Vail Daily letter: Here’s my dream | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily letter: Here’s my dream

Titus Blackwood
Vail, CO, Colorado

I live on Ranch Alacrity above Wolcott at the entrance of Horse Mountain. We run a small 501(c)3 nonprofit called With Alacrity — Assistance Dogs of Colorado; operate Doves of Vail; raise chickens, turkeys and sell fresh, all-natural eggs; garden sustainably; and lease pasture to Rocky Mountain Reindeer. We also have four guard llamas and have a den mother of a pea hen and adopt unadoptable cats. We also have temporarily taken in a host of folks who have become homeless during this economic turn to give them a chance to save money and get back on their feet.

Through the nonprofit we work with local youth — individually, through school programs, work with kids (and adults) coming to us from the parole system needing to work off parole hours for mild offenses with community service. Eagle County Volunteers have sent us many referrals, as well, and our volunteers are a loyal bunch. I’ll admit we have way more activity during the school year when school grounds folks to a better schedule.

Donations are always been a struggle. But when are they not, especially in these economic times?

We do need to draw attention to fundraising. We spend all of our funds on the dogs and training. We have no paid staff, only volunteers. Kibble is low, and we need to bring in funding fast. We have a verbal approval from a family foundation for a small grant but it doesn’t fund until the new year.

We have eight 7-month-0old dogs that have been in early dog training since whelping. We do nerve stimulation, desensitization and ear canal challenges based upon military techniques from 24 hours forward. Positive training though food lure and finger targeting begins at two weeks. Our pups had 43 commands at 8 weeks.

I have been training dogs since my early youth, and commercially trained competitive retrievers for years, switching over to assistance dogs in the 1990s. I was always an anomaly for positive training techniques in the retriever world, but my dogs performed well and sold above average prices. I studied under Dr. Bonnie Bergin, president of Bergin University (Assistance Dog Institute) and founder and late of CCI. Dr. Bergin invented the idea of service dogs beyond the scope of guide dogs.

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My dream at the ranch has been a mix of many things:

• Mostly to be completely ADA-accessible, environmentally friendly and sustainable.

• To have ranch-hand style cabins for use by service dog clients coming to be matched and to learn the skill to make a successful go with their new life canine partner. Cabins that can be also used for agri-tourism, writers and artists in residence, folks in need a temporary place, and now more ideas are coming.

n To build a three-story round barn into a side hill to host kennels on the lower level, offices and an apartment in the middle, and a training and lecture facility on the top, LEEDS certified. The upper level being open for use to all the area nonprofits and schools for a reasonable fee.

• To promote our white dove release business, Doves of Vail, a renewable and beautiful way to celebrate any occasion, to bring in income to the Ranch. Doves of Vail is the only dove release business from A-Basin to Aspen — 50-mile radius release.

• To expand our all-natural sustainable gardens and plots available to the community to market levels and supplying local restaurants.

• To expand out hens and turkeys and eggs layers to supply local restaurants beyond the sales we do off ranch to locals. This spring we were pleased to do a formal seminar with CMC’s culinary program on poultry butchering that was considered quite a success by all.

• To bring more attention to our local campaign for Plant A Row, a national nonprofit in which local gardeners donate extra garden produce to local food pantries, which this year has finally blossomed with the cooperation of Laurel at the local Extension Service.

• To work more actively with local youth groups, directly with schools and other nonprofits especially those working with persons with disabilities and the elderly, and to find ways that we can complement each other.

• To complete the first 10K wind turbine approved in Eagle County and complete tying into the energy grid.

n Tapping into the spring with the USDA EQIP grant that I received after three years of applications for irrigating a significant portion of the land.

The ranch is in financial distress, as am I. I’ve lost everything except hope and dreams but I’m a fighter. I believe in the place, and I see what happens when young and not-so-young people come here and spend time with the animals and the land and the projects in the works.

I’d be happy living in one of those ranch hand cabins fostering the projects here. I’m disabled myself, and as I look around for a Plan B if it all falls apart in Chapter 12, I realize there is no place to go. Our valley has limited options for the disabled and elderly, as well. The Eagle County site has long had bids open for more bids for places like Seniors on Broadway and Golden Eagle and more. And the waiting list for those facilities is very long.

So why not here on Ranch Alacrity? These 40 acres are resource zoned, not part of any owners association, and about to be agriculturally zoned. It’s 15 minutes from Eagle and Edwards. With a mixture of private and public money, this could become a vibrant mixed-use ranch facility of all ages and interests, with a big house with a main kitchen and community hall.

Some ideas: Have an extension of CMC’s culinary program and be under the master gardener’s influence. Have a small physical therapy facility. Actively farm and ranch to help support itself, have docents to educate tourists and students on property activities and green living and involve the Alliance for Sustainability.

I used to own the adjacent 40 acres to the west, and the bank still owns the parcel. Add them back and this could be an amazing nonprofit operation and asset to the community. Yes, it’s a big idea. I’d just like to know the right people to talk to who might be able to make it happen. I don’t have kids. I have a dream. And I make a difference every day that I manage to keep this place alive.

Titus Blackwood