The largest cage-free, no-kill rescue group in the United States is coming to Macon County with a 100-acre site.

Big Dog Ranch Rescue was founded in 2008 by Lauree Simmons of Palm Beach, Florida.

The Ranch's purpose is to save dogs in distress from shelters that euthanize throughout the country. It rescues abused dogs and dogs suffering from inhumane treatment and natural disasters. The Ranch has saved more than 53,000 dogs to date.

"The expansion will allow us to double our impact in saving last-day dogs from euthanasia by increasing our capacity to a facility where our rescue efforts are desperately needed," Simmons said. "Together we can make a difference in ending dog homelessness and saving more lives with the help of Shorter, Alabama's resourceful community."

The former home of a greyhound training facility at Victoryland, the Ranch is slated to double its national impact by eventually saving 10,000 dogs each year. It will now serve Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas as a rescue, rehabilitation and adoption center for neglected and abused dogs.

Mike Segrest, the recently elected District Attorney in the 5th Judicial Circuit of Alabama, which includes Tallapoosa, Chambers, Macon and Randolph counties, previously owned the land before the Ranch purchased it.

According to Segrest, he was approached by Simmons to purchase the land to use as a hub for the southeast region.

"The property was vacated and overgrown, and I got it, started cleaning it up, and I was trying to figure out what to do with it," Segrest said. "When I saw it, I thought, 'This needs to be a regional dog rescue. I need some philanthropist with the right resources to handle it.' God-willing, Lauree came along, and she was definitely the right person. Since then, she has asked me to be on the board of directors."

The first buildings in the facility are expected to open officially in September 2022. The property and the buildings have gone through extensive repairs and restoration as the facility prepares for the massive anticipated influx of dogs. 

"There are 16 buildings with 3,600 square feet under a roof," Segrest said. "Half of that is HVAC controlled. Another 1,800 square feet [is] of open kennels."

Simmons is planning on this quickly becoming the second largest animal rescue in the U.S. She expects in the next 12 months to have over 50 employees and two full-time vets on staff as well. "There's been at least $250,000 put into this, and that's just the start of this; it's going to be something really special," she said.

Ranch officials have anticipated multiple benefits to the community due to the Ranch.

On top of the benefit to the dogs, officials expect the Macon Co. Ranch to offer hundreds of jobs and assist in training future veterinarians from the surrounding colleges.

"Not only is it central to the region that needs the most support, it's also near well-respected colleges that offer veterinary degrees," said Big Dog Ranch Rescue Executive Director Robin Friedman. "We look forward to working with them to help train the next generation of much-needed veterinarians."

"Both of the vet schools are very excited about this," Segrest said. "Hopefully, we can collaborate with them to allow their fourth-year students to come to the facility to get their clinicals in spaying and neutering the animals because all animals that come in will be spayed and neutered."

Segrest anticipates additional help to the Ranch through his position as the District Attorney by offering specific community service initiatives at the Ranch. He also expects the Ranch as being a future outlet for boys and girls groups to come and help out while learning the importance of caring for animals.

One of the more notable supporters of the Ranch was the late Ivana Trump, former wife of Donald Trump.

When Ivana passed away in July, according to her wishes, the Trump family asked for donations to the Ranch in lieu of flowers.

The Ranch's website credits the Trump family with being long-time supporters of the Ranch. They credited Eric and Lara Trump for frequently participating in fundraisers to save dogs, stating Lara had been instrumental in garnering legislation that prevents animal cruelty, including the ban on greyhound racing in Florida.

"Ivana was a survivor," Simmons said. "She fled communism, embraced America and raised three exceptional children who also devote their time and resources to many charities including Big Dog Ranch Rescue. I am honored that the family has asked the multitudes who love Ivana to support our mission of saving dogs at risk in her name. It seems appropriate that someone who was a true survivor and huge dog lover will now help our rescues survive their own difficult circumstances and to find their own loving families. Ivana will help us from heaven above to save more innocent dogs lives." 

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