“Rescue is worth it because they’re worth it. And it takes, it takes a lot of strength. It takes a lot of courage to do it. It’s not like you just say, “Oh God, I’m just going to save these dogs and stuff” because there’s so much heartache to it. I mean, we get so many from shelters people have had their whole life and at 14 they dumped them at the shelter and those are the ones we always reach out to. And we kind of call them our hospice cases and they’re in kidney failure or heart failure, but we just try to give them love for the rest of their days. And so there’s a lot of pain and agony to it, but it is so rewarding. And if you really get into it, you will get a lot of gratification out of it.”
Welcome to the Practical Horseman Podcast, featuring conversations with respected riders, industry leaders and horse-care experts. The show is co-hosted by Practical Horseman editors, and our goal is to inform, educate and inspire. I’m Sandra Oliynyk and this week’s episode is with hunter trainer and co-founder of Danny & Ron’s Rescue Ron Danta.
Ron was riding ponies by age 7 and progressed from Pony Club and 4-H to showing on the Illinois hunter/jumper circuit in the 1960s. He attended a community college while teaching at a local barn before renting his own place and building a roster of clients. But after several barns collapsed in a huge snowstorm in the late 1970s, Ron headed south. He eventually landed in Camden, South Carolina, merging his training business with Danny Robertshaw, a hunter trainer and judge and Ron’s partner of nearly 30 years.
Several horses whom Ron trained were U.S. Equestrian Federation Horse of the Year, and he’s won over 20 hunter championships at top A-rated shows. For several years, he chaired the task forces for the USHJA International Hunter Derby and the Green Incentive Hunter Derby and sat on the USHJA Hunter Working Group.
In addition to his professional success, Ron is equally well-known as co-founder of Danny & Ron’s Rescue, a nonprofit that rescues and rehomes more than 900 dogs a year. At their Beaver River Farm in Camden, Ron and Danny live in a small house filled with rescue dogs and “not a lot of space for humans.” In 2018, they were featured in the documentary “Life in the Doghouse,” available on Netflix, which tells the inspiring story surrounding their rescue work.
Ron and I spoke on the phone last fall about a variety of topics. In this conversation, he talks about hunter derbies—their evolution, what makes a good derby horse and tips on how to prepare for a derby. He also says that a good horseman is someone who understands that horses are individuals. He shares that he and Danny are Thoroughbred advocates—at the time of our interview they had four in training—and discusses why he thinks Thoroughbreds make solid riding horses and competitors. Finally, Ron shares how he and Danny started their dog rescue, what it’s like to have 90 dogs living in their home at any given time, how they manage the pack dynamics, and the emotional aspect of animal rescue.
Now, let’s jump right into the conversation with Ron, where he talks about how he first became interested in riding and competing.
Listen to the podcast here.
Ron Danta: When I was very young, probably 7 years old, everyone in our neighborhood where I grew up, all of the kids had ponies or horses across the street or down the street. And so when I was a kid, I started, uh my next door neighbor was my best friend, and started going. I had like 20 some ponies starting to go over there and start riding ponies.
And that just kind of escalated from that. And then my grandmother bought me my first horse. Then I bought my first horse trailers are going to horse shows and started taking lessons and it just kind of kept expanding from there. And it’s something I always had a passion for. I’ve always have a passion for all animals.
And so I enjoyed it even when I was in school. And even when I was in college and stuff, I started teaching, riding part-time while I was in college and stuff. So it just kind of kept going from there. I mean, I basically went to college because my parents wanted me to do it, but I really, my heart really was wanting to be in the horse world.
Sandra Oliynyk: And how did you decide to become a professional or how did that evolve?
Well, I was already teaching, like when I was in college, I was already teaching riding lessons. So technically, according to, at that time, it was called AHSA. At that time, that technically made me a professional because I was teaching riding lessons. OK. And getting paid for it. So that automatically made me a professional.
Right. OK. And then you had started out in Illinois and the Chicago area, and then you eventually moved to South Carolina. And can you talk about what prompted that decision?
Yes. I grew up in Barrington, Illinois, and love the area. My parents bought a farm for me. And in the winter of ’79, we had one of the worst snowfalls in the Chicago area that ever happened. And like 42 barns collapsed. One of those was mine. I was teaching in the indoor arena and I could hear the crackle sound, and we ran outside and all of a sudden it was like a domino effect.
It just started crashing to the ground. And so then I had horse vans come and pick up all the, all the horses and the boarder horses and, they went to another barn. And by the time they got to the other barn that said they could take my horses, that collapsed. And then the van went on to Barrington Hills Riding Center. At that time, Bruce Duchossois was running that and by the time it got there, that collapsed. And so anyway, it was once I rebuilt the barn, I decided I wanted to head South. I was done with the Chicago winters.
Yeah, that sounds extremely difficult. Moving on, you’ve been involved with the creation and the growth of hunter derbies in the United States, especially with the Hunter/Jumper International Hunter Derby and their Green Incentive Hunter Derby. Can you talk about how you first became interested in developing them?
Danny and I were invited to Carl and Rush Weeden’s house. They were having a gathering and said that they wanted several professionals to come over and hear George Morris, his vision. He wanted a grand prix of hunters to get started.
And that was his vision for the international derbies. So there was probably about 25 of us that went and had dinner at Carl and Rush’s. And George spoke to all of us and told us all his vision, what he would really like to see a higher level for hunters higher than the Regular Working Hunter at that time.
And now it’s called High Performance Hunters. So anyway, Bill Moroney was at the dinner and that’s when USHJA had just formed. And so after we had that dinner, Bill decided to let us all keep moving forward and to try to develop the International Hunter Derby. And we had our first retreat during Devon.
And from there, it just, we had more and more retreats and tried to get the specs written and the rules, the regulations, what the finals would be like. And so the first year, because it took us a while to get things going and we wanted it to catch on a little bit, it was an 18-month period.
Now we’re on a 12-month calendar for the International Derby. And early on in the very, very beginning, Geoff Teall was the chairman. And then, that was like in the spring. And then when we went to Phoenix for the annual meeting, then they asked me to take over as chair of the International Derby.
So I took that over, after we had kind of done about six months of planning and, I’ve been doing it since. So it’s been a, been a very long journey, but a very, I think, a very successful journey. I think it created a lot of energy in the hunters. I think 15 years ago, hunters were seriously fading.
And so I really do think that the international derbies have sparked an interest. I think a lot of owners want to own Derby horses. When we began the Derby program, there really wasn’t what you would call a Derby horse, because we all just had horses that we taught to jump bigger. Some of them did equitation, some did jumpers, some did the Regular Working, the High Performance Hunters.
So in the first several years, we had kind of a conglomeration of everyone trying to figure out what an International Derby horse would be. And it’s very interesting if you watch any of the tapes from the first International Derby round, and you can really watch the evolution of how people have trained.
And people have gone to Europe and really bought horses that they thought could be Derby horses. So it’s been a, been a very interesting journey, but I think now there are truly horses that are stamped as Derby horses, which has really been fun for me to be able to watch the evolution and even go back, like I said, look in our archives [and see] just how far the horses have come and what makes a Derby horse.
Can you talk a little bit about the qualities in a hunter derby horse?
Well, a Derby horse is very special in that, the Derby classes, especially the final, the jumps are very big. I mean, one year at the finals, we had a vertical that was 5-foot-1.
Those jumps, as Melanie Smith, Taylor told me, she said, “You know, Ron, I jumped that in the Olympics.” [Laughs] So it takes a very special horse to be able to jump very big jumps in hunter style and not being really run at the jumps with a lot of power, kind of pushed past the distances to where the horses back up like the jumpers do.
And so it takes a lot of scope and range and a horse that they can go with the beautiful canter and the same rhythm and then still come up with a very stylish and powerful jump over the very large jumps. So I mean, that, that really does take a special horse. I mean, there’s a lot of great horses that are great 3-foot horses, great. 3’6’ junior horses or amateur horses. There are great horses that are high performance horses, but a Derby horse. It’s a very, very challenging test of scope and range.
So do you think, do you feel like you’ve achieved or through the derbies, it has achieved sort of being the grand prix of hunters.
I think we definitely have achieved that goal. As I said, it’s taken years to evolve and years for people to really catch on to what we were asking for an, a Derby horse and like I said, people really nowadays, I mean, there’s a lot of owners that will tell their trainer I want a Derby horse.
And so people really know that that has to be something that has tons of scope, tons of range, tons of step. And you know, a horse that can jump in a beautiful style. I mean, it’s not. Early on, I mean, some horses got by with not really breaking over using their backs, not, not moving well and everything like that.
And I like it that our, our evolution of, of the Derby horses really turned into a very, very special horse,
When you’re, especially at the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals, what, in addition to the size of the fences, what, what makes it exciting to watch? You’ve been obviously to, to all of them.
So, yeah, I haven’t missed any. I really hated not having it this year, but anyway, you know what I mean, the jumps are very big. The track that they’re set on is very challenging. I’ll give you an example. One year when Steve Stephens, who’s just the master of course designing, when Steve set the course for our International Derby, the very next day, they had the grand prix, and all the jumps, they in the same exact place. And all he brought in was jumper jumps.
And that became the grand-prix course. And so there are, there’s a lot of challenge to the track. There’s a lot of challenge to the way that the in-and-outs are set. And so it really there’s many questions that horses have to come up with and answer during a Derby course.
Derbies are obviously, have really taken off at the upper levels, but they have been, they’re becoming more popular at the lower levels and also on local show circuits. Can you speak about the growth in those areas?
Yeah, it’s been very exciting uh, even in USHJA after the Derby got going then the National Derby was born.
And the National Derby is a very, very important program for USHJA and very, very popular with riders, trainers, owners. And those are smaller jumps. I mean, the highest jump is 3-foot-5, but people really love it. And they have their classic round and their handy hunter round.
And it’s been very interesting to watch. Not only the National Derby, but then if you see on a lot of more local circuits they actually are having their own form of a Derby of a classic round and then a handy round. And even a lot of shows, I see, they have like tadpole derbies and they have derbies at 2-foot at 2’6”.
And the kids are just loving it doing it. And so it’s really, I think it’s been very exciting just to watch the trickle effect from the international being the grand prix of hunters, but it’s trickled down, I think really all the way down through the, to the grassroots.
And why do you think it’s taken off so much from the upper levels to the, to the grassroots?
I think because it’s fun. I think because it’s challenging. You know, I really think people love the handy part to it. And it’s just different than going around outside diagonal, outside diagonal, same jumps, plain jumps there’s a lot of course, designers that take a lot of pride into developing Derby jumps, which are very natural looking, something that you might see out in the fox-hunting field. And I think that that for a lot of riders, it’s a lot of fun to jump some different jumps instead of PVC jumps. And the typical jumps we see in the ring day after day.
And so I really think that’s like, I even went and saw a little tiny show across the street from our farm. And they had a little 2”6” Derby, but they brought in some logs and some little coops and different things and lots of brush. And it’s just fun for them to do something different, something more challenging and and the tracks are a little harder to ride, so it takes a little more expertise and horsemanship to do it.
So I think, I dunno, I think it’s just challenging for people and I think people love the challenge.
And do you have any tips putting on your trainer’s hat, uh, do you have any tips or suggestions for how writers can prepare themselves in their horses for their first Hunter Derby?
Well, I think you have to have a lot of trust and faith, number one in your horse and make sure that you are not overfacing them when you do an International Derby. You have the option of doing the low options or the high options, which to me, if you have a younger horse and you need to go wide, or even in the handy rounds and go smoother and stuff, to give them some confidence and some miles.
I think that’s all fine, but you really have to read your horse and know where your horse is training-wise, ability-wise, scope-wise, because the last thing you want to do is overface them and have them get scared or worried. So I think it’s a big thing that you need to at home practice—a little harder track to practice, some broken lines, practice rollbacks.
You know, and jump some different jumps than the normal show jumps. We normally jump, so, I mean, to me, that’s all in seasoning your horse and the education of your horse. And so I just feel that that’s something that to me, if I had a young horse, I would start doing the National Derbies first.
And getting their feet wet, doing that. And you know, then they may start doing maybe the 3’9” Greens or something like that to get your horse prepared for the International Derby. I think that with a young horse, it’s very hard to throw them into the mix of an International Derby, unless, unless they are super brave.
I mean, there’s a lot of horses that come from Europe and they’ve done a lot on the meter-40s and 50s and stuff. So, I mean, they’ve jumped some gigantic jumps for those. So for those horses it’s not so bad because they have been challenged already in the jumper field.
What Makes a Good Horseman
And then moving on to a little bit more for training, what, what do you think makes a good horseman?
Oh, I think there’s a lot of things that make a good horseman. I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned through the years, number one, I don’t think we can train them all the same. You can’t cookie-cutter training.
I think each horse is an individual. Their minds are all different. Their talent is different. And so I think learning to read your horse’s mind and what they’re asking. I think I think in a rider–horse combination, one of the most important pieces is that—and we always stress this with our riders. Danny’s very, very big on it even with any of the pros that ride our horses—but horses need to think that you’re their friend. Anytime we learn even us as humans and have teachers in school or whatever. I mean, if you have some, uh, teacher that constantly picks at you and puts you down, you’re not going to learn and you’re not going to accelerate.
So as a rider horses can’t feel picked up. They have to feel that you’re teaching them sometimes. When they’re a little nervous, we have to actually hold their hand and say, it’s OK, and give them time to figure it out. But I think one of the worst things as a horseman is trying to rush the training program.
I mean, I think the training program, each horse is different. There’s some horses that are way braver than others. There’s a lot that internalize and worry. And I think it’s really important as the horseman that you have got to be able to read your horses and you cannot—I mean, I really stress this—there is no way you can train them all the same because they, they all tell us something different. I mean, I had, I had a horse that I bought off the race track and jumped over a pitchfork handle and a pickle bucket in the aisle of the shed row and got him home and brought him along, and he was a very sensitive Thoroughbred. And he was one that you couldn’t longe to make him quiet. He was one that I learned that I used to just take up to the ring and let them graze and hang out and let him relax. And then the other thing he taught us is whenever he schooled for a class, we always took him back to his stall and he would urinate back in a stall immediately. And then we would take him right back up and show. And we did that throughout all of Indoors. I mean, he was First-Year Green Champion at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania National, he was grand green champion. He was champion at Washington International and Reserve at Madison Square Garden. And. Uh, that is what he taught me what he wanted. I mean, that’s the way he wanted to do things. And even when we sold him to a very, very great ,famous trainer, she decided she was going to not let them go back and go back to a stall before he went to the ring, he needed to get over it, and things were not going well.
And the owner flew me down to Tampa and we schooled and I said, “You need to get off. You need just go back to the stall.” And she said, “Oh no, no, no, he’s going to get over that.” And I just said I was flown down here to see what the problem was. I took him back and let him go back to the stall and pee, and he won all four working classes but horses tell us things.
And I think that’s the important thing as a horseman is. Is you’ve gotta be open-minded and you have to try to just, you have to look at it from their side, not our side.
How did you, like in that instance, how did you figure out that the horse needed to go back to a stall? Was it just trial?
Well, when we started showing him. After we would school, you could tell he would get more nervous and race horses, when they run the race, they always go back to what they call the sweat boxes, where they urinate, and then they do urine samples and everything like that. So Thoroughbreds are very, very programmed from an early age of going back and peeing.
So it just dawned on me one day because he did race that maybe that’s what he was telling us. And I just ran him back to the stall—had Danny get off. I mean, in two seconds, I brought him back up and then he went both classes. And so then I just started doing it and it worked beautifully. And I may even at Indoors, like I said we would school, you’d get off, I’d run back.
Even in Washington, you have to run back up the ramp, take them out. But that’s just what that’s what made him tick. Not that all horses would do that, but that, that was his thing. And we’ve had so many horses through the years and a lot of great horses and they all have their little idiosyncrasies.
Danny had a very spooky horse that he was champion at all of indoors and Devon and a top confirmation horse named Arc d’Triomphe. And he was very, very spooky. And Danny learned a long time ago with him that if he went in and picked up a trot and a canter and went to the first jump, he would spook. If he went in the ring and walked, and just kind of walked a circle and then picked up his canter, he was a winner. That’s just how that horse went. I mean, it’s just so it’s I just think as horsemen, you’ve got try to get into their mind and try to see what they’re asking us for.
And then you mentioned, Thoroughbreds a couple of times, and you mentioned, earlier, uh, before we did the podcast that you have four Thoroughbreds at your stable. Can you talk about Thoroughbreds, especially when obviously warmbloods are maybe more prevalent these days.
Yeah. Warmbloods are definitely prevalent nowadays. I mean, years ago, that’s all we, we all had Thoroughbreds. The whole United States was Thoroughbreds. That was it. And when you look back, I mean, even all the horses back in the fifties, sixties and stuff, they were all Thoroughbreds. We didn’t have many warmbloods and there are still so many great Thoroughbreds out there. I mean, when you look at the horses that were just amazing horses through history, I mean, most of those all were Thoroughbreds way back.
And so, Thoroughbreds are very, I don’t know, they’re very durable. I mean, when you see racehorses, they run with chips in their knees and their ankles and they still keep running and trying and stuff. Now warmbloods, if they get a little scratch, they’re going out, and Thoroughbreds are just so tough.
And I mean, way back in days, I mean, when Danny had Protocol we didn’t have Legend. We didn’t have Adequan. We didn’t have acupuncturists. We didn’t have massage. No, we didn’t have magnetic blankets, magnetic pads, which we have nowadays.
And those horses were just so durable. You know, basically back in the seventies and eighties, all we worried about was did they have navicular? It was the big question and now you don’t hear the navicular very much. You know, the interesting thing I find even like with so many warmbloods. When a warmblood spooks over a jump, they always usually hit it. When Thoroughbreds is going to jump and spooks we always liked that because they jumped higher and crisper. They spook to away from it and gave you a really brilliant jump. And that’s the funny thing about warmbloods. Sometimes the spooky ones, they spook down at the jump instead of jumping higher, but we have four Thoroughbreds in the barn and we’ve, uh, we’ve done the TAKE2 Thoroughbred Championships in Kentucky two times, last year and this year, and luckily we won both years. We’ve had a customer, that’s a wonderful customer. And we bought this 2-year-old off-the track here in Camden, and I’ve trained him since, and he’s been circuit champion at WEF three years. And Danny has a horse that’s all Thoroughbred, and he’s been circuit champion three times at WEF in the Thoroughbred hunters.
And you know, we’ve had some other ones that have been very successful doing other divisions and we just got a new 3-year-olds,. It’s a Thoroughbred that we really, really like. And, and I, I hope people sometimes will open their mind and not close the door to the Thoroughbreds, cause there’s so many out there. And when they’re done with their racing career, everyone needs to remember their career’s over. And I don’t think most people really want to think where do those ex-rachorses go. But unless there’s someone real famous for breeding, most of those ex-racehorses go to the slaughterhouse.
You’ve touched on that you’re involved in horse rescue. Can you talk a little bit about how, how that developed?
Yeah, the horse rescue part is strictly something Danny and I do on the side. You know, we save a lot from the slaughterhouse. We take a lot of horses, even from the slaughterhouse that have foundered in so much pain and instead of making them ship 42 hours to Mexico or being cattle prodded because they’re, they’re so lame they can’t even walk and they try to make them get on trailers to go to Canada or Mexico or go on the planes to Japan. A lot of them, we pay, New Bolton to go and euthanize them. So at least they are humanely taken care of instead of having to make that long journey and fall down and get trampled on the, on the way.
But we do save a lot of horses and a lot of them we have retired. But any of them that we get and we think are rideable will break and train, and because we do this for a living. And then we bring them along. Some of them go to handicap programs. We have a lot of horses that we’ve saved that are doing Pony Club kids, 4-H kids. Some on the A-circuit that they didn’t have hardly any money and they needed a horse. And so we try to do that get several a year to try to keep doing that, just to help keep from the kill pens.
We, we have a very large dog rescue, but we don’t run the horses through the dog rescue cause that’s strictly a non-profit dog rescue. So that the horse rescue thing is just something that Danny and I have a great passion for and do.
Danny & Ron’s Rescue
That’s great. So you’ve mentioned you’re the co-founder of Danny & Ron’s Rescue, which rescues and rehomes more than 900 dogs a year. Can you talk a little bit about how, how that rescue got started?
Yeah, it’s been a long journey. I mean, Danny and I, through the years we’d always go to the shelter and get like four dogs at the shelter on euthanasia, bring them back to the farm, try to rehab them and figure out what their problems were if they had issues. And then we would try to lean on our horse friends to give them homes. And we did that. And then when Hurricane Katrina hit, we first reached out and helped a lot of people buying TVs and toothbrushes and everything cause they had nothing.
And so we kind of reached out to the human community first. And then after about a week and a half of doing that, on the TV, we started seeing all these dogs floating on roofs and hung up in trees and all that stuff and thought, “Oh my Lord all these dogs are in desperate need.” So we I contacted some people in Louisiana, and we sent the horse trailer down and brought, I think about 30 dogs. The first trip we sent supplies down and asked them what they needed. They needed blankets and towels and dog food and cat food carriers and different things. So we sent all that down and then came back with dogs and you know at that time we really weren’t set up to be a rescue.
And so we made pens at my house and at Danny’s farm and then we leaned again on our horse community to find them homes. I mean, once we did Katrina, we immediately did Harrisburg, which is beginning of October. We took 22 dogs up to Harrisburg and placed them all with horse people.
You know, during that horse show, we had one horse trailer come with dogs. In fact, Holly Orlando’s dog, Nutmeg that she got from us, she just passed away about three months ago. But, we started doing that. And then after that we wound up taking about 600 dogs from Hurricane Katrina.
And the hard part was, is because we were not set up for a non-profit. So to afford to spay, neuter, heartworm test, house them all, take care of them financially, it was a major drain, something that we really didn’t even think about. When we got into it, we were just in such panic for the dogs’ lives that we we really didn’t go through a big thought process of what we were doing.
And we got interviewed through a lot of newspaper articles and everything about what we were doing, saving all these Katrina dogs. And luckily, an attorney in Michigan had read an article on us and contacted us and said, “You know, I see you guys are not a nonprofit, you can’t take donations and you’re doing this from your retirement fund.”
And she just said, “If you keep doing this, obviously you guys, aren’t going to have a retirement fund. And so I would like to do the paperwork for you and get you made to be a nonprofit, so you could receive donations. And I also will stay on and be your attorney pro bono.” So in 2008, we became a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) and formed Danny & Ron’s Rescue.
And so from that date, we have now placed over 12,600 dogs. The special thing about our rescue is—most rescues and stuff, the dogs live in kettles and runs—our dogs all live in the house, the Dog House. We have completely turned that house into dog friendly. They can get on the furniture, the chairs, the couches, they have doggy doors.
We crate train them at night so that they learn to go to the bathroom outside. We have an amazing staff, we were very, very lucky. One of our adopters adopted a little Chihuahua from us and when he was leaving, he just turned around and said, “Well, gentlemen, thank you so much. And by the way, you two will be my next documentary.”
And we really didn’t think much about it. Cause we didn’t really know Ron Davis that well when he was adopting a dog from us. And so we smiled and waved and shut the door and didn’t even think twice about it. And then he started calling us and said, “I really want to do a documentary on you all.”
It took about a year. We kept saying, “No, we’re not interesting enough. Why do you want to watch us feed dogs and stuff?” So then we agreed to do it. And anyway, “Life in the Dog House” came out in 2018 and it’s really been very successful. It’s had over 3.1 million views on Netflix, was listed in the top 100-viewed movies on Netflix, and from that we have signed a book deal and are doing four children’s books with Simon & Schuster.
And then we’re also doing a grown-up book with a lot more in depth than “Life and the Dog House” In “Life and the Dog House,” Ron did a great overview of what our lives are and how we do the dogs and everything like that, but the grown-up type of book is going to go into a lot deeper views of really what we do and stuff. So anyway, we’re looking forward to that coming up, coming ahead of us.
And then we also, a jigsaw-puzzle company reached out to us and they, they want to do a jigsaw puzzle with our rescue dogs and our story on the back of it. And they’re going to donate some of the proceeds to us, but they’re, they’re actually making 100,000 puzzles and they’re an international puzzle company. So we’re very excited about that. That’ll be coming out this spring. And, we were lucky enough Breyer Horses did the Protocol horse, the horse that Danny won so much on, and they give a portion of all the protests to our rescue for all the Protocol horses that are sold. There’s two dogs with Protocol and then our story on the back.
So it’s, it’s been an amazing journey and we’re very grateful to our horse community. And we’re so grateful to all of our donors and supporters cause it really has put us on the map and “Life in the Dog House” has put us on the map so internationally we have so many fans in Japan and New Zealand and England and Australia and Germany.
And I mean, we just get letters and letters and letters from all over the world. Danny and I never dreamed that it would turn out to be this big of a rescue. We were lucky enough for our Katrina work in 2008, we were the ASPCA Honorees of the Year. So that was an exciting award to receive, but anyway, it’s really, really, really grown from there.
And the nice part is since “Life of the Dog House” has helped us with donations and stuff, we’ve started an elderly program where we pay the on elderly people’s dogs so they can keep them because they’re on Medicare and Medicaid, don’t have the money to pay for all the medical bills and their dogs.
And then we do a veteran’s program where we assist veterans to be able to keep their dogs. And, uh, we’re doing a spay/neuter, a free spay/neuter program in our area that we’re paying for all the spay/neuters. And then during COVID, we have currently as of today, when we do food delivery with seven food banks in Palm Beach County, we’ve given out over 66,000 pounds of cat food and dog food to all of the people that are having to go to food banks because they’re unemployed during COVID.
So we’re very, I don’t know, it’s a very feel good thing because now we’re being able to expand so much and really help a lot of communities and a lot of people in need. That it’s great work and it is neat to see how it’s grown and how you’ve been, been able to help more and more. Animals and dogs. It’s been great. It’s been an amazing journey.
How would you describe—this is obviously in the documentary, but could you sum up sort of a day in your life, uh, with, with so many dogs? I think I’ve read, you’ve had between 50 and 71 dogs in your house at any given time.
Yeah, it’s, it’s a lot of work. I mean, I have to tell you, I mean, we have added on to the Dog House here in quarantine rooms and all different rooms and stuff. And so when Danny and I are home, we get up usually about 5:20 in the morning. And just like when we left last week for Aiken, we had 91 dogs in the house. And so when we are home, we get up and we make all the food, do all the meds. You know, sometimes we’ll have 30, 40 dogs on medications, so you have to, get all the meds to the proper dogs.
And so we get up and we feed them and then start letting them out. And then the staff comes in early in the morning and then they take over. So we can go to the barn. And then in the evening, We come back to the Dog House and watch the dogs at night and put them all to bed.
And it’s really, it’s a lot of work. I mean, we’re very, since we’ve grown so much and have so many dogs, we have gotten more and more staff, which we’re very blessed because we just have amazing staff members who really love the dogs, really care about the dogs and there’s, I mean, every day there’s two or three vet runs and we constantly are called. I mean, I would say in the last three weeks, we’ve probably done 17, 18 surgeries of dogs that aren’t even in our rescue, but people’s dogs were hit by cars, some dogs ate batteries, some this and that, they [the owners] have no money to do the surgeries. The dogs will die.
So we’ve really reached out and we have a special fund that we raised money for people that don’t have money for surgery for their dogs. And so we’re very excited about that, that we’ve reached out to so many people and saved their dogs lives because otherwise they would have to be euthanized because they just did not have the funds to do the tragic surgery that their dog needed at the time.
But it’s a lot of work. Anyone that comes to the Dog House, people that have seen “Life in the Dog House, you get kind of an idea of it, but everyone that comes to the Dog House said that it really still even doesn’t do it justice, because there’s nothing like walking into a house with like 80 some dogs loose.
You just can’t believe that they all can live in harmony. They all can get along. They all just live as a one big family.
How do, how are you able to do that? You know, have so many living in harmony?
We really early on in this it’s, it’s all kind of like the Derby’s been an evolution, dog rescue for Danny and I has have been an evolution we’ve lived and we’ve learned cause we had no, I mean, other than loving dogs and taking care of dogs properly, we didn’t really know much about this, but in reading and doing a lot of studies, we have found out that the key piece to harmony and dogs is the humans have to be the pack leaders.
In nature, dogs, coyotes wolves and everything, they all have a pack leader. And it’s the same thing with dogs. There’s a dominant dog that kind of controlled the pack. And so you always have to remember is we as humans in this Dog House, we have to be the pack leaders. Any time we lose control, we lose control of the pack. So we really work on teaching the dogs to have manners and live in harmony.
And we also have to make sure in the canine world, that the dogs that we feel are the pack leaders, that they’re very compassionate and the proper dog to be the pack leader. You don’t want to get a pack leader that’s very aggressive or dog aggressive because that’s, that behavior is going to trickle down. That’s the old trickle effect.
So we can, we can see in our groups and our dog groups of who is going to be the pack leader. And sometimes we have to steer that a little bit and not allow that one to be the pack leader because we don’t feel it’s the best, best one to be the pack leader. And so we have to kind of nip that a little bit. And keep them down a little bit in the chain and let the one that we think should be the pack leader, become the pack leader.
So it’s, uh, it’s a very interesting theory, but knock on wood, it has worked beautifully for us. You know, they really do get along and they—in our kitchen area, alone, the kitchen and dining room area, I mean, there’s usually 29 to 35 dogs in there.
And if you came here and just watched them all, just lay together and play together. And I mean, they just, it’s, it’s quite remarkable. But the thing we learned is when you go to shelters, and I’m sure all your listeners have gone to dog shelters at previous times, all of the dogs that are scared and timid, they always hide in the back of the kennel.
And a lot of times they even turn their heads and they face the wall. They don’t look at people cause they’re scared. Those dogs never get adopted. And those are a lot of the dogs that we take. We always, like at shelters, we always ask—and we don’t say, give us the cutest dogs. We say, give us the ones that you don’t think we’ll get a home. And living in a house environment, we have found that if those dogs stay in that concrete kennel, they’re never going to come out of their shell.
But by living in the house and living with some positive-energy dogs, most of them all rehab, like if we get a really, really scared dog, that’s just petrified. Ones we get from puppy mills or have never been out of a crate and never stepped on grass and never been in a house and stuff, a lot of times we’ll use hound couples, and we will couple it to a real positive dog.
Wherever that positive dog goes, that scared dog has to go because our dog trainer said never let them go hide under the desk or a couch or behind a chair because they will turn their brain off. And they will just keep doing that. Make them get out and socialize. And so we’re really big on our scared dogs.
We leave drag leashes. And we really make them interact with the entire pack.
What advice would you give for someone who wants to get involved with rescuing animals?
I think the biggest thing is you have to remember, in rescue, it is extremely painful. I mean, when we get all the court abuse cases and dogs that have been badly neglected, it is very emotional draining on you.
So you have to realize there’s a lot of pain in rescue. The joy in rescue is when they get their forever home. And we are very, very diligent in vetting our adopters. You know, we even Google earth everybody’s house. If they say they have a fenced yard and they don’t, they’ve lied to us, they go on the do not adopt list.
We’re very particular our contracts read, “You can never give the dog away. If you don’t want your dog in 10 years, we will pay and send transport and bring them back to us.” Because Danny and I vowed many years ago that they would never end up in the shelter again. And if anyone gives their dog away, they agree in their contract to pay us $5,000 and we have the right to sue them.
So we’re very, very strict on that. But for people getting into rescue the big thing you need to realize is rescue is worth it because they’re worth it. And it takes, it takes a lot of strength. It takes a lot of courage to do it. It’s not like you just say, “Oh God, I’m just going to save these dogs and stuff” because there’s so much heartache to it.
I mean, we get so many from shelters people have had their whole life and at 14 they dumped them at the shelter and those are the ones we always reach out to. And we kind of call them our hospice cases and they’re in kidney failure or heart failure, but we just try to give them love for the rest of their days.
And so there’s a lot of pain and agony to it, but it is so rewarding. And if you really get into it, you will get a lot of gratification out of it. I mean, I’m not going to lie to anybody and say that there’s a lot of times where we don’t cry at night because it’s been a painful day watching some of the abuse cases we get in and everything what’s been done to dogs, but when they get their forever home and you see that family wrap their arms around that dog, and then we get emails and pictures and everything, and they’re playing ball and they’re at the beach and they’re here. And that there that just makes us work harder.
Well this has been a really fascinating conversation. I really appreciate your time. So thank you very much.
You are so welcome. Thank you for having me.
Listen to the podcast here.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode with hunter trainer and dog-rescue advocate Ron Danta. Join us again for upcoming conversations with eventer and consignment horse sales expert Courtney Cooper who offers advice on how to find and buy the perfect partner, and Irish eventer Tim Bourke. You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there please rate and review the show. I’m Sandra Oliynyk and you’ve been listening to the Practical Horseman Podcast.