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A Cloverdale tale with 25 happy endings

Thursday, May 10th, 2012 | Posted by

These five pups were only seven weeks old when they achieved a certain level of notoriety. (Photo by Skip Engle)

In March 2010, two pregnant dogs were among the 16 Golden Retrievers rescued from the Cloverdale residence of a “backyard breeder.”

Three months, a couple of surgeries, nine new puppies and $46k later, they had all recovered and been placed with loving families. The experience also spawned a new non-profit foundation.

When Community Service Officer Teresa Marino found the dogs, they were caked in feces, mud and fleas. Rotting food and garbage was everywhere. She even found 10 of the dogs inside travel cages, sometimes two to an enclosure, without food or water.

Proud Katy resting with her four healthy pups at King's Kastle.

Two years earlier the breeder, who has since passed away from a brain tumor, was arrested for having 18 unlicensed dogs and running an unlicensed kennel. This time officials referred her for a mental health evaluation.

With no room at the county shelter, the dogs were transported to King’s Kastle, a local dog care facility. Owner Colleen Combs says her facility had been taking in strays, surrenders and dogs in danger of being euthanized for more than a decade, but this many needy dogs at one time was overwhelming.

She had estimated the cost to spay/neuter, vaccinate, test, feed, board and place the dogs at more than $15k. The actual cost turned out to be three times that.

Combs called on the community for help and the response was immediate.

Not only did all the dogs recover and find new forever-homes, the two new moms were able to give their nine offspring the gift of a real “puppyhood.

Pregnant Lily went home with Marybeth Sobecki-Engle and her husband, Skip, until her puppies were born and weaned. Fifty-one Canine Companion puppies had been born in their kitchen over the years, so it seemed only natural.

Lily was so malnourished, though, she wasn’t strong enough to birth them on her own and had to have a C-section. Only five of the ten survived.

Those five not only found new forever-homes, they even found a little fame along the way. Engle took a photo of them that was featured on both the King’s Kastle website and in “Bark” magazine. It also won second place at the Sonoma County Fair.

Lily enjoys lounging in the water fountain at her new owner's home.

The Engles nick-named the only boy pup “Sarge” in honor of their military daughter, Jessamyn, who is currently in Afghanistan. They were pleased when his new family kept the name.

Lily, now a service dog for a Santa Rosa woman forced to retire because of a chronic illness, is enjoying her new life, which includes lounging in her owner’s water fountain.

Gus and Cindy Wolter, owners of the English Tea Garden Inn, a Cloverdale bed and breakfast, had long considered getting a dog, but wanted a more mature one that would interact well with their guests.

They instantly fell in love with mom-to-be Sheba, who was due to deliver again after having 12 litters in six years.

Just before her four puppies were born, the Wolters brought her home for a visit. Later, while still nursing, she visited for a few hours several times a week. “The first time she came, she looked like a lost soul,” says Wolter. “She just laid on the kitchen floor and took a nap.”

Wanting to give her a new name to go with her new life, they decided to call her Katy. She is the joy of their life and a big hit with their guests. Recently, one even knocked on the door to see if Katy could come out to play.

Cindy Wolter and Katy sit together on the front steps of the English Tea Garden Inn.

Every morning before work, the Wolters and Katy have what they call “pack time,” where they all get on the floor to cuddle and play. “All hands are on Katy and she knows when we say ‘pack time’ exactly what we mean. She loves it, and quite frankly, so do we.”

Two of Katy’s pups stayed in Cloverdale. One was adopted by the Vellutini family, the other by Michael and Mary Ann Brigham who own Ruth McGowan’s Brew Pub.

Brigham says her dog, Kyra, is still very timid and afraid of people, but gets along great with other dogs. She even seems to enjoy her weekly visits to King’s Kastle – once she gets past the humans in the front office, that is. Brigham chalks her shyness up to the residual effects of puppy mill in-breeding.

The other dogs have done well, too.

Take Daisy, for instance. Just six months old when rescued, she was adopted by a family with ties to the White House and is now being trained as a bomb-sniffing dog.

Gracie, one of the older dogs, lives in Aptos with a grandmother who cares for an 8-year old grandson with a heart condition. Combs reports that Gracie and the boy just “clicked,” and his health has improved as a result.

When her new owner was Mayor of Cloverdale, Katy even got to ride in the Citrus Fair Parade.

Only Eddie, the oldest of the male dogs has died, but his last six months were probably some of the best of his life. His new family says he turned out to be quite a good fishing buddy and quickly embraced the ultimate retirement attitude.

For Combs, the experience was the final catalyst needed to establish her new non-profit foundation, which will create a Vocational Education Center offering both certificated and non-certificated programs for those who work with animals

Known as the GreenDog Rescue Project, its mission is to “revolutionize the current animal shelter model with a nature-based alternative, providing sanctuary and rehabilitation for dogs at risk of euthanasia and improving their relationships with their human families through education, training and outreach programs.”

Combs says the big vision is a working VocEd Center housing on-site shelter, grooming and veterinary services, as well as a number of classrooms. Her goal is to have GreenDog become the model for all future shelters and rescues.

To reach King’s Kastle or Colleen Combs, call either 894-5785 or 838-2785.


  • http://dolorosacandles.net Harry Martin

    Thank you, Mary Jo for this update. We have one of these special Goldens that we acquired before things deteriorated. This is indeed a sad story with a good ending for the dogs. But it is also a sad lesson of a lady who meant well but was simply very ill. I hope the community will look upon her life, and death, with compassion and understanding.

  • http://robinofrockridge.wordpress.com/ Robin Moore

    Thanks, Mary Jo! A friend and I were talking a few weeks ago about all those Goldens. Glad to hear all worked out well.

  • Max P

    Not what i was hoping/expecting to read :(

    • Mary Jo Winter

      I’m curious, Max. What WERE you hoping/expecting to read?

  • Ashley G

    SOOO great to read this update. My grandmother adopted one of the older goldens and renamed her from “Silly” – short for Priscilla – to “Sally.” The dog is the highlight of her life, bringing her so much joy and energy. Sally is a little spoiled, “to make up for all the hardships she had to endure in her early days,” and loves a small spoonful of vanilla ice cream after dinner ever night and romping on the acres of property and splashing in the duck pond. Happy, happy endings!!

  • Smurf

    Max, I am curious too!

    Mary Jo, I run charitable events in my office, and will try to make June’s fundraising proceeds go to the Greendog Rescue Project! :)

  • http://www.amackenzie.com Ann Mackenzie

    What a wonderful story, and terrific article. Really helps to put into perspective what good work Colleen Combs is doing!

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Mary Jo Winter is our Cloverdale correspondent.
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