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Rural Carlton couple has a heart for healing

Doug and Roxanne Sharratt believe in second chances. After each of them was married for 23 years - to other people - raised their families and later divorced, they found each other via an online dating site.

"We were both at the end of our online memberships and neither of us was going to renew," recalled Doug.

"Just a few weeks before mine ended," added Roxanne, "my daughter said to me, 'Come on, Mom, you're going to do this!'"

"And the rest," said Doug, "is history.... It's kind of like the road split and we both came back around and ended up meeting each other. Now we're so close we can almost finish each other's thoughts."

Today, the two live on land in rural Carlton adjacent to Doug's family farm, and they recently acted upon one of the shared passions that first drew the two together - starting a farm animal rescue organization geared toward caring for abused, neglected or unwanted farm animals.

"As a no-kill shelter," explained Doug, "we believe these animals deserve a second chance at living a good life."

Part of their vision includes the eventual startup of an animal therapy program for people with special needs.

"We are passionate about giving back to the community that shares our cause," said Doug.

Such work comes as nothing new to him. He grew up on his parents' 600-acre farm where they raised pigs and cattle and Doug used to milk two cows by hand twice a day, every day.

"There was a period of time I didn't want to have anything more to do with the farm," he admitted. "My dad was a pilot in the Air Guards and he was working full time and trying to farm at the same time, so my brother and I ended up doing a lot of the farm work. I kind of got burned out a little bit, so I went down to live in the Cities after my first marriage. But there's that old saying, 'You can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy.' I honestly believe that, because every chance I could get up here, I'd come."

After 25 years, three kids and his eventual divorce, he decided to move back to the farm.

"I'd been in Anoka since 1980," he said, "and I could just watch the housing and industry moving north from the Cities. I needed to come back here where it was quiet and the way of life is so much slower. Everybody down there is in such a hurry. I also wanted to help keep up what my dad had going for him because he's put a lot of time and energy into the cows."

He moved north for good in 2005, staying at his folks' house for a time until Roxanne came into his life. She's a self-proclaimed "city girl" from Gary-New Duluth, but when the two of them met online, they instantly connected.

"Ever since I was a child, I'd always wanted to live in the country," said Roxanne.

The two were married in March 2007 and put up a manufactured home on five acres of land in rural Carlton given to them by Doug's father.

Both of them work full time - Doug at a group home in Brookston for adult men with brain injuries and fetal alcohol syndrome, and Roxanne at a dental clinic in downtown Duluth.

It didn't take them long to realize another of their life's dreams, however.

"We had always talked about starting up an animal rescue operation, but it really didn't get going until last year," said Doug.

"I used to foster puppies for Friends of Animals for about five years," explained Roxanne, "and I always thought it would be great to foster farm animals."

"For me," added Doug, "it started when I heard that my great-nephew, who has cerebral palsy, had to drive more than an hour to get to the nearest riding stable and then they had to pay quite a bit for a lesson. It made me want to do something in this area for him and for kids and people like him, and that's what's really driving me to do this. We want to rescue the animals, get them healthy and then use them for therapy for people with special needs, so it's kind of a two-fold thing. Everybody wins in the outcome."

"People with disabilities just seem to respond to the horses," pointed out Roxanne.

Their rescue operation started close to home, when Impy, the 28-year-old mare that Doug's father used as a cow horse, went blind in one eye and was no longer able to work.

"She'll always have a home here until she passes," said Doug.

Then came an 18-year-old gelding named Storm, who was going to be shipped out of state because of his age and the fact a temporary leg injury resulted in occasional stumbling.

"One of my coworkers asked if we'd be willing to take him, and I agreed to do it," said Doug.

That was two years ago. Since then they've taken in nine horses, three cats, two dogs and a rooster.

Among them are three miniature ponies that had been chained out in the yard like dogs, with little food or water, which had been owned by a man who ended up going into assisted living.

"The man who took care of them called us up and told us about them," said Doug. "He said if we didn't want them, he was going to put them to sleep. We ran over there with the trailer, picked them up and had them all vet checked. Medically, they were a little on the thin side, but by working with our vet, they're now doing really well and they're finally beginning to get socialized a little bit."

A little over a year ago, they took in Ryder, a 5-year-old gelding who suffered a fractured rib at birth that impacted his gaits.

"When his owners were training him," said Doug, "he couldn't lope or gallop the way they wanted him to for showing. The lady was heartbroken to have to get rid of him, but she didn't want to spend any more money on him because he wasn't going to work out as a show horse. A lady that Roxanne works with told us about him, and we offered to give him a good home. He's very nice to ride, but he has to be ridden lightly."

Then there's Katie, a sorrel mare who has a bad leg and a chronic case of heaves so that she, too, can only be ridden lightly.

And then there's Sampson, the rooster who has become the ranch mascot.

"During a snowstorm last year," related Roxanne, "he blew past the window of my sister's house. She called me and said he was sitting in a snow bank, freezing to death, so she asked me if I wanted a chicken. She tried going up and down the road to find out where he came from, but no one claimed him."

Despite the fact that Sampson had a frostbitten comb and feet, he has since recovered at the Sharratts' ranch - and now even has his own harem of hens!

The three cats who scamper around the Sharratts' yard were all rescued from the same litter, and the felines share lawn space with two black labs they took in through Animal Allies - one of which they brought home the year before they got married, and the other was part of a litter of six they fostered for the shelter.

The Sharratts also have three miniature Hereford cows, two of which are pregnant and ready to deliver calves any day now. Though the cows aren't rescue animals, the Sharratts hope to raise and sell that particular breed of miniature cattle to help supplement the costs of their rescue operation.

"We had them at the Barnum fair last year," related Doug, "and a couple of the guys with special needs from the group home where I work were able to walk them out into the ring and show them."

"Their families were just delighted and they were so proud," added Roxanne.

The Sharatts have been working on getting financing to put up a barn and possibly an indoor arena, which would make their facility available year round for people with disabilities to work with the animals.

"We've had some of the special needs gentlemen that Doug works with here doing chores from time to time," said Roxanne. "They have a great time and are always asking when they can come back again."

The Sharratts explained that in order to request that an animal be rescued, a person must first go through the Carlton County Sheriff's Office or Wade Hanson, the humane society inspector. Then the animal has to be screened to see if it fits their guidelines.

"Unfortunately," said Roxanne, "some of the calls come from people who are simply tired of taking care of their animals. Also, we're not a hospital so we can't take animals that have severe health problems."

"What we want are the ones who are being neglected," said Doug, "and if they are seized after being turned in to the sheriff's office, then we will look at giving them a home."

The Sharratts said they rely on the help and advice of Dr. Delores Gockowski at North Ridge Veterinary Hospital in Sturgeon Lake to plan out programs of rehabilitation for their rescue animals.

They are now hoping to raise enough money to erect a 60x72 barn and an adjacent 60x120 arena, which will provide enough room to keep all of their animals under one roof and year-round space for riding. They said they will likely take in some boarders at that point to help pay for vet bills and the cost of the barn facility. They also sell caps and T-shirts and have a can recycling trailer at the Carlton Travel Center, as well as donation jars at the Junction Oasis and the adjoining gas station.

"We've been trying to figure out ways to raise money," said Doug, "and I came up with an idea to ride a horse across the state of Minnesota, from Wisconsin to Fargo, and which I'm hoping to do next September."

They're also working with a group of business students from the University of Minnesota Duluth who has selected the Sharratts' rescue operation as their school project.

"They're going to help us write a business plan and possibly some grant applications in return for college credit," said Doug.

"Farm rescue is a lot of work, and it's something we're thinking about all the time," reflected Doug of their new endeavor. "We talk to relatives and they ask us why we're doing this. We're trying to help people and animals who are in need of help, and we look at it as a community service."

It is only fitting, then, that when the Sharratts were trying to decide on a name for their ranch, there was only one that seemed to fit - Second Chance Ranch.

"We both kind of came up with the name," said Doug, "because it was our second chance at marriage, and we wanted to give the animals a second chance as well."

For more information, go to the Second Chance Ranch website at: