‘Mrs. Dr. Doolittle’ set to open animal rescue center

The Hope Ranch Animal Rescue takes in all kinds of animals, including this llama, name Mejita. The center celebrates with a grand opening on May 18.

Seeing a need to help animals larger than cats and dogs, Malibuite Lori Morris turned her rescuing of larger animals into the Hope Ranch Animal Rescue center.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

After moving to the refreshing climes of Encinal Canyon in Malibu almost four years ago, Lori Morris looked around and was distressed by the number of abandoned animals she saw. Not cats and dogs, but animals that don’t fit into a hamster cage on the shelf. Large animals.

So she decided to do something about it.

“I began taking in animals that needed homes, starting with a couple of goats and then the word got out,” Morris, a lively, raven-haired, ranch mom, said. “Any time an abandoned animal was found, I rescued it.”

By the time she had taken in some two dozen horses, a few cows, sheep, more goats, llamas, emus, guinea pigs, various chickens, parrots, tortoises, a bull with alarmingly pointy horns and, oh yes, a half dozen dogs, her 80-acre ranch was bursting at the seams, her feed bill was killing her and her husband had taken to pronouncing, “I just don’t make the money you spend.”

Unfazed, Morris put up new pens, ingratiated herself with the local vet and decided to turn her menagerie into a nonprofit adoption center that offers trail rides on the side-the Hope Ranch Animal Rescue, a non-profit organization.

“I’ll adopt out my rescues if I know they’re going to a good home,” Morris explained during a tour of her facilities. “I mean, I’m not going to adopt out my new calf if I think they’re going to eat him.”

Morris’ four-legged altruism has yielded her an eclectic mix of refugees and she is known to not turn away those only a mother could love.

“My Clydesdale came in severely undernourished and this filly was just deformed,” Morris said, giving “Lumpy” a fond scratch.

There is no word to describe the horse, other than “ugly.”

The variety of her rescues extends to feathered species as well.

“One of my emus was injured,” she said, pointing out one of the ostrich-like birds. “Do you know how hard it is to find an emu vet?”

Morris was a stay-at-home mom with two sons now out of college and a daughter at Malibu High before she became “Mrs. Dr. Doolittle.”

“My daughter Corinne thinks I’m nuts,” Morris chuckled. “She doesn’t know what she wants to do after school, but it sure isn’t rescuing animals.”

Husband Bob Morris doesn’t complain about his wife’s avocation, other than the cost of feeding the animals.

“My typical feed bill each month is over $3,000,” Lori Morris said. “Shoeing every six weeks is another $500. So I’m looking for people to adopt animals. They can even leave them here and come visit them.”

Morris neuters all her animals, although she apparently misread her emus, thinking they were both male. One of them is sitting on turquoise-colored eggs. “Hey, it’s not easy to [determine the]sex an emu,” she said. “They’re very prehistoric.”

Rolling her four-wheel-drive “Gator” down the hill to the llama field (“It saves gas.”), Morris confessed that she finds it hard to give up her adoptees. “I’m not good at releasing,” she said. “I guess I’ll have to toughen up.”

The llamas Oscar and Mejita share the field with a couple of Nubian goats, and greet strangers with snorts and trills. “Don’t worry about them spitting,” Morris reassured. “They sometimes spray a little, but it’s not like a loogie or anything.”

Dr. Kevin Smith provides veterinary services every month and is used to seeing some sorry-looking animals arrive.

“Lumpy’s lucky to be alive,” he said. “She looked really bad when she came in.”

Morris is hoping that her trail rides will augment donations for Hope Ranch and is willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice to lead a group out on some trails with spectacular views.

Her small-animal “hotel” is family-friendly, with a colorful collection of finches, lovebirds, chickens, pheasant, guinea pigs (“It costs $80 to ‘fix’ a guinea pig.”) and a tiny bantam rooster named Elvis, who struts among his harem.

“For my grand opening in May, we’ll have a jazz band with a dance instructor, a tarot reader, a silent auction and the chance to adopt,” Morris said. “I’d love some volunteers to come help me with grooming the animals.”

She also offers trail rides to Wounded Warriors, a group that helps rehabilitate war veterans through horseback riding therapy.

Neighbor Julie Hoffman helps raise funds and awareness for Hope Ranch. “All these animals are happy. The care and love she gives them is unbelievable. Maybe the May fundraiser will help her hire a ranch hand.”

The Hope Ranch Animal Rescue will have its grand opening celebration May 18, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Morris Ranch, 1172 Encinal Canyon Rd in Malibu. RSVP by e-mailing malibuanimals@gmail.com. Donations are $25 per person. More information can be obtained online at www.hoperanchanimalrescue.com