It all started as one couple's dream: a scenic 10-acre ranch with lots of fresh air and a little cottage. For dogs. And cats. And then the couple got a few more cottages, a few more animals, and a little place called the Watermelon Mountain Ranch no-kill animal shelter was born.
Sophia and Lee Di Clemente are an ambitious couple to say the least. Sophia has worked with animals her whole life, starting out following her veterinarian grandfather all over Great Britain. As she grew up, Sophia began operating animal shelters, first one in London and then another in Washington, D.C.
She had expected that her dog days were over when she moved to New Mexico.
“[Operating a shelter] is so stressful, and I was never going to do it again until I saw the state of what was going on in New Mexico,” Sophia says. Scores of “animals were being put down when I got here. Even with everybody working together it's still too high, but everyone is determined to make a difference.”
Shortly after their arrival, the Di Clementes purchased property in Rio Rancho and went to work. The Ranch opened its doors in 1996, and the Di Clementes haven't stopped working since.
The Di Clementes, along with their staff and loyal volunteers, have a big job. The Ranch is the biggest no-kill shelter in New Mexico and takes in hundreds of homeless, abandoned and abused pets each year. Animals staying at the Ranch are not in cages. Instead they reside in the aforementioned “cottages” and receive attention from animal behaviorists to ensure they are properly socialized before they are adopted. The Ranch also vaccinates, microchips, and spays or neuters every animal available for adoption. In short: If you were a homeless animal, you'd want to end up at Watermelon Mountain Ranch.
To help maintain its facilities, the Ranch will hold its sixth annual Furball this Saturday, Oct. 3, at 4 p.m. at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Two art auctions—one silent and one “live”—will put animal-themed works up for or sale, alongside an evening of dancing, raffles and food. Proceeds from the Furball and the accompanying art auctions will go directly to the nonprofit shelter.
Scores of “animals were being put down when I got here. Even with everybody working together it's still too high, but everyone is determined to make a difference.”
Sophia Di Clemente
“We have loads of auction items. We had an artist group that got together and painted a lot of [portraits of] animals that need homes at the ranch,” Sophia says. “We're hoping to sell that art so we can build more buildings.”
Zany animal art, decorated boots and jewelry are just a few of the items up for auction Saturday night. KOB-TV weatherman Steve Stucker just might snag a few pieces for himself.
“I always look forward to the auction items and have purchased a few crazy ones over the years,” Stucker says. He will also be Master of Ceremonies for the event and is a longtime animal enthusiast and Watermelon Mountain Ranch supporter.
“I'm very impressed with all the people involved in animal rescue,” Stucker says. “They do all the work; I just try to help them publicize their efforts so they can get maximum results.”
During the Furball, Mayor Martin Chavez will receive the Watermelon Mountain Ranch 2009 “Friend of the Animals” Award—three days before the mayoral election, no less.
Chavez spokesperson Deborah Jame describes the mayor as “honored and humbled” to receive the award. “Watermelon Mountain Ranch has done an outstanding job to help homeless dogs and cats in the New Mexico community,” she says. “He applauds their good works.”
The Furball starts with a “Blessing of the Animals” at 4 p.m. The blessing is free and all pets are welcome. Once the Furball gets rolling at 5 p.m., A Fresh Perspective Dog Training will provide pet-sitting services.
National Hispanic Cultural Center, Pete V. Domenici Education Center
1701 Fourth Street SW
Saturday, Oct. 3