For the Love of a Dog…and a horse…

Story by Heather Sprinkle

It’s 7 a.m. and the alarm is blaring. She can already hear that the kids are up. They sound hungry. She stumbles into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. She runs over her to do list, “Pay the phone bill. Wash at least one load of clothes. Call the Dr.’s office. And take care of the children… all 102 of them.”

Peggy and Jimmy Kirby’s day begins like many others, with one major difference. Their children are furry with four legs and they all need to be fed, watered, their pens cleaned out and walked, oh and don’t forget the individual TLC.

Peggy and Jimmy moved to Arkansas from California four years ago to have what they call a better life, a quiet life away from the big city.

“We wanted a better life, we wanted room for our animals and had hopes of having a ranch,” Peggy says somewhat wistfully. “We wanted our own little piece of heaven-on-earth and we found it in Atkins”.

They settled into country life and found themselves the new parents of one dog after another. And it didn’t stop with dogs.

“Once people found out we not only liked animals, but would take in strays, they began bringing us all the stray cats and dogs. And since we have the acreage, we began receiving horses too.”

The Kirby’s heavenly life includes 50 acres they share with 10 cats, 54 dogs, 36 horses and 2 mules. Each animal has a story to tell and both Peggy and Jim gladly share the stories and names of each.

“Some of the animals are our private pets, but the majority has been brought to us by people with no where else to take them. We took in several horses with different health issues and even one blind horse, Little Man, that the family decided they no longer had any use for.”

Little Man is one of the first animals you meet at JP Ranch & Rescue. He is easily identifiable by his unique headgear. He wears a fly mask because he is unable to blink to keep flies out of his eyes. Little Man slowly ambles up to greet Jim as he continues to speak softly to him.

“Little Man is definitely a family favorite. Finding beauty and merit in pets considered no longer desirable is a main goal of our operation,” says Jim while still nuzzling the horse.

Peggy and Jim decided to make their life’s passion a full- fledged animal shelter for Pope County and filed for non-profit status on the 28th day of March earlier this year.

“We realized the need for an animal shelter and thought, ‘Why Not?’ We basically fund a small-scale animal shelter anyway, why not make it official,” Peggy says with a smile.

Since “officially” becoming JP Ranch & Rescue, the dog population at the shelter has increased from 24 to 54. The word has spread. Peggy says one unique aspect of JP Ranch & Rescue is that they take animals not only to be adopted out, but also animals that will remain at the shelter.

“No animal should be euthanized because society no longer thinks it has value. Little Man is a great example of that. He may no longer have sight, but he is still precious and deserves a comfortable life.”

As the shelter grows and a permanent shelter is built, they hope to incorporate a program for therapy animals.

“We’ve come to terms that we must have short term goals and long term goals. Currently our greatest need is to provide shade for the dogs and construction of a new shelter and adding therapy programs are goals further into the future.”

The need for shade has become a major concern. The Kirby’s lost their home and the animal shelter in the February tornadoes. Jim was home crating the dogs to put in the barn when the tornado siren sounded and like a true parent, his first concern remained the animals.

“I managed to secure all but a handful of animals, and when I finally jumped in the storm shelter, I could see the funnel cloud coming over the hill.”

Jim said it took only minutes for the tornado to pass over the storm shelter and when he opened the door, he could not believe his eyes.

“It’s gone. Everything is gone,” Jim can still remember saying those words and the loss and helplessness that followed.

Jim was standing, holding their dog Abigail when Peggy arrived home. Last time she had spoken to him, everything had been fine.

“To say I was shocked is an understatement. Everything was gone and there was Jimmy, soaking wet.”

Faced with the devastating loss of their home, Jim says their first concern was for the animals. “It was total pandemonium. We have 50 acres and every fence was down.”

The Kirby’s lost 10 animals, including two horses. The next few weeks were chaotic trying to repair fences and provide make shift housing for the animals. The Kirby’s lost their house, too.

“A neighbor loaned us his camper trailer and until our FEMA trailer arrived. The camper trailer was our home, parked beside the barn. We decided to finish an apartment in the barn loft, so that we could focus solely on the replacement of the animal shelter.”

Friends and volunteers held a benefit to raise money for new kennels and supplies on April 26th at Galla Creek Country Club in Pottsville. Peggy says the support from friends and even complete strangers has been amazing.

“We couldn’t have done this by ourselves.

We have been so blessed by our friends and volunteers.”

The benefit raised money for several new dog kennels and it also increased awareness of the new animal shelter in Pope County.

“We’ve received even more new animals since the benefit, but so far no one is coming to adopt the animals.”

Beginning in June, Price Milling will host Adoption Days every Saturday in their parking lot.

“We’re hoping that by making the animals more accessible we can start adopting out some of our amazing animals,” Jim says sounding hopeful.

JP Ranch & Rescue is also planning an Open House July 12th at the on site location in Atkins. There will be refreshments and informational brochures about the Ranch and also tips for animal care. Jim says a sketch of the new shelter they hope to build in the future will be on site for viewing.

“We’re still a make shift, or actually a make do with what you’ve got shelter for now. And that’s okay.”

Peggy and Jim are committed to making the shelter a success and to improving the lives of animals in Pope County. For now the couple will continue to get up every day and care for their many children, knowing that someday in the future their dreams for a new shelter will be realized.

Peggy says emphatically, “It will happen. I have to believe it will happen.”

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