Standing behind a family that has stood up for animals

To the editor:

My first contact with Alchemy Acres Animal Sanctuary (AAAS) was after I bought my first house and wanted my very own first dog. I called to make an appointment and when I went in the girl working spent quite a few hours trying to find us the right one. “Romeo” ended up being the best dog I’ve ever had and one I’ve never been able to replace.

He had been dropped off at AAAS as a puppy. He was adopted and then brought back after a year. He had spent another year at the shelter by the time I got him. Yet he needed no training at all when we brought him home. The folks at AAAS work extremely hard with these animals while in their care to rehabilitate them and get them ready for the right home. They also work hard to find the right dog for the right family and will not adopt them out to just anyone. They are strict about making sure the animals they adopt out are spayed and neutered to help control the pet population. They also offer counseling and education services to new owners. Something I have taken advantage of quite a few times over the years. They have never been too busy to take my call or answer a text. 

When our dog Maddie had puppies, I called Steve and Julie Sacco, officers of the board and head caretakers at AAAS. They took all nine pups, no questions asked. They found homes for every one of them. Julie then put me in a group on Facebook with all the new owners of the pups, so I could watch the pups grow and keep in contact with them. Which was amazing! Really showed me how much they care.  At one point my husband and I had to move and could not take our dogs with us. I reached out to Steve and Julie, and they made room for them immediately. Once we got settled, they released both dogs back into our care, safe and sound. During the time they were at the shelter we would visit the dogs, and both seemed to be well cared for and in good health. Never once did I question the level of care they were receiving. 

After our son was born Maddie became very jealous and was emitting some behavior toward him that made us a little concerned for his safety. She had also had an aggressive nature toward other animals in the past. So as a precaution we called Steve and Julie again. They took her in immediately. The staff worked with her to get her socialized with the other animals at the shelter. Over time she settled into it and AAAS became her home. 

When we fell on some hard times and were forced to move again, I once again reached out to this loving Sacco family and they took our Romeo as well. Only this time they took him to their own home, as they felt the shelter was too much stress for him. They knew he needed a real home. Within a short time, Romeo became part of their family and Julie asked me if they could adopt him permanently. As hard as it was to let him go, I knew it was the right decision for him. All the moving had brought about some anxiety issues for him and I just wanted him to be healthy and live a good life. I knew Julie and Steve could offer that to him better than we could. They took him everywhere with them. He could not be left alone due to his anxiety. They would send me pictures of him everywhere they would go. Again, he always looked healthy and well cared for. 

Years went by, and Maddie was still living at the shelter. Julie had some concerns about adopting her out because of her past aggression issues. She seemed to do well at AAAS, and they had decided to keep her at the shelter with the hope that one day she would find the right home. One of the workers had taken a special interest in her and favored her quite a bit, giving her the name “Madeline.” Although it was not the ideal situation, I knew she was OK. While in their care they had Maddie spayed and I had to force Julie to take money from me for the surgery. They really took great care of her and her welfare was more important to them than the expense. Finally, after three years they had found her a home. I was so relieved. Julie and her daughter, Kate Sacco, were kind enough to send me an email from Maddie’s new parents. They seemed very blessed to have her. Over the years different ones had come to inquire about Maddie but Julie never felt they were right for her. I am so grateful to AAAS for taking the time to find her the right family and giving her the home she deserved. 

Over the years, my husband and I have taken in a couple strays ourselves. When it didn’t work out, I would call AAAS, and they would take them, again no questions asked. They were able to find them homes as well.

Although I have relocated to a different state, I have spent a lot of time at AAAS over the years. Members of my family have adopted from them several times. Never once have we seen any animal mistreated or being starved or uncared for. Some of the animals were older and not in great health but only because of age or prior abuse and neglect before coming to AAAS.  I have seen some amazing before and after photos of the animals they have rescued.  Every time I was there the staff and volunteers were all working very hard. Walking dogs, bathing dogs, changing cat litter. Walking horses. Tending to ferrets. Taking new animals. Finding homes for others. Organizing fundraisers. You name it.  All they did was care for these animals around the clock. You could see how hard they worked and how hard it was to do. Yet they never seemed bitter or tired of this job. This family had so much love in their hearts for these animals. It was all they knew. 

As for recent events involving the county raid of the property, some of the photos being released are horrifying. The accusations unimaginable. However, I do not feel any of it has to do with lack of care coming from AAAS or the family. I never saw this family doing anything but good. With very little money or resources they somehow managed as best they could. The shelter wasn’t as fancy as some of the others in the community. But this wasn’t a large corporation trying to make a dime. This was a small family trying to save and care for every life it could. The family relied on donations and volunteers from the community. Due to the recent pandemic that has been difficult to facilitate. It has been a hard year for every business including this family’s. Still family members pressed on. Alchemy Acres Animal Sanctuary has been this family’s livelihood and home to so many unwanted pets. Every bit of money made went right back into caring for those animals. 

In closing I will say that shelter life can be stressful for some animals. Especially ones coming in from abusive or neglectful homes. Having been a volunteer at some shelters myself, I have seen some horrible things done to innocent animals. Things that keep you up at night. Things that make you question humanity. However, I am telling you that is not this family! If you were to go into any shelter on a random day and start snapping photos behind the scenes, yes, you’re going to see sick or scared animals, malnourished and abused animals due to the life they had before coming into shelter care. Sometimes it is just due to them not adjusting well to shelter life, period. You are going to see dirty kennels. It is not easy keeping up with all those animals. You do the best you can. So, the place is not always as clean as you’d like it to be. It can be overwhelming at times but when your heart is in the right place it is hard to say no to any unwanted or mistreated pets. However, to turn that around and lay blame on the very people who have poured their hearts and souls into this community, for decades, is the only injustice here.

I stand behind Alchemy Acres Animal Sanctuary and the family who runs it. It has been a haven, not only to unwanted and abused animals, but also a place I knew I could rely on when things got rough. People I knew I could count on when I needed help with my own pets. 

If this family is guilty of anything it is caring too much. Not being able to say no to any animal because they just wanted to save every critter they could. They have dedicated their entire lives to doing so and how can you fault anybody for that?! 

Rebecca Wagner-Atkinson, 

Phoenix, Arizona


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