Hope on the range

Animal Angels Rescue provides unwanted beasts a chance at a better life

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ANGELS IN AMERICA | A Jacksboro animal sanctuary benefits from, from left, Matt and Beth Kelley, Carole Sanders and Nita Burgoon, who serve 300-plus dogs and horses. (Photo courtesy Rodrigo Orta)

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

There are dog lovers, and then there’s Carole Sanders. With 300 dogs and counting under her roof, Sanders’ Animal Angels Rescue, Rehabilitation, Adoption and Sanctuary represents a last chance for many unwanted canines. But unlike the fate of many other homeless animals on this 38-acre ranch in Jacksboro, Texas, these dogs (and 18 horses) have a place to live out the rest of their lives with food, shelter and most of all, love.

Sanders, now 72, loved dogs from a very early age and knew that somehow her life would end up in the service of animals.

“I just didn’t know I was going to do anything at this level, but I’ve always seen the need out there and I have the will and determination to do what I had to accomplish. You have

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OVERRUN WITH DOGS | The author, above, learns first-hand how friendly a rescue dog can be — and how adorable they are just being themselves, below. (Photos courtesy Rodrigo Orta)

to take time,” she says. “If you try to do too much too fast, you can’t do it well. That’s why some rescue groups burn out and fail.”

It was vitally important to Sanders that the sanctuary, which she started in 1992, grow slowly and that everything was in place to sustain it. In 1993, Animal Angels received its non-profit 501(c)3 tax status. Then in 2001, Sanders retired after 40 years of serving a completely different yet equally unruly animal — the airline passenger.

“After being a flight attendant for so long, I figured out that I’m a giver,” she says.

Thankfully, she’s not alone in the giving department. Along with her life partner, Nita Burgoon, Sanders continues to buy up surrounding land — not just to provide more space for the dogs, but to keep neighbors far, far away (300 barking dogs could lead to complaints that might jeopardize the entire mission).

In the cozy lodge that Burgoon had custom-built for the couple, more than a dozen smaller dogs have graciously allowed the two women to share their space, though it’s difficult to find a chair, sofa or any other soft surface without a furry face staring up from it.

More recently, former Operation Kindness intake coordinator Beth Kelley, her husband Matt, and three children have moved into a house on the property and are in charge of many of the daily chores and upkeep that an organization like this entails. Serving the needs of the animals has created a unique situation for Kelley and her family.

“When making the decision to all work at the sanctuary as a family and not having to commute to an outside source of income we feel that we not only have enhanced the upbringing of our children, but the lives of animals that are in great need while educating the community that we live in,” she says.

Part of that education is in-your-face messages that appear on every Animal Angels vehicle. “Only and idiot would let a dog ride in the bed of a truck” adorns their pick-ups; a gestured middle finger from bubbas who drive past isn’t uncommon.

Other messages are less provocative, though no less thought-provoking — like the fact that one female dog and one male dog can be responsible for 67,000 more dogs in just seven years. (For cats, that’s 420,000 in the same time frame.) These statistics are just one of the many reasons that every dog at Animal Angels is spayed or neutered by a vet who comes to the on-site medical facility at least once per month.

With all the dogs spayed or neutered, there is no threat of breeding, thus presenting opportunities for less restrictive doggie interaction. When Kelley first came on the scene in February of last year, most of the dogs were in chain-link “neighborhoods,” large fenced-in areas where dogs could socialize with each other in like-minded packs.

“We couldn’t let them roam the whole property at the time because we didn’t have a full perimeter fence,” Sanders says. “So the best solution was large neighborhoods with dogs that got along. We’ve now taken it a step further. Other sanctuaries still have a lot of pens, but here we have a lot out and I think that’s the best place for them. Thanks to Beth, she started turning dogs loose left and right.”

PAWS-3Now there are more than 170 dogs that are lovingly called “free range.” Dozens of shelters dot the landscape under large trees and among rocks and low-lying bushes. Huge containers of dog food are available on-demand for any dog with an appetite. And baby pools serve as the drinking bowls necessary to quench the thirst of so many active animals.

What’s immediately noticeable after spending any amount of time at Animal Angels is how sublimely happy the dogs appear. With little hope of adoption, they’re still able to get the human interaction that many (though not all) crave. Even more importantly, they benefit from the instinctual bonding with fellow dogs. Throughout the grounds, packs have formed naturally and few dogs within any of them venture into the territory of others. Occasionally they fight, but little more than a growl or a quick nip is needed to keep the peace.

The remaining 130 or so dogs are segregated into neighborhoods for good reasons. For one group, they’re too small to roam freely and safely among a majority of large-breed dogs. Others have been in the neighborhoods too long to adapt to a life outside their fences. The rest simply can’t be trusted to be loose because they don’t get along with people.
With other dogs, however, they’re right at home.

Not all dogs that come to Animal Angels are immediately lifers, either. Puppies, small breeds and other more “adoptable” dogs are given to rescue groups that will give them a much greater chance of finding a forever home. If that doesn’t work out, they always have a place at the sanctuary.

Yet keeping the sanctuary operational takes more than the 24/7 dedication of Sanders and her crew — it requires consistent monetary donations. Animal Angels is able to purchase food, medication and other supplies at such deep discounts that they can stretch a dollar — an important skill given that they need approximately 10,000 pounds of dog food per month just to feed their current residents. That doesn’t include any other operational or medical expenses.

But one look at the loving eyes, happy faces, and spastically wagging tails and it’s clear that these dogs have found heaven on earth. And Sanders, Burgoon and the entire Kelley family truly are angels to each and every one of them.

“You can’t save them all, but you try. That’s what counts,” Sanders says.  “You do the best you can.”

To learn more, or to donate, visit AnimalAngelsTexas.org.  

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Opera with an edge

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MUSICAL HOWL | Allen Ginsberg’s poetry spoke to ‘Hydrogen Jukebox’s’ out cast members Dan Kempson, back left, and Jonathan Blalock, center. (Photo courtesy Ellen Appel)

Ginsberg & Glass team up for ‘Hydrogen Jukebox,’ the latest in FWO’s out-of-the-box operas

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

What do you get when you combine the Mobius-strip music of Phillip Glass with the vulgar, passionate lyricism of gay poet Allen Ginsberg? Believe it or not, you get an opera. Or an opera of sorts, at least.

Ever since converting to a festival format four years ago, the Fort Worth Opera has established a rep for doing edgy, unusual versions of that most august of theatrical forms: Opera. Yes, they have done grand operas in the classic vein (Carmen, Don Giovanni, Turandot), but they’ve also introduced world premieres and unheralded new works with complex, modern (often gay) themes: gay composer Tom Pasatieri’s dark Frau Margot, Jorge Martin’s challenging, frank adaptation of gay Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas’ Before Night Falls; the reimagining of an opera based on Angels in America.

Up this time is perhaps the most unusually named opera in a while (Hydrogen Jukebox) composed by a master of minimalism and set to the granddaddy of the Beat Generation.

This is not your father’s — or your grandfather’s — idea of opera. Or, for that matter, the director’s.

“I never thought I’d direct a Philip Glass piece,” admits Lawrence Edelson, who is choreographing and directing Hydrogen Jukebox for his debut at the FWO. “They do not follow linear narrative arcs, and I personally tend to drift toward the more narrative type of opera as a director. As much as I’ve enjoyed his music, I never thought it was something I’d dive into. The conventional ideas about storytelling are put on hold.”

But Edelson was drawn to the piece, in part after meeting Glass.

“It was something quite unique — he’s an icon in American music,” Edelson says. “There’s usually not a tight relationship with the text [and his music], so what’s really fascinating about this work is, it’s Ginsberg’s poetry, and there’s a tremendous respect for the treatment of it.”

Setting the Howl author’s poems to music might seem like a foolish exercise, but actually, it’s a natural fit.

“Ginsberg really believed in the performative aspect of poetry, that poetry should live off the page,” Edelson says. And his poems, culled over 40 years for this opera, still speak to contemporary issues.

“Ginsberg’s poetry really spoke to me, and many of the issues he was struggling with in the ‘50s, ‘60 and ‘70s are among the same issues we still struggle with today,” says Darren Woods, general director of FWO.

“Ginsberg was a very out gay poet — his poems are about freedom from sexual repression and gay lib, and though this isn’t a gay piece per se, there are a couple of poems that” address those issues, Edelson says.  “As a gay man, to be able to work off of material that has personal relevance, but I am not the same sort of gay man Ginsberg was! My life is not so colorful,” Edelson says. “Hydrogen Jukebox could be gayed up; I think that would be wrong. Ginsberg was not writing just for gay America, but for everybody.”

Interpreting poetry for the stage posed an interesting dilemma for Edelson: As a director, he’s accustomed to creating a specific reaction in an audience; poetry, however, is subject to multiple interpretations, none of which are wrong.

“My job [this time] is not to impose a specific interpretation but rather to set up an environment where the audience is able to take in the poetry in a way that’s meaningful for them,” he says. “All these things will inform the way you receive it.”

For out cast members Jonathan Blalock and Dan Kempson, the work has personal significance.

“I find it interesting that the portion of the opera that deals with a gay love story [“Green Automobile,” an elegy to Neal Cassady, with whom Ginsberg has a long-term affair] is presented as just one story,” Kempson says. “It speaks to a universality of love, not just presented as ‘We’re gay! Notice us!’ It’s as normal and as painful and as lovely and as beautiful as any love story.”

“I think it’s wonderful Fort Worth Opera is brave enough to attack off-the-beaten path operas, both musically and topically,” says Blalock, who also appeared in Before Night Falls. “It can be scary for a number of reasons, including financial, but the FWO has brought their audience along with them to the 21st century.”

Blalock was in the closet when he first met Kempson four years ago, so doing this production together has brought him full-circle in more than one way: “In this show, I kiss someone, but it’s a girl. It’s OK, though,” he says, “I’m a good actor.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 20, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Larry Kramer’s ‘Normal Heart’ to debut on Broadway with Emmy winner Jim Parsons

Jim Parsons, the gay star of The Big Bang Theory who won an Emmy as best actor in a comedy series last year, will make his Broadway debut in The Normal Heart later this spring. He’ll headline with Lee Pace, who has his own gay cred playing the drag-queen boyfriend Calpurnia Addams to  murdered soldier Pfc. Barry Winchell in Soldier’s Girl. It’s significant not only for the debuts of these actors, but the play itself.

Larry Kramer’s Normal Heart was first produced early in the great panic of the AIDS epidemic, though it stayed off-Broadway as as a regionally produced play. (A similar play to tackle AIDS, As Is, was a Tony contender in 1985; Angels in America opened in 1993.) Even with its delayed opening by more than 25 years, that means Kramer, one of the most vocal advocates for PWA, will be eligible for a Tony himself.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Screen Review: Men in bleccch!

ANGELS IN AMERICA | An adjuster (John Slattery, left) tries to keep a politician (Matt Damon) on course with his fate in this silly but never quite ridiculously fun time-waster.

‘Adjustment Bureau’ portrays God as bureaucrat. That’s its best quality

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

At the risk of being accused of picking nits, the first thing among the many that bothers me about The Adjustment Bureau is that a key plot point involves a former congressman and current Wall Street big-wig traveling through New York City by bus. Now, in a movie that deals with angels, fate and magic doors, the details of transportation may seem miniscule, but that’s the problem: If you want me to buy the big stuff, you have to convince me in the details. There’s a reason monkeys pick nits out of their fur: They are annoying.

So is, ultimately, The Adjustment Bureau. As a movie, it’s neither fish nor fowl: Does it want to be a chick flick, about how a romance between an ambitious politician (Matt Damon) and a free-spirited dancer (Emily Blunt) can overcome fate itself? Or is it a sci-fi action film with Matrix-like ambitions to reveal the One Big Secret: That what we think of as free will is actually an intense heavenly bureaucracy of angels wearing fedoras and God as a CEO who meddles in individual lives?

The script, based on a Phillip K. Dick story, is too gadabout for its own good. There are echoes of Men in Black, but not the humor. (The joke of MiB is that the agents look like clichés of spies; apparently, the best angels can do to disguise themselves in 2011 America is dress like 1950s G-Men, or extras who wondered off the set of Mad Men.)

This is a poor man’s Inception, and even though it makes marginally more sense, its style and its premises just don’t fly. Damon’s character wants to find Blunt’s but can’t — how could he possibly track her down? What, he’s never heard of Missed Connections on Craigslist? How about he goes on TV and mentions it — he is a damn national hero, after all. (If I worried about every profile on Grindr that fell off my radar, I’d never get any work done.) It’s also been done before, better, as the “City on the Edge of Forever” episode of the original Star Trek. Harlan Ellison should consider legal action.

Maybe if there was any romantic chemistry between Blunt and Damon it could work (there isn’t; a passionate kiss near the end looks like a painful prostate exam for both of them; Blunt seems far sexier when she’s dancing with the men of the Cedar Lake Ballet company, which gets the best P.R. since E.T. ate Reece’s Pieces). Or maybe we’d care if the climax didn’t hinge on weird rules, like Heaven having worse security safeguards than Los Alamos, water making angels ineffectual (on a planet covered three-fourths in oceans) and a sleepy operative allowing destiny to go off course. I’m not exaggerating at all. Perhaps if I were, it might actually entertain you, instead of drain you. If this is the destiny of movies, I say we all go off the map.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright