By Janet McAfee

This idyllic 153-acre sanctuary for homeless dogs, cats and horses 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 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.

On Thursday, April 7, from 1:30pm to 6:30pm a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrates Living Free’s newest program, WAR HORSE CREEK.  Due to their magnificent size and cost of ownership, horses are vulnerable to neglect and homelessness.  Knowing how horses connect with and help heal people with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), our veterans participate in the program at no cost to themselves. In this serene environment the soft wind whispers comfort and the horses work their magic bringing comfort and new awareness.  Pictured here is executive director Raymond Barmore with Emmylou.

WAR HORSE CREEK is a program by Veterans for Veterans transitioning from the military into civilian life. Working with rescued wild mustangs, participating men and women master skills through horsemanship including empathy, patience, understanding, and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations.  The new buildings and infrastructure where the Veterans live during the program is named “Camp Harris” in memory of Living Free’s former executive director Randall Harris, a Marine who recently passed away.  The goal of War Horse Creek is to “inspire a sea of change in the way we, as a society, welcome our warriors home”.


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 homeless and abused dogs, cats, and horses. Many of the animals are rescued from public shelters where they may be in jeopardy.

Edgar Santiago, the dog kennel manager, has an innate ability to understand dogs and address each of the dog’s individual needs. He diligently trains them, teaching them the self-control that will ensure a successful adoption. 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. There are no sad faces peering out from kennel bars at Living Free.

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.

A bell rings throughout the property with the happy news of an animal adoption.  A plaque underneath the bell embodies the spirit of Living Free, “This adoption bell rings to herald the lifetime 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 or donate online at or mail a check to Living Free, 54250 Keen Camp Rd, Box 5, Mountain Center, CA 92561.  View their adoptable animals at Like LIVING FREE and WAR HORSE CREEK on Facebook.  Call for a tour at (951) 659-4687.  If you are a Veteran, you can register for a War Horse Creek workshop online.  Considering Volunteering to help socialize the cats or enjoy walking the dogs. If you can’t adopt or volunteer, consider donating to this wonderful organization!