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Thursday, 08 September 2011 08:48

Heaven’s Gate is wide open at the base of the Rockies: welcomes unwanted animals

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By Susan Quinlan
Pincher Creek
It’s a long way to come in many ways, but Brigitte Boehmer and her husband Alois have now established Heaven’s Gate west of Pincher Creek, where they welcome stray and injured animals, helping them have a better quality of life.

“It’s actually my dream, to take care of animals. I did everything I could in my life, to come to this place,” said Boehmer, a transplanted German who lives with Alois on 160 acres in the foothills of the Livingstone Range.

The Boehmers originally moved to Canada from Bavaria, where they spent 15 years on an acreage in northern Quebec caring for hundreds of raccoons, marmots, dogs, cats and other animals, but due to limited space, room for larger charges didn’t exist.

That changed when the couple took a vacation to the Rocky Mountains a few years back.

They eventually found the perfect spot for their animal sanctuary then got to work creating Heaven’s Gate.

“Our first year we built corals, barns, shelters and a house.”

With a wind turbine and solar panels in place, they are self-contained and have all the basic requirements to care for unwanted animals.

The flow of horses, llamas, alpacas, donkeys, dogs, cats, pigs, even a cow, has yet to cease.

“My dream was to take care of any type of animal. So many horses go to the slaughterhouses.”

Heaven’s Gate currently has 34 four-legged residents including 15 horses, four donkeys, six llamas, a “big” cow, four cats and four dogs.

 Boehmer said she has always had animals in her life, and while in Germany she and Alois worked hard to earn enough at the restaurant they owned with the intention of launching the animal sanctuary in Canada.

 “It was our dream and I have always followed my dreams. I said we can do it, we can do it….”

Alois serves as resident carpenter on the ranch, constructing all required outbuildings and fencing, while Boehmer works primarily with the animals.

With their house having not yet sold in Quebec money is tight, but Boehmer said they have also opened their doors to WWOOFers, teenagers volunteering with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and they help out too.

“I train the horses every day. We have an arena now. First is the groundwork, getting them used to people again. I train my WWOOFers how to recover the horses; for some of the horses it’s fast. It makes me stronger. I always find a way to give them more love and more trust. And now after two years, I can see that it works.”

Meanwhile, the Boehmer’s three adult children remain in Bavaria, but visit often and help the couple with the project.

“They know I’m not a person to sit around the house.”

Boehmer said every animal in the rescue “has a big story.”

One of the stories Boehmer recalled concerned a crippled horse whom Boehmer and Alois christened Cinderella.

Boehmer found the nine-month old blue roan filly in a feedlot, where she hobbled around on her four crippled legs. She said she watched in horror as the 30 or 40 other horses bit and kicked the filly.

“It broke my heart. I asked the guy if I could buy the horse and he said no, it’s sick and it’s going to slaughter. I drove home with my neighbour and could not stop thinking about her. I knew a bigger horse would kill her.”

The neighbour tried to talk Boehmer out of buying Cinderella, but after three weeks, Boehmer returned to the feedlot.

“I called the guy first who owned it … I said I had a handicapped horse at home and it needed company. The guy called me stupid and crazy; I said ‘I don’t care’.”

The good-hearted neighbour, who has helped Boehmer a number of times over the last two years, again loaned his horse trailer and they brought Cinderella to her new home.

“I trained her a bit every day. I gave her oats every day and she gained a little weight.”

Ultimately, though, Cinderella became progressively more crippled and when Boehmer could see the horse was in constant pain, unable to walk and sitting endlessly in the snow, the vet advised it was time.

“I called the vet and asked her to put her to sleep in my arms. It was a big, big, big decision for me. It took a long time, but she looked up at me and I think she may have said ‘thank you’ with her eyes. It’s still very hard.”

There are other stories as well, said Boehmer, like that of Our Boy who now lives comfortably at Heaven’s Gate.

“I gasped when I saw him. He was just bones; terrible, terrible. After one day, I saw this horse could not eat hay. I checked and his teeth were so long. This horse had likely not eaten in months.”

The vet suggested Our Boy be put to sleep, he was so far gone.

“I said ‘no, we can do it.’ I got special feed, alfalfa cubes … Now, he’s not a show horse, he’s a bit saggy in the middle, but he’s a healthy, happy horse. He looks good now and everyone loves him.

“All the horses have big issues with humans; they hate humans.”

However, after a time at Heaven’s Gate, Boehmer said they overcome that fear.

Boehmer has worked with horses all of her life and received training through Monty Roberts Online University and his Train Up program, and has also taken as much advice and as many other courses as time and money have allowed.

“I took whatever I could get. It’s wonderful; it works.”

Although some may wonder why it is this couple appears to funnel all available resources back into this project, Boehmer said her vision is clear.

“I don’t need much … I’m happy every day and I do something on this earth that I love, every day.”

Meanwhile, there’s plenty to do besides tend the animals, and that includes updating the Facebook blog and as well, traipsing through reams of red tape to gain charitable status, so those who donate can receive tax deductible receipts.

Donations to Heaven’s Gate are gratefully accepted, said Boehmer, be they of time, money or assistance working with the animals. She could also use legal assistance, to help the sanctuary gain charitable status.

To watch a video profiling Heaven’s Gate, go to YouTube and enter “Heaven’s Gate Animal Rescue Rocky Mountains Alberta” in the search bar.

On a lighter note, watch an entertaining video of the animals interacting at Heaven’s Gate by going to YouTube and entering “funny animals from Heaven’s Gate” in the search bar.

The Boehmers can be contacted at 403-628-3405.

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