By Janet McAfee

This idyllic 153-acre sanctuary for dogs and cats is located in the scenic mountain country above Palm Springs. To get to Living Free Animal Sanctuary, head up Highway 74 to Mountain Center, and you will see their sign on the right hand side just before the town of Idyllwild. This is a fabulous place for animals, shrouded by lush fir trees in a rustic pastoral setting. During my recent visit there, I was impressed by the beautiful grounds, the buildings specially designed for the comfort of animals, and the loving care provided by the staff and volunteers.
Sharon Maguire, Executive Director, warmly greeted us and drove us by golf cart through the expansive property. Sharon is pictured here outside the visitor center holding Stills, a lovely special needs dog who has diabetes.
There are no kennels at Living Free. Animals experience a new life here while they are loved and readied for their second chance homes. They romp and sun themselves in enclosures that provide outdoor exercise and indoor comfort. There is a serene, magical quality to Living Free where neglected souls heal and new beginnings flourish. Founded in 1980, this nonprofit, no kill organization saves, rehabilitates, and rehomes orphaned and abused dogs and cats. All of the animals are rescued from public shelters in Riverside and San Bernardino counties where they often face imminent euthanasia.
When you enter the rustic lobby, you are greeted by the sanctuary mascot, Miss Amazing, a 6-yr-old partially paralyzed cat. Miss Amazing doesn’t let her disability hold her back. She is fully mobile and even catches mice.
The animals receive state-of-the-art medical care. There is a full service veterinary clinic on site that contains a surgical suite and dental equipment. A vet travels up the mountain every two weeks to treat animals, and perform spay and neutering. Living Free’s medical clinic is in need of an x-ray machine as they now have to transport animals down to Hemet when they need x-rays.
Edgar Santiago, the dog kennel manager, introduced us to some of the canines. Edgar has an innate ability to understand the dogs, and address each of their individual needs. He diligently trains them, teaching them the self-control that will ensure a successful adoption. We fell in love with Nemo who is pictured here. The buildings that house the dogs are a unique octagon design that provides a cozy indoor suite and an outdoor exercise area for each dog. The outdoor areas are beautifully landscaped and appointed with agility equipment. There are no sad faces peering out from kennel bars at Living Free.
Ninety feline residents dwell happily in the cattery with access to an indoor homelike setting and outdoor area for exploring. A tree trunk for climbing rests in the center. Senior cats have their own area, keeping their own calmer pace from the younger cats and kittens. We met some gorgeous cats including Mr. Samson, a Seal Point Siamese.
The recent firestorm came precariously close to destroying Living Free. When the flames edged close to the site, the call came to evacuate. Local residents pitched in to help the staff transport the animals to a safe haven at the Garner Valley Ranch of a board member. The fire came within 200 feet of the dog park, and within 600 feet of the cattery. Burnt areas now surround much of the property, an eerie reminder of the close call. One of the volunteers commented, “It’s like God put a blanket over this area and said ‘You’re not going to touch this’.”
Living Free has a continuing care program for pet owners who worry about what will happen to their animals in the event of their death or disability. Through an application process and donation, you can ensure your pet will be rehomed to a carefully screened new home. Or you can opt for your pet to live out his full life with loving care at the Sanctuary.
An adoption bell rings each time an animal goes to a new home. A plaque underneath the bell embodies the spirit of Living Free, “This adoption bell rings to herald the life time covenant between you and your new companion. Please honor this covenant with joy, love, enthusiasm, and devotion – – just as your new animal friend will.”
For more information or to make a tax deductible gift, call (951) 659-4687. Read more about Living Free and their adoptable animals at Living Free carefully adopts each animal, providing lots of information as to his or her personality, training, and health needs. Volunteer to help socialize the cats or enjoy walking a dog out in the cool mountain air. If you can’t adopt or volunteer, consider making a donation to this wonderful organization.