With the exception of the family dog or cat– and the errant squirrel or raccoon making its way into local yards– kids living in heavily populated Southern California cities don’t often see, much less interact with, nearby animals.
However, there’s a place specially designed to expose local youth to the fauna that don’t normally inhabit inner cities. It is a nonprofit that is free and available to children, but acquiring the funding to cover the costs of housing, feeding, grooming and providing medical care for the animals can be a challenge for its director, Karen Thompson.
Shoestring City Ranch, 11369 Carson St. in Lakewood, is designed to teach children about the inner city and the humane treatment of animals, Thompson said.
“We’re just a little bit of country right here in the city,” she said. “We bring in kids, and they get to come here for free and have time with the animals.”
As part of the program, Thompson emphasizes the need for green space and the proper environments for animals.
“Domestic animals are dumped in the park every year,” Thompson said. “We want kids to know why they don’t go into wildlife– why that’s not a good match.”
At Shoestring, kids see chickens, rabbits, donkeys, burros, mules, goats, llamas, alpacas and horses, including quarter, Arab, thoroughbred, standard bred and running quarter.
Animals that Shoestring cannot take in include peacocks or roosters, because of city codes, but also lions, mountain lions, bobcats and wild rabbits, Thompson said.
“They have a place in nature, and we don’t want to unbalance that,” she said.
Just as a domesticated ranch is not the place for wild animals, local parks are also not appropriate homes for animals that have been living with humans.
“So, we’re teaching kids, ‘Don’t take a domestic animal and put it in the park,’ such as Rynerson Park behind us,” Thompson said. “We have a big problem over there, and people think, ‘Oh, let me just take my domestic animal who I’m not going to care for anymore [to the park] and they can just run wild. Well, they become food, they breed with the other, wild animals, and it unbalances nature.”
Thompson said her organization tries to teach not only youth, but also adults, to properly find homes for unwanted animals by using the appropriate agencies.
She explained that all the funds raised for Shoestring City Ranch come from personal donations and sales of carrots to those who visit the grounds. They can purchase those vegetables to feed some of the animals.
On Sundays at 3pm, the facility conducts a storytime for kids. “They get to touch small animals, and then we sell carrots so they can feed animals, and then the donations go to feed our animals,” Thompson said. “Obviously, selling carrots isn’t significant enough to be able to cover our costs. Our costs are approximately $5,000 a month to house and board and feed our animals. There isn’t anyone here that’s a paid representative at all. So everyone’s a volunteer, including me.”
Other volunteers include the two Hannahs. Hannah Truitt is 22, and Hannah Davis is 15 and still in high school.
Truitt said she grew up right down the street and could smell the horses from her house.
“I just came here one day and asked what I could do to help, and [Thompson] was like, ‘Here, do this,’” Truitt said. “And it just started happening.”
That was two weeks ago, and she said she’s been helping at the ranch every day since.
Davis started volunteering two years ago after taking riding lessons there.
“I’ll do what needs to be done and some other things,” Davis said. “Usually, we’ll groom, we’ll clean the pasture, we’ll fill some hay nets.”
Her favorite chore is grooming. She also serves as a team leader, teaching skills to kids, making sure they have helmets on and reviewing safety procedures.
“She’s a true leader,” Thompson said. “She’s going to be something in this world, let me tell you. I think those skills compute directly to making good citizens and making our kids get out there and really be productive.”
Thompson said the kids who visit Shoestring come from various sources. “Schools, mostly,” she said. “I have foster care that comes here. You wouldn’t know which kids are which, because I don’t share their stories. Sometimes it might be somebody that has somebody terminally ill at home, and they just need a break. Or they might be a military person. So, it ranges all over the place, from 5 years old to 99– everyone’s welcome.”
The animals come from a number of different sources too, but Thompson said what they have in common is that they are all being rescued.
“I get phone calls from different agencies, I get phone calls from people, and sometimes we even feed animals in place,” Thompson explained. “So, maybe someone is an older senior citizen that had an animal and the animal has aged out, maybe they’re ill, we might go up to their house and feed– that kind of thing. So, we do a lot of outreach too.”
In addition to the need for more funding to help the facility cover costs, Shoestring could also use more volunteers. Some of the duties include reading to kids on Sundays, managing social media, welding, woodworking, building cages, repairing pens and organizing fundraisers. Thompson said they also welcome food donations.
To find out more information about the facility or how to donate to it, visit shoestringcityranch.org .