Twilight and Game of Thrones have become staples in the fantasy genre. And though their plots have little in common, they both include wolf-like characters. In Game of Thrones, it's direwolves, and in Twilight it's werewolves.
Ann McDonald runs the Thunder Puppy K9 Rehabilitation and Rehoming center, which rehabilitates huskies and other snow dogs. These dogs often come to McDonald with a history of serious trauma, rendering them incapable of living with humans. Many of the same dogs leave her home well-adjusted and ready to live with a family. Anecdotally, McDonald has seen a recent increase in the number of abandoned huskies, and she believes the rising numbers are directly attributable to people watching GOT and Twilight who want their own wolf-like canine.
But some fans don't realize what they're getting themselves into when they take a husky home. Huskies are very active and must be walked or taken for a run every day. If huskies don't get the right amount of exercise, they will often wreak havoc on furniture.
"They're a lot closer to the actual wolf," says McDonald.
McDonald's house, nestled at the foot of the mountains in Golden, is surrounded by a tall fence. Her property includes pens for dogs to sleep in and rocks for them to climb. Huskies even hang out inside the house. McDonald has three huskies of her own, but up to nine dogs live with her at any given time.
Some former clients of McDonald's believe she might actually be part dog herself. And they may have a point: She seems to be able to communicate with huskies who seem inaccessible to other humans.
"This is what I do all day, every day," says McDonald, who identifies herself as a canine psychologist.
McDonald spent most of her professional career as a photographer, but in 2004 she started volunteering at dog shelters. She realized that she could train dogs and even rescue them herself, so in 2009 she founded Thunder Puppy University, a training service open to all breeds of dogs. She founded her husky rescue nonprofit in 2014 and moved to her new location in 2015.
Since then, McDonald has rehabilitated and re-homed 110 huskies. Only four of those dogs have been returned to her, though each eventually found forever homes.
McDonald's biggest challenge has been getting enough donations to fund her operation. When an owner brings in a husky they can no longer take care of, they must pay $900. But this $900 might only last for one month of the pup's care, McDonald says.
Dogs stay at her rescue for six months on average, and care costs $500 to $1,000 per month per dog, depending on medical and dietary needs, training time, vet visits and the severity of any behavioral issues.
To help meet these costs, McDonald asks for a $300 to $400 adoption fee and sometimes gets money from donors who simply want to support her work. She also gets money through online fundraisers and dog-themed events, like Howl-o-ween, which takes place on October 27 and involves a dog costume contest.
Even though McDonald's operation isn't exactly flush with cash, she still takes in any husky in need of rehabilitation, working with shelters pro bono when they have a husky in need of help.
And many are in need, especially after they've been taken in by people who can't adjust to their needs.
When a dog arrives at her rescue, McDonald gives it about a month to "just be a dog." That means letting the husky run around, eat, howl and sleep whenever it wants. She also often gives dogs a new name.
At the end of the month, McDonald starts teaching the husky how to walk politely on a leash. Within two months of the dog's arrival, she posts an ad on Petfinder seeking a family looking to adopt a husky. McDonald vets the prospective adopter, asking questions about the person's lifestyle, exercise habits and living situation.
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People who live in apartments often have a difficult time living with a husky, since they need so much space, she says. However, McDonald does make exceptions.
Jon Selby serves in the Navy at Buckley Air Force Base. Selby had always dreamed of owning a husky, so he reached out to McDonald about potentially adopting one. At the time, Selby lived in hotel-like lodging on base, but when he described his weekly workout routine, which involves running tens of miles each week, McDonald knew that Selby would be a good fit for a particular husky.
Axl — in honor of Selby's favorite singer, Axl Rose — lived at McDonald's rescue while Selby and his wife closed on a house they were purchasing. Once they moved in, Axl joined them. Now, Selby goes running with Axl every day.
"Huskies work great in pairs. When we get a little more settled, we may bring another one home," says Selby.