The incredible journey of 145 stranded dogs

YERINGTON - Dama Wirries never met a dog she could resist.

When she died last May of a heart attack at age 58, Wirries left behind 145 dogs in a 40-acre parcel on a sprawling ranch in Gabbs.

According to relatives, she left verbal instructions to euthanize the dogs, but her survivors could not bring themselves to go through with it.

Care of the Gabbs dogs fell to Wirries' niece and nephew who managed to feed and water the dogs through the summer. As fall turned to winter, the ranch owner requested the dogs be removed from the property, and a recovery effort went into operation that caught the attention of people across the United States.

Any dog lover can understand why people like Kris Brown, Bev Beaman and other volunteers at the Yerington Animal Shelter joined the rescue crusade.

How else do you explain why Brown devoted almost every Sunday from the beginning of November until mid-February to make the 225-mile round trip from Yerington to central Nevada to join efforts to recover the Gabbs dogs and deliver them to new homes?

"It's a passion," said Brown, who spends her work days as a Douglas County criminal prosecutor.

Beaman was a little more forthcoming.

"It's because we're crazy," she said. "Dogs appreciate everything you do for them. Maybe it's just ego, but it's nice to be appreciated. It leaves you with a good feeling."

'In our own back yard'

Brown said she was moved to tears by the abandoned animals in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"I felt so helpless, I sat on the couch for two days and cried," she said. "Rescuing the Gabbs dogs was a chance to do something in our own back yard."

For the first trip, Brown loaded up her horse trailer with crates and headed for Gabbs with volunteers Carol Fuller and Jim Miller to meet with Wirries' niece Linda Bailey and size up the situation.

"We met all the dogs and Linda suggested which were the easiest ones to handle," Brown said.

They came home with more than a dozen dogs - Brown kept two - and turned the rest over to Beaman's Safe Haven Kennels in Yerington where they are being socialized and prepared for new homes.

After the first group of dogs was moved, volunteers started contacting rescue groups locally and on the West Coast for additional help.

Hay bales, but no humans

The dogs were living on the property in shelters constructed of hay bales and plywood. They were fed and watered, but living without human contact.

"It was a 'Catch-22' situation," Brown said. "The dogs were sheltered and had food which made them ineligible for disaster funds."

Then, the January rains came which turned the area into a sea of mud. The rains were followed by cows and horses on the property that started to eat the hay bale shelters.

Paul Bruce of the Humane Society of the United States drove to Gabbs and declared the site a disaster.

In the meantime, anybody who joined the weekend rescues left with a passel of dogs, thinning the ranks in Gabbs to about 60 of the most challenging dogs.

On Jan. 23, volunteers from animal shelters, rescue groups and professional dog handlers descended on Gabbs for what they hoped would be the final roundup.

"We had people from the Humane Society of America, Best Friends, the Nevada Humane Society, Dog Town, and professional dog handlers," Brown said.

The majority of the dogs were confined to runs, but some were free-roaming and had to be live-trapped or lured into pens.

Volunteers wriggled into underground dens and tried other maneuvers, capturing the evasive evacuees with everything from hot dogs, and chicken jerky to catch poles.

Exhausted and covered with mud, the volunteers left in late afternoon with 56 dogs. Twenty-seven dogs categorized as the least social were taken to Camp Reno in the abandoned Nevada Humane Society shelter.

The rest were transported over the Sierra in a snowstorm to shelters in the Bay area.

The only dog left in Gabbs was Eddie who successfully eluded capture until Feb. 17 when Brown went back for one more attempt.

That day, Eddie was willing to be lured into a live trap with chicken and cat food.

"It was so quiet at the ranch. There were no dogs barking," Brown said. "I drove Eddie to Reno on Sunday night and thought to myself, 'It's really over.'"

Happy endings

The dogs have been accepted at shelters from Southern California to Washington, and funds have been contributed to pay for veterinary bills, grooming costs and food

"There have been lots of disasters involving dogs, but in most cases, there are owners to give the dogs back to," Brown said.

Brown said Wirries was a "self-admitted hoarder."

"She was kind of an unofficial animal control officer in Idaho. She moved to Gabbs with 70 dogs and over the years, people just dumped dogs at the ranch. She wouldn't turn any away and she wouldn't adopt any out," Brown said.

Wirries named every one of her dogs, from the glamorous Ruby Delilah and Tina Louise, to the practical Tuffy and Sadie. Dancer and Prancer were dumped at the ranch one Christmas Eve.

All the dogs went to no-kill shelters to be groomed, socialized and put up for adoption. The Gabbs dogs have developed an Internet following and may be the topic of a National Geographic special.

Beaman and Brown love to hear the success stories.

Five of the more socially challenged dogs were taken to the Olympic Animal Sanctuary on the Olympic Peninsula in Forks, Wash. The shelter works with dogs that have lived on the streets or have been abused.

Emergency Animal Rescue Service volunteers from the United Animal Nations cared for 32 dogs for a month at Camp Reno, a temporary facility in the old Nevada Humane Society Shelter in Reno.

By Feb. 23, the Camp Reno dogs had been transferred to other rescue groups and shelters.

The oldest dog, 17-year-old Colin, found a home with a Carson Valley couple.

"We just want happy homes for them, like we do for all the dogs here," Beaman said.

Brown is hoping for one more happy ending to the tale of the Gabbs dogs.

Baby, a small shepherd mix, was adopted by a family who saw her at a Petco adoption event on Feb. 10. As she was being taken to the vehicle, Baby got loose and took off toward Indian Hills.

"She got spooked and she ran away," Brown said. "She's wearing a red collar, but she's very shy and I am afraid she won't let anyone near her."

Brown asked if anyone sees Baby in the Indian Hills area, to call her and she'll try to capture the dog who is familiar with her.

"The family still wants her," Brown said. "They call a couple times a week to see if we've found her."


For more information on the availability of the Gabbs dogs, check the following Web sites:

United Animal Nations

Sacramento, Calif.

Nevada Humane Society

Best Friends Animal Society

Liz Finch, animal help specialist

El Dorado County Animal Service

Placerville County Animal Services

Pet Network, Incline Village

The Humane Society of the United States

Dog Town Canine Rescue, Carson City

Yerington Animal Shelter

The Yerington Animal Shelter is located at 217 Trowbridge (behind McDonald's). If anyone has seen Baby, leave a message for Brown at 463-6578 or 790-1626.


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