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Yesterday I drove 4.5 hours to see some dogs. 44 of them in fact. The Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch in Medina Texas is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It reminded me of home, had I been brought up on a large ranch in a deep green valley.

The 44 dogs are a motley bunch. Definitely not pedigrees and not even your average shelter dogs, these are the real underdogs. Dogs on the verge of starvation found wandering the median of the highway. Dogs born in a ditch, whose brothers and sisters never survived. Dogs forced to spend their lives tearing one another to death.

Dogs that aren?t brought in as strays, might be rescues from the local pound, which is how 6 month old Pancho and his jail mate Lefty arrived at the ranch. Over-population and lack of space at the pound means that all the dogs that haven’t been rescued or returned home at the end of each week are killed.

The incredible Tony Simons and Nancy Parker-Simons, who run the ranch that was founded by Texas author and musician Kinky Friedman, have saved so many lives. “You could see it in the dogs’ eyes. They knew they were going to die. They smelled it,” says Nancy. “When we got them in the truck they wouldn’t stop licking us. You can’t tell me those dogs didn’t know what was about to happen to them.”

In addition to caring for the Medina 44, the couple have also adopted 10 dogs of their own who share their small home. Even so they?ve struggled with their decision to not take in any more animals. For now.

Their trailer is right next to the long line of pens where the dogs have their own Igloo dog house to protect them from the worst of the cold or heat. Music plays over the loudspeaker, sometimes country, sometimes Norah Jones but rarely classical — the dogs just aren’t that keen. Nancy bakes the garlic and cheese biscuits that Tony takes around to every dog, every morning in all weathers. Nancy and Kinky name all the dogs — from Jonie Mitchell to Robert ‘Red’ Ford and Jerry Jeff Walker. Each time a dog is adopted, Nancy cries.

I accept that I’m incredibly sensitive about dogs and their welfare, maybe too sensitive. I get very emotional when reading stories of abuse, illness or loss. Even the ones with happy endings. My heart aches for each scared, beautiful, trusting dog that comes into the Humane Society because its owners can?t or won?t care for it any longer. And I?m banned from watching Animal Planet — with the exception of Dogs with Jobs, though that too can be tough sometimes.

But I don?t ever want to toughen up. Because then I might not think it worthwhile to drive 4.5 hours to pet muddy, waggy dogs through a metal fence. I might think it silly to whisper to them words of encouragment and promises of a happy life. And I might not care about the fate of those dogs not lucky enought to make it to a place of safety.

Please support the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch either by adopting a dog or through donations in cash or wish list items. And always spay and neuter.