Sonoma Co. woman revolutionizing dog shelter system


We did not believe it until we saw it: One room, dozens of dogs, and harmony. "I'm the alpha dog," Colleen Combs said. And, she meant that literally. She runs a rescue shelter in Windsor called "King's Castle" and it's different. It's a place with treadmills for the dogs with too much energy to burn, where couches, rugs, open space, and a TV set have replaced cages and runs. "Sure! Animal planet. National geographic," she said after it was suggested that the dogs don't watch TV.

Colleen has a great sense of humor, but is quite serious about revolutionizing the shelter system. Dogs are social animals. They're happier, healthier, and less expensive to keep around when allowed to exist in a large pack with a person serving as the alpha. Colleen admits it's not a normal shelter. "But if you were looking to adopt a dog and you saw one in this environment, you would know more about that dog and whether it would fit with your family than you would form a dog sitting in a cage," she said.

Colleen's economic model is simple. Half of the dogs are there for day care. They pay, but they subsidize the rest. "Jakey" fits in the second category. Until Chef Doug Keane found him in a Healdsburg kennel and socialized him, he was an aggressive and anti-social dog facing euthanasia. "He wasn't mean though. He was afraid and basically he'd been locked up in a meth lab and been picked on. And so, the only thing he knew was people going at him," Keane said.

Not anymore. It's kind of difficult for a dog to hold a grudge after entering utopia.

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