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Pooch + pacemaker = Merry Xmas

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Meet Guido. He is quite possibly the luckiest dog in all of Adams County -- because of all the costly and peculiar gifts people lavish on their pets this time of year, Guido got the best one of all.

A pacemaker.

On December 17, Guido underwent an intravenous procedure that placed a device in his chest to correct an irregular and weakening heartbeat. At around $4,000, the operation isn't cheap, and Guido isn't exactly a precious showdog. He happens to be a 12-year-old lab-beagle mix, and a shelter dog to boot. But to animal sanctuary operator Maxine Mager, every critter in her menagerie is as deserving of the best care as any celebrity's pampered purebred.

"We do what we can with whatever resources we can find," says Mager, the founder and driving force behind Creative Acres, a no-kill shelter for an astonishing variety of aging and abandoned animals east of Brighton.

Mager started her shelter in the 1980s. She's survived blizzards and relocations and the perpetual scramble for donations that seems to overwhelm so many shelter efforts. (For some perspective on failed sanctuaries around the state, see my 2008 feature "Survival of the Fittest.") Along the way, she's seen her collection of dogs, cats, horses, sheep, ducks, pigs, emu, peacocks and just about any other animal people can abuse or neglect swell from a few dozen to nearly 400. Many are rescues that other shelters might view as unadoptable.

Mager separates the beasts "by temperament, not species," she explains; most are free-roaming on 44 acres. She rehabilitates and adopts out those she can and gives the others the best refuge she can. Guido's pacemaker was a big expense for her modest operation, but she reports that he's recovering nicely: "He was getting so weak. We caught it just in time."

Creative Acres is open only by appointment, and Mager charges a $30 donation per person for a tour, partly to weed out mere gawkers. ("People were trying to use us as a zoo.") She also tries to educate pet owners about alternatives to abandoning sick or "difficult" animals. "I get calls all the time from people who want to get rid of their cats because they're going outside the box," she says. "But often that's just a urinary tract infection."

Mager's always eager to raise awareness about non-abusive animal training, putting aside cash for vet bills and supporting no-kill shelters, whether 'tis the season or not. For the sake of Guido and her other charges, the challenge is to play Santa Claus 365 days a year.

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