A Dog's Life

Katherine Fraze Creates A New Paradigm In Animal Rescue
by Liz Palmer

Everyone has heard the stories about little old women who take in every cat in the neighborhood. In their senility, they bequeath their vast fortunes to their cats instead of their families. That was the scenario that popped into my head when I heard of Katherine Fraze, who has over 40 dogs in her self-created Southern Indiana sanctuary.

I am an admitted dog person and have taken in three abandoned animals, but I was a bit taken aback by the next mental vignette I conjured up when I made a telephone appointment (which is mandatory; pop-ins are not warmly received as the "Beware of Owner" sign warns) to visit Fraze. She explained gently, "The dogs will run to greet you. Don't be afraid. Stride toward me. Remember to keep your hands in your pockets because some of the dogs are mitten-snatchers!" I tried to imagine 40 plus dogs racing toward me at once as I fell under the biggest dog pile in history. "Okay, no problem," I said uneasily.

Her Save That Dog Sanctuary is located in the middle of 130 acres of majestic wilderness in Indiana's Floyds Knobs. Nestled among several giant hills is Fraze' spartan animal refuge. Fraze herself lives in a 35 by 12 camper (with no running water!) that also serves as the biggest doghouse on the property, which by default she shares with most of the dogs. Fraze says it's a temporary solution until she receives enough public support to "build a bitchin' barn, no pun intended." Walking to meet her, 43 barking dogs were tallied and did in fact run to greet my two friends and me. The impact wasn't as I had imagined; most of the dogs were well mannered and quieted down within a couple minutes or at least until Fraze commands, "quiet." And suddenly it is. One particularly exhilarated collie practically jumped onto my shoulder doling out kisses and hugs.

We trudged forward in the deep, soft, pristine snow and marveled at the sight of what Fraze later astutely referred to as "dog heaven". At the Save That Dog Sanctuary dogs roam unconstrained around the 130 acres of forest, free to chase chipmunks and each other to their heart's content. The dogs don't stray far and aside from a daily hike with Fraze the dogs remain within eyeshot of the "base", Fraze's camper. Seemingly, it is Fraze that the dogs don't let out of their sight. As Fraze says wryly, "It took them a long time to train me properly… also, let's face it, I'm the food source and very valuable to the pack." Fraze's shelter is a stark contrast to the animal shelters I had previously seen, where dogs are lined up in cages like imprisoned orphans, their whines echoing off cinder-block walls as their would-be adopters hold their noses against the stench of fear and feces. Fraze wasn't the crazy little old woman I had imagined, either. At 41, her life has been as varied as the breeds at her sanctuary. She has worked as a deejay at an album oriented rock station (at 16, no less!), a sous-chef in Paris and New York City, pre-law studies in California, a nanny for an autistic child and a veterinary surgical assistant. Later she became interested in historical preservation and restoration with Richard von Dreele, who later became her husband. She hadn't anticipated taking on what is currently a non-paying full-time job caring for so many animals.

Six months after leukemia claimed her husband on Christmas Eve 1993, two puppies appeared on her doorstep beside the morning newspaper. Soon more and more dogs began showing up. Soon she was caring for 20 dogs and decided to move to the Floyd Knobs property she bought before her husband's death. "It seemed to all fall into place on it's own," said Fraze. She sold most of her belongings, bought the camper and set out to homestead the never occupied 130 acres of trees, hills and creeks. The first daunting task was to create a driveway to bring the camper to the land in late 1998. "It's been a slow but fascinating process settling the land and frankly the rustic lifestyle suits me", says Fraze.

Looking around, I noticed right away that some of the dogs, if not most, were well beyond their puppy years. Katherine explained that along with the easily adoptable puppies, she takes many of the rejects that ordinary shelters turn away or euthanize, the old and unmarketable, the mistreated and malnourished. "They can live out their lives with me," said Katherine, as long as their mental and physical health can be restored at a price that's realistic for her. ("I negotiate a lot and have pulled a few rabbits from hats!").

Fraze received her not-for-profit status in 2000 and is now looking forward to public financial support through tax-deductible donations. These funds are used for food, veterinary work, medical supplies, let alone the daily maintenance, and that doesn't afford Fraze the time to pursue grant writing, fundraising and off site adoption days at local businesses (i.e., vet clinics, pet stores, etcetera). "Frankly, my strengths lay in the actual hands-on rehabilitation, day-to-day, 24/7. I'm outdoors 80% of the time, which I love. I really need volunteers who are skilled in a more administrative capacity than I. Grant writers, sponsors, computer savvy people… believe me, it takes a lot of energy to live with over forty animals. You can't substitute attention. They all want it - and they get it", Fraze says smiling.

"Without the understanding and limitless help for my 'pet posse', I'd be wholly ineffective," says Katherine, adding that she spends a lot of time working with vets. "Dr. Paul Evans, Dr. Carrie Darnaby, and Dr. H.R. Gough treat most all the animals I take in. They have never failed my animals, regardless of their medical condition, let alone my financial condition. They truly 'get' what I'm doing. It gives me a great sense of security to know I have a team of doctors behind me, medically and philosophically. They get just as big a charge from the successes as I."

Which brings me to ask her about "collectors", people who take in animals for good reasons yet don't have the financial, emotional, or medical resources to provide appropriate and consistent care for the animals. "The distinction between 'rescuing' and 'collecting' is that when you rescue an animal, you'll provide veterinary attention and devote your time appropriately to the animal's recovery and rehabilitation, hopefully they'll be adopted to a great home once they've healed," explains Katherine. "Collectors may have the best of intentions but they can produce a dangerous environment if they don't follow a simple yet specific protocol when caring for a number of animals. Typically, they are vehemently anti-euthanasia, even with sick or aggressive animals. They can't let go."

Meanwhile, city shelters must put down thousands of animals each year. A typical annual number for Floyd County, Indiana is over 2,000 and in Jefferson County, Kentucky, it is over 8,500. Though the Save That Dog Sanctuary is a "no kill" shelter Fraze says she supports the need for facilities that do. "When you couple a disposable, irresponsible society with unrestrained, unaltered animals, you have a recipe for disaster. "People who won't acknowledge the epidemic of overpopulation and the killing it requires should work a week in a city shelter. Work the euthanasia and infirmary. You see such horrible if not terrifying examples of how cruel and neglectful people can be. To not spay or neuter your pet is essentially endorsing mass euthanasia."

As she walks us up the 1/4 mile ascent that is her driveway, my friends and I are wheezing and coughing as Katherine looks around her snow covered world, serene in the moment, happy to be where she is. The dogs are all around us, only this time there is no barking, no gymnastics. They are mellow, happy and watching Katherine's every move, every gesture. She seems oblivious and I point this out. "I wouldn't call it oblivious, I'm very aware of my role in the pack. I'm a sort of barometer for them. My word is always the last… but this responsibility isn't a hobby and not always easy. I have to make some tough calls, but in the end, I always do what's best for the animals. I love what I do", she says smiling and calls her pack and we watch as they follow her back into their "dog (and at least one human) heaven."

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