by Emily Kaminsky
Don Blanchette and Sindi Parker Blanchette of Montpelier live with 60 dogs — each one rescued over the past two years and brought back to health with the hope of finding them a home. It wasn’t until they passed a visit from Vermont’s Department of Agriculture, which licenses shelters, that their operation is actually one of the cleanest and biggest shelters in the state. Before they launched their nonprofit, it was just about rescuing some dogs, says Don. They kept on rescuing and haven’t looked back since. “Once you get started doing this, it’s kind of hard to turn your back especially when people start to ask for your help,” he says.
Don and Sindi have a passion for dogs. Don is a certified dog trainer who studied with a well-known dog obedience trainer from Germany and specializes in German Shepherds. He also runs a woodworking business. Sindi is retired from Blue Cross Blue Shield and says it’s always been about dogs for her. “It started when I was very young,” she says. “I always felt connected to dogs. I loved talking to my dog. I always thought that they are soulful; you can see it in their eyes,” she says. The two met when Sindi needed help training her young German Shepherd who had just torn up her loveseat. She was referred to Don and that started a long-lasting friendship solidified by their shared passion for dogs.
Sindi describes their decision to start rescuing dogs and rehabilitating them out of their home as a way to deal with her sadness about dogs being euthanized, particularly in Miami-Dade, Florida — a high kill shelter from which many of their dogs are rescued. “One day I woke up and I realized I could cry every single day or I could help or do something,” she says. “I didn’t know what form that would take. I just started to rescue dogs. I told Don, ‘This is what I need to do.’ He said, ‘I think this is what I need to do, too.’ ”
Almost Home Dog Rescue and Rehab is known nationwide. “We’re known for taking the dogs that everyone has turned their backs on,” says Don. “They are usually on the euthanized list. Sometimes they are being walked to the killing room and we have managed to save them at the last minute.”
Lilly, a chow, was one such dog. She came up on one of the bi-weekly transports from Florida to Vermont run by a colleague of Don and Sindi’s. “The dog was panting,” recalls Sindi. “She had a big hunk of string hanging out of her mouth. She was all skin and bones.” It turns out that Lilly had heartworms and more than 50 ticks. She was in congestive heart failure. Don and Sindi took her straight to the veterinarian who then started a risky but successful course of antibiotics and heartworm medicine. Medication and food retention helped her make a comeback. “You should see her now,” says Sindi with emotion in her voice. “She has a prance in her step. She’s happy now. She feels good. Her heartworms are gone and she didn’t die. We were lucky to have Lilly come into our lives. These dogs teach me something every day.”
Don and Sindi’s daily routine is grueling but rewarding. At least every other night Don grinds 120 pounds of chicken to feed the dogs. They get up at 4 a.m., let the dogs out, clean the pens and feed them. After Don takes off for work, Sindi takes over during the day, sometimes with the help of volunteers, distributing medicine, walking the dogs, and taking them to veterinary appointments. After Don returns from work, they continue to care for the dogs until they settle down around 8:30 p.m. “We don’t go anywhere, we don’t go out to dinner or go to movies, we just take care of dogs,” says Don.
Running the shelter comes with a significant price tag of $200,000 a year. This year alone, Don and Sindi paid more than $60,000 in veterinary bills. And, it costs $400 to $500 a week to feed them all. Nearly all of the funds come from their own pocket. But, with a 501c3 tax exempt status, their nonprofit can accept donations via their PayPal link online at www.almosthomedogrescuevt.com. And, a whole community has been built around their efforts on Facebook at “almosthomedogrescue” and “Gabby’s Challenge Almost Home.” Gabby is a German Shepherd they rescued after she was crated up for the first five years of life and used for heavy breeding. Her legs are deformed but Don and Sindi gave her a customized wheelchair to help her get around. She has become the “spokesdog” of their nonprofit.
What do Don and Sindi wish for the most? “Giving one of these dogs a home would be the best Christmas present, for sure,” says Don. Sindi says she wishes she could take in more dogs. As soon as they place a dog in a home, she’s ready to bring in the next one. It’s truly a labor of love for them both and both described what they do as a true calling. “I feel like the luckiest person in the world,” says Sindi. “I really feel that these dogs that we have today or ones that have passed through here — that we were meant to help them in whatever capacity. It matters that we want them to have a home, but they will always, always have a home here.”