OVANDO - The Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary near Ovando continues to hold its No. 1 spot in the Shelter Challenge, a national online contest sponsored by Petfinder and the Animal Rescue Site.
If the shelter can hold the position until Dec. 20, it will win a $20,000 prize - a hefty sum for a nonprofit group run by volunteers at a rural Montana ranch.
"We had $44,000 in vet bills this year, and that $20,000 prize would go a long way toward easing that cost," said Alayne Marker, who in 2000 co-founded the ranch with Steve Smith.
Marker called the past year a good one for the animals, though it was costly in terms of vet care. It included three cancer cases requiring treatment, a cataract surgery to restore a dog's vision (the dog was then adopted), and another dog treated for diabetes.
"When you have those kinds of big-ticket things, the vet bills add up pretty fast," Marker said. "The grand prize would be wonderful for the animals."
The grand prize goes to the winner of the Shelter Challenge, a $100,000 contest hosted by The Animal Rescue Site and Petfinder.
The Shelter Challenge will award 73 different grants to contest winners, including that $20,000 grand prize and a $5,000 second-place prize.
Other prizes include two $2,000 grants for the "most touching story," and 51 prizes worth $1,000 to the winning shelter in each state (including Washington, D.C.).
The Rolling Dog Ranch leads the national contest, just ahead of Denison City Pound in Denison, Iowa. It also leads the state contest ahead of the Rimrock Humane Society.
"It's not something we've actively done," Marker said. "People have just been voting for their favorite organization, and we've been at the No. 1 spot for the past two months."
The rescue shelter is, perhaps, the most noted in Montana and has worked hard to earn its national reputation.
The ranch for disabled animals has been featured on a variety of national television shows, including the Today Show, and such publications as USA Today, People Magazine and Bark Magazine.
Over the past nine years, both the Independent Record and Missoulian newspapers have reported on the ranch as well, featuring its blind horses, deaf dogs, three-legged cats and obese pigs.
Marker and Smith quit their jobs with Boeing, moved to Montana and founded the 160-acre sanctuary. While they don't actively seek the attention that comes their way, their dedication to disabled animals has earned them publicity and a long list of admirers.
Most of the time they just smile in appreciation, but now, with $20,000 on the line, they hope to remain in the spotlight for just a few more weeks.
"We're talking real money," Marker said of the challenge. "When you have over 12,000 organizations across the country, to be No. 1 is an honor. So much of it is due to our wonderful supporters who have come together over the years to help the ranch."
To vote for the Rolling Dog Ranch, go online to www.rollingdogranch.org and look for the purple "Shelter Challenge" icon on the right side of the Web page. Voting is tallied daily; the votes will decide the contest winner.
Helena Independent Record reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at (406) 447-4086 or email@example.com.