Jen Dulski knew nothing about rescue when she moved to “the middle of the nowhere” back in 2017. She came with nothing but a dream and a vision (and her two rescue dogs Mugsy and Libby) – she had no real plan, no funding aside from her own, and didn’t know anyone here. But she was motivated to fulfill a dream of creating a sanctuary for elderly dogs with no place to spend their final years. The people and magic came along as the dream came to fruition and turned that small vision into the massive movement A&F is today. While lawyer by day, she considers herself a professional recreational athlete by night and holds her dogs as not only her closest family but also her lifeline. Learn more about her story in the podcast episode below.
“Life sure has a funny way of changing perspective. I’ve told my (well really our) story before but not everyone has heard it so I figured it was a good time to share again. I’m just an ordinary person like everyone else. Going from a large firm in Boston, Massachusetts to Overland Park, Kansas I knew there had to be a reason I took a new job in a state I’d never been to, knew nothing about, and didn’t know a single soul in, so after I accepted a new in house position with Waddell & Reed I decided if I was going to live in KS I would buy a farm and start a dog rescue. I’ve only ever lived in big cities, am completely terrified of all things bugs and nature related and I have no special background in rescuing or training dogs. So all makes perfect sense right? Maybe I’m a little crazy, at least that is what everyone told me when I first told them my idea but I really just love dogs. I remember I was standing outside a GNC and was like I need to do something to give me a reason to want to wake up in the morning, to be a better person, and the idea just popped in my head. I had two rescue pups of my own, both seniors who slept most of the day and I knew seniors were overlooked in shelters so I figured the focus would and should be on them. Growing up I was like everyone else and always said when I won the lottery I’d buy a bunch of land and save a million dogs. Well I didn’t win the lottery. Probably because I never played and I hadn’t saved a single dime. In fact quite the opposite. I put everything I had into buying the farm and took a huge pay cut going from Boston to Kansas but I had a dream I wanted to come true and knew that when you want something bad enough, no matter how impossible it feels, you can either make excuses or find a way. I had no idea how to raise money either, I’m not good at fundraising however, I’m excellent at spending. So I figured I’d take out loans to make this dream a reality. I had great credit. A great job. And debt didn’t scare me – not for saving dogs. So I went into a bank and asked for a ridiculous loan for a non-profit with zero donations or collateral to convert an old horse barn into a home for seniors and was literally laughed at. I was told no bank would lend me any money without collateral or having been established. I can’t say it wasn’t disheartening to hear but it was just one bank. After all, not everyone believed in me my entire life, I had one professor in law school tell me I should drop out I’d never be a good lawyer and couldn’t write and I proved her wrong. Its always a challenge to prove someone who doubts me wrong so challenge accepted. I figured I’d try another. After the fourth bank turned me down my stomach started to sink. Self doubt is easy, especially when it comes to taking risks but the fifth bank gave me the $100,000 to begin and what was once just a childhood dream finally took a step towards becoming a reality. The goal was always to use only that loan to complete the process but like everything in life there are always surprises. Anything that could’ve gone wrong with respect to construction in fact did and the $100,000 budget went literally poof within a few months. When that loan ran out I took another. When that loan ran out I took one more. When I couldn’t get another loan I used my credit cards. When the credit cards were maxed I mostly cried, worried beyond belief and prayed and at the end of the year I received a promotion at work and one year after the simple action of taking an astronomical risk to do something beyond anything I’ve ever done before our doors opened and almost three years later we have now saved over 1,700 pups and cats lives. While I did say everything that could’ve gone wrong with construction did, on the flip side of that, everything that needed to happen to make this dream come true also did. God put the right people in my life at the very right time and continues to do so every day so that together my one dream has become the dreams and reality for so many. It takes one person to take a risk. To say hey, I know this feels impossible but the reward of knowing one single life will be saved or even just loved for a single moment makes all the sacrifice worth it.
“And now here we are today. A senior dog sanctuary filled with the most wonderful people who dedicate so much of their lives to make the lives of the neglected, abused and completely abandoned seniors lives better. The other thing about this was that they couldn’t live in kennels, that is no life. Everything about the barn needed to be a home. A real home with couches and beds a kitchen and tv and more couches and beds so that if this was the only home they ever knew then so be it they would be loved.
“So if you’re still reading now there is actually more to this story, way more than I can write in one post but everything about this farm is connected with love and truly heaven. I had just lost someone I loved with my whole heart when I was in Boston. I moved here to start again. When I moved here the position I filled at my new company was open because they had lost a beloved employee to cancer. A friend who lost her son, though another nonprofit I run for those who have lost a loved one to addiction, referred me to a realtor who was friends with the family who sold me the farm who had lost their young daughter to cancer, and subsequently their son to complication with addiction. This beautiful little farm never even went on the market. So many hands in heaven led me here to a place where so many people and pups with broken souls can now find peace. The family that sold me this farm named it the Ever After farm and in her wonderful note to me the first day I moved in reminded me that it will be hard work but to always remember it’s never too late for happily ever after and that is where our motto began.
“The final piece of this story is that when I lost my best friend and they took her off life support, even though I was allowed to be with her the entire time at the hospital on life support, and at times I was the only one there holding her hand and singing to her, they forced me to leave the room when they turned off the machines. To hold someone you love, whenever, or however, human or animal, as they leave for heaven is a privilege not everyone is granted. That’s why I am there every single time one of our beloved pups crosses the rainbow bridge. I hold them and remind them that even if for a moment, someone on this earth loved them and believed their lives mattered. Everyone and every dog deserves to know love. So we carry that in with everything we do now, we love the ones others deem unloveable or unworthy, or too old, or too sick, or too expensive to take on the risk, heartache, and pain – we welcome them with open arms and do whatever we can to make their life, however long they have, a little bit better.
“If I hadn’t lived through loving and losing my best friend I would never be able to live through loving and losing all these beautiful seniors. Before she passed I was the person who left the theater a hysterical sobbing mess watching Marley and Me and now I hold them during their final hours, I kiss them and promise them heaven is better and its not even just me, but the amazing, beautiful, incredibly loving volunteers involved with A&F do the exact same thing. Many times I tell the pups I’m sorry I couldn’t save them or help them or find them a family of their own but they leave this world knowing so much love and love is all we take with us when we are gone. Love is all that matters. This little red barn isn’t just the pups sanctuary, its an entire little city in Kansas’ sanctuary and FB community following. Don’t get me wrong. We make mistakes. We make SO many mistakes but all our actions are driven by love and we learn from them and grow. We try, we fail, we try again, we try harder to do better and be better for them. And now every morning I wake up to 18+ wagging tails that continually make my heart and so many other hearts smile, specially when there was a time my world was so dark I never thought I would or even could smile again. All these dogs saved me. And yes our hearts are broken when they leave us but for every new pup we save we open our hearts up to break all over again just so that their hearts are filled with peace before they leave this earth.
“And that’s mostly my/our story. Everyone has a story. The barn and all the pups and volunteers are filled with second chances. A second chance to know love and find a little bit of peace, even if for a moment.
“All our funding for the building I took out in loans and while my loans may be higher than my mortgage payments now all our donations received go directly to the dogs lives we save every single day. And that makes it all worth it. I figured I would have to work until I die to pay off all my student loans anyways so why not work a little harder and save dogs lives while I’m at it. I also like to thing of it as 10 years from now when the barn is paid off I get a really nice raise! Plus, to know how many people support and love the dogs that were literally dumped as garbage and left to die fills my heart with so much warmth. Or to be able to help people who fall on hard times, grow too old or sick to care for their beloved pets who only knew love continue to know love is all that matters to us. To HELP, to LOVE, to be better humans for the wonderful creatures God blessed all of us with. I really am amazed at how far we have come and how much we have done from basically nothing. We have over 130 animals in our care between foster and the barn and our vet bills exceed about $15,000 to $20,000 a week, and we have full responsibility for all animals at the Osawatomie Pound and somehow, someway we always find a way to keep going, it may be paycheck to paycheck but when we need something to happen to save a life, it does.
“For all the sorrow and bad and evil in this world the GOOD overcomes it leaps and bounds but its hard work. You can look for the good or look for the bad. Both will always be there. At A&F we endure the bad, surpass the pain, and always, always, always look for the good. 1,700 dogs lives and countless human lives have been touch by a little red barn. In a tiny town in Kansas, filled with so much love.
“So that’s the gist of how we all got here. To all who choose to rescue a dog over buying one thank you! To all who follow, share, and support us in any way possible thank you! To all those in heaven who helped make this happen and continue to make this happen thank you! To all our pups in heaven and on earth we love you. That’s about it. That’s me/us. We all just really love dogs and in our own small way want to make a sometimes very dark world a little better place for senior pups (and of course an occasional puppy).
“Oh yes – and our very first rescue was a cat – I’m not a cat person. Go figure.
“Below are a few of our original crew, current crew and babies in heaven.”
– Jen Dulski, Founder & Our Hero