Noah had it easy. On any given day at the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch in Medina, Texas, Nancy Parker-Simons, her husband Tony Simons, and a willing crew of employees and volunteers care for at least sixty rescued dogs, not to mention numerous cats, chickens, pigs, horses, wild mustangs, donkeys, and a rooster named Alfred Hitchcock—and Kinky Friedman, the rescue ranch's "Gandhi-like figure" who brings Nancy and Tony stray and abused animals, raises money for the rescue ranch, and makes sure no one leaves the ranch without a dog or two.
In this entertaining book, Nancy Parker-Simons tells the heartwarming, often hilarious story of the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. She describes how a series of "it must have been fate" incidents brought her together with Tony Simons and Kinky Friedman, and how, in 1998, the three of them decided to create a no-kill haven for homeless and abused animals in the Texas Hill Country. Since their first rescue—the "magnificent seven" which were, in fact, forty-one dogs liberated from local animal shelters—"Cousin Nancy" and her crew have rescued over one thousand animals.
Parker-Simons tells the fascinating stories of several dozen fortunate dogs, cats, and other animals that have come to the rescue ranch, either to be adopted by new owners or to live out their days in the ranch's "utopia." She also pays tribute to the many supporters who have helped keep the ark afloat, including First Lady Laura Bush, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Dwight Yoakam, Robert Earl Keen, Molly Ivins, and Don Imus. Everyone who cares about animal welfare will find The Road to Utopia hard to resist.
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You would not be reading this book had fate not played its hand on Saturday, April 30, 2005, when I reluctantly answered the rescue ranch telephone at 3:42 p.m. Usually, I always let the machine screen the calls, but for some reason I decided to pick up the phone.
"Hello, Nancy? This is Sandy at Wolfmueller's Books in Kerrville."
"Well, hi, Sandy. How are you?" I asked.
"Fine. Look, the reason that I'm calling is that there are two women here from Austin who would love to come out and see the rescue ranch. Is it too late?"
I looked at the clock on the kitchen wall—it was eighteen minutes before the rescue ranch would be officially closed for the day and I was feeling tired.
"No," I said, "it's not too late. Tell them to come on out."
Thirty minutes later, two women showed up at the ranch and were eager to take a tour. Tony was busy feeding the dogs, so I showed them around. After the tour I invited them into my writing studio, which also now serves as a halfway house for our elderly dogs to enjoy.
As everyone knows, Libras like to talk a lot, and since I am a full-blown Libra, I went on a gabbing spree about being a writer that nobody had ever heard of—because I hadn't been published, yet—blah, blah, blah.
"This is incredible!" Allison said, when she finally got a word in edgewise. "Sheri and I both work in books. I am with the University of Texas Press; we publish on a variety of subjects, but we don't do fiction."
We visited a little while longer. As they were about to leave, Allison handed me her business card. We said our goodbyes; they drove away and I went back inside the trailer. Ten minutes hadn't passed when I picked up the phone and dialed Allison's business number.
"Allison, this is Nancy and y'all just left here, but I was just thinking that I needed to tell you that I am planning on writing a book about the story of the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch," I said to her answering machine. "I don't know . . . something just told me to give you a call and let you know. Bye."
Monday morning, at nine o'clock, Allison called me. She told me that she and Sheri had talked the entire drive back up to Austin about me writing a book about the rescue ranch! She then asked me if I could get a book proposal to her before Wednesday, the day that the Press was meeting to discuss book proposals.
Friday afternoon, I received my contract to write this book.
I feel so very honored to tell the story of the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. Even though the rescue ranch recently celebrated its eight-year anniversary, it still seems just like yesterday when Kinky Friedman drove out to my small ranch in Utopia, Texas, and proposed his idea to my soon-to-be future husband, Tony Simons, and me about the three of us creating a sanctuary for abandoned animals.
To date we have rescued more than a thousand animals, and having to decide which stories to tell was not easy for me to do. Some are sad or depressing or maddening or funny or just plain incredibly beautiful. Being a Libra, I primarily chose the happy stories to tell, but I did include some others that touched Kinky's, Tony's, and my heart and needed to be told. Also, please note that in a few of the stories the names of the animals or people had to be changed.
Living every day at the rescue ranch, with at least sixty dogs, a dozen chickens, eight precious pigs, a proud rooster that only crows at the crack of noon, twenty horses, two wild mustangs (which caused me to have an unwanted near-death experience—a ride-by), several cats, twenty or so wild Russian boars, two donkeys—including a miniature one—raccoons, porcupines, rattlesnakes, deer, scorpions, lizards, turtles, millions of hummingbirds and butterflies, and an occasional mountain lion is exciting to say the least!
Every morning I start out with a list of things to do, and usually by ten o'clock everything changes. On the average, our ranch receives no less than twenty phone calls a day from people desperately wanting us to take their animals, but we can't because we stay full, and we refuse to warehouse our dogs. Our policy is when a dog gets adopted, we go to the pound to replace it.
Tony's and my job is twenty-four/seven. We are open to the public on Saturdays, but people show up out here every day, either hoping to meet Kinky, or to dump or adopt an animal or take a tour. We are closed on Sundays and all holidays, but Tony and I cannot leave the ranch, because that's when people driving around in the Hill Country want to visit the rescue ranch. It may sound as if I'm whining, but I'm not—we enjoy meeting people and we have grown accustomed to this kind of lifestyle—and we love being with the animals.
Kinky often teases us about "not getting out much," or not taking enough vacations, but he is preaching to deaf ears, because living here at Echo Hill is a blast! If we aren't busy taking care of the animals, or rescuing, or cooking quesadillas for the dogs, or running back and forth to Kerrville, or taking care of office business—we have Kinky to entertain us. When he is around, there is no telling what will happen out here. He has introduced us to some of the most interesting people, including many celebrities.
When Kinky is home at Echo Hill Ranch, the three of us usually share meals while discussing the goings-on at the rescue ranch. Every visitor who comes out to see Kinky winds up taking a tour of the rescue ranch and is asked by Kinky to adopt one or two of our dogs. He is like a used car salesman when it comes to adopting one of our dogs, and he can be extremely persistent—just ask his friends.
With Tony and me being full-time employees, our rescue ranch has four part-time employees—Maribeth Couch, Ben Welch, De'Andrey Wingwood, and Daniel Hudson—who have been invaluable to us with their fine skills and hard work. We also are lucky enough to have nine of the greatest and most dedicated and caring volunteers in the whole state of Texas: June Hartley, Ellen Jackson, Paul and Marty Emerson, Will Wallace, Ellen and Charlie Cooper, Sally Merwyn, and Max Swafford. We love every one of our helpers and so do our dogs!
So, now that I have told you about what our daily life is like at the rescue ranch, I invite you to come out and adopt one or two of our dogs. And, if you are lucky, Kinky might just be around.
“Nancy has seen the best and the worst that people can do. She has witnessed many of the lessons animals—especially stray and abused animals—can teach us about some of the most important things in life: how to love, how to be loyal, how to learn, how to trust, how to learn to forgive, how to live every moment, how to always be ready for fun. . . . This is not just a book about animals. Like Charlotte’s Web or the movie Babe, it may subtly change the way we look at the world, or, perhaps more significantly, the way we see ourselves. Taking care of the homeless, the forgotten, the outcasts, the ones who have lost their way, a basic tenet of Christianity and America itself, is something that goes on every day at Utopia, if not always in the world outside. Cousin Nancy’s [book] may, indeed, be that timely beacon that, once again, reminds us all what a little love can do.”
—from the foreword by Kinky Friedman
“God is dog spelled backwards, and if we were as good as dogs, we would be a whole lot better off. Read this book, and you will agree.”
—Billy Joe Shaver, musician
“This is the story of one of the sweetest—and most aptly named—places on earth. A place where Nancy, Tony, and Kinky have dedicated themselves to saving unloved, unwanted, abandoned, and doomed animals. Nancy’s wonderful stories about the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch will make you smile. Once in a while, you may feel a catch in your throat. Heck, you might even find yourself driving down to Texas to adopt one of their animals. Whether you make the trip or not, you have to read this book.”
—Bill Hageman, Chicago Tribune
“I couldn’t stop reading this book, even in bed with my husband; in fact, this book made him sit up, beg, and then roll over. I want to read it again, sometime, without all the distractions.”
—Ruth Buzzi, actress and comedian
“While most of the world is going to the dogs, the dogs are coming to Nancy Parker-Simons at the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. This book’ll make you sit up and roll over. Reading it’s a real treat.”
—John Kelso, Austin American-Statesman
“I love this book and the rescue ranch! I wish Richard could have read it. But I know he is one of their guardian angels.”
—Jennifer Lee Pryor, widow of comedian Richard Pryor
“We love this book the way a dog loves his master—unconditionally. What a great read from an even greater person. You’ll sit up and beg for volume two!”
—Judith Allison and Don Reo, producers of the TV show Blossom