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Pet Project for Ryan and Krissie Newman

DECEMBER 22, 2015

Quick, if you were asked to think of a sculpture that would form the centerpiece of a resting place for pets, what would come to mind? You would probably envision a bronze sculpture of, say, a puppy and a child, right? Something sweet and non-threatening designed to evoke warm memories of a deceased pet.

If that’s the case, you will be surprised by what Ryan and Krissie Newman commissioned for the still-in-development pet memorial gardens at their animal-care center, the Rescue Ranch.

Instead of a cute statue, visitors will see a shiny metal box.

“Our county here, Iredell, recently removed the gas chamber from the animal shelter, which is a really big step,” Krissie said. “We were able to get the chamber donated to us, and we had a local fabricator cut it in half. Another artist did the dedications around the side. They welded everything together, and we’ll have an eternal flame on the inside of the chamber that will stay lit in remembrance of every animal that lost its life in this chamber.”

The memorial is much more “Maya Lin” than “Norman Rockwell.” It doesn’t make your eyes water as much as it simply takes your breath away.

In case anyone was still laboring under the delusion that the Newmans’ Rescue Ranch is, somehow, a vanity project, that re-used gas chamber is a tangible symbol of their passion.

Not that they really needed a piece of art to signify their commitment. The past couple of years are a clear enough signal of the duo’s zeal for animals. After all, they could easily have just continued to support causes and attend fundraisers from a comfortable distance.

Instead, they chose to build something — something with a wide-reaching vision that brings a never-ending list of to-dos (in fact, Ryan himself was going to adjust the placement of the memorial gardens statue with a skid-steer after this shoot).

“If you want it done right, do it yourself,” Ryan said. “We’ve done a lot of giving money and in the end, you always feel like you could do a better job yourself. So, Krissie and I took it upon ourselves — mostly her — to do it our way. To educate people. This [sculpture] is a sign of what we did wrong in the past and what we can do better. It’s all about doing what we think is right and knowing that our efforts are going to what we know is 100 percent what we believe in.”

Last fall, Phase 1 of the Rescue Ranch opened: an 8,000-square-foot education facility that also holds office space and quarters for about 32 animals — mostly exotics — the organization has officially adopted.

One important note here: The Rescue Ranch, despite its name, is not an animal shelter. Although they help facilitate animal rescues — Krissie said they get five to 10 calls per day from people looking for help — the Rescue Ranch is not a place to drop off an unwanted pet.

As Krissie puts it: “We rescue at a fundamental level.”

She and the Rescue Ranch are hoping not only to save some pets, they aim to deepen the bond between man and creature. Instead of sheltering the pet that was an ill-considered holiday gift, they want people to think twice about giving that gift in the first place.

And it all starts with children.

Since the facility opened in September of 2013, over 650 children from the area have streamed into the facility for the Ranch’s official education program where they get one-on-one time with some exotic animals. In short: The Rescue Ranch, right now, is one giant classroom.

“We’re just trying to teach them about the environment, taking care of it, taking care of earth’s creatures,” Krissie, 36, said.

“The recycling movement started with children. This is a movement where you teach kids compassion for the environment and for the animals.

“They’ll grow up better human beings. It’s kind of like, sometimes you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. You can try but you might get frustrated. Sometimes, you just start with the puppies and teach them the basics.”

In the simplest sense, the Rescue Ranch simply tries to show children the wonder and glory of all creatures — even the ones with scales.

“They learn that they might have been afraid of snakes because their parents are afraid of snakes, but we get them in here and you slowly introduce them to the snakes and … they develop a newfound respect for that animal,” Krissie said. “And if they can take one little piece of what we teach them away with them, and have a different level of compassion for something, whether it’s a human or an animal, because of something we’ve been doing here, then we’re doing our job.”

Getting to Phase 1 was a huge accomplishment years in the making. But Krissie already has her eyes on the horizon.
The first step: the memorial gardens where the former gas chamber sits. Right now, it’s little more than a recently cleared cornfield. But the land will be transformed into a suitable home for the cremated remains of people’s pets.

“This is one of the prettiest points on our property. It’s very quiet and serene up here. The landscape is beautiful,” Krissie said. “We had crops planted here not too long ago, so we have landscaping to do, but this is a tribute for all the animals and a good remembrance of what’s important.”

Plans call for the gardens to open next spring. After that? It’s hard to say. Nature trails through the 87-acre property are already under development. And given the hour-long drive to emergency veterinary care that the Newmans and their neighbors face, a 24-hour emergency facility would make a lot of sense.

The bad news? There’s an endless list of opportunities for the Rescue Ranch to help. The good news is, however, that the Rescue Ranch is operational and growing quickly.

“There are so many plans and I’m the type of person that when I plan something, I want it done yesterday,” Krissie said.

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