beard endowed Living Free, so every tax-deductible contribution goes for food and new buildings for the tenants.
Julia Yale is the executive secretary; she introduced me to Gail Roberts, kennel manager. Gail lives in a hillside house overlooking the dog runs and the round kennel where the dogs sleep, lulled to doggy dreams by soft music. Honest.
When dogs and cats come to Living Free, they are quarantined for 30 days and spayed or neutered. The Living Free medical staff holds an inexpensive neutering clinic once a month.
Each kennel enclosure has an outside dog door, which the dogs can open themselves. Gail has a large chart posted in the diet room for special menus.
"I shouldn't have a (favorite)," Gail said, "but I can't resist Herbie, who gets special food for his kidney and liver problems."
Herbie is a perky Scottish terrier whose owners were using him as a football before he was rescued by the Living Free staff.
Staff members name the dogs; the names are very flossy and imaginative. A Lhasa apso is named Bruce Lee. Tiffany is an elegant female collie-mix who was spending the afternoon in the cool, quiet kennel because there was a lot of heavy machinery grading near her run. A few others were Trevor, a German shorthair; Balto, a black Lab; Chinook, a malamute; Duke, a regal German shepherd, and Duchess, a Great Dane.
Everyone was excited because MacTavish--a gray and white bristly bearded fellow with a long, dour Scottish face and a twinkle in his eye--might be adopted that day. (Adopting a Living Free animal means answering questions and being able to provide a safe home for it.) When a dog is chosen and leaves with a new family, staff members ring an old school bell and everyone stops what they are doing and cheers.
Belinda is a beautiful, large shepherd who is missing her left foreleg. Gail said a canine orthopedic specialist is fitting Belinda with an artificial leg, kept in place by a shoulder harness. The money came from a visitor who specified that his contribution go for an artificial leg for Belinda.
Gail's father was Noel Ormond, a veterinarian in England who specialized in orthopedics. He was the first to put two artificial hips in a German shepherd.
Joyce Anderson has been with Living Free three years and is in charge of continuing care. Tammy Hansen is assistant kennel manager and "my right hand," Gail said. J. D. Ellis is another assistant manager. They take turns, as do other staff members, looking in on the dogs at night.
Each large dog run has a playhouse with a ladder and a slide. Volunteers come and play with the dogs, giving each animal the feeling of being special.
There are 106 cats in the cattery, managed by Jeanie Azbill for the past four years. The cats are in three large rooms filled with cat delights--padded baskets, cat rings, perches, scratching posts, balls, toys and rocking chairs. There are no cages: The cats can romp, be with friends or go out to their patios, where they can catch the sun or nap. There is a calico there named Colette, who is a charmer--as all of them are, be they black, white, tiger, amber or black and white.
There is also a sumptuous playhouse and grounds called Pucci Manor. This is where pets whose owners have died stay. Pet owners can arrange for lifelong care for their pets through earmarked contributions.
Living Free is having an open house Sept. 14. Driving from Palm Desert, you take Highway 74 just beyond Mountain Center, then follow the signs. (For more information, call (714) 659-4684.)
There will be a dog parade, and actress Rue McClanahan will receive an award (a sculpture of a dog and cat by Palm Desert artist Linda Lee Baum) for her work with animals.
Take a picnic lunch and see this happy animal community. Your hosts will provide dessert and beverages. There will be magicians and jugglers, but the real entertainers will be the residents. If you see One-Eyed Jack, tell him you're a friend of mine.