Mama's mansion
Mama's mansion (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch is the place to begin a search for a new pet. The worst thing that can happen is you get an excuse for a nice drive in the country. The best result, of course, is that you find a new best friend.

The ranch rescues stray and unwanted animals, dogs mostly, and keeps them well fed and loved until somebody gives them a home. A couple of years ago the operation moved from Utopia to Tom Friedman's Echo Hill Ranch off TX 16 between Kerrville and Medina. "Texas Highway 16 from Kerrville to Bandera is one of the most beautiful drives you can take on this planet," musician/author Kinky Friedman wrote a few months back.

The animal rescue ranch began when Kinky, son of Tom Friedman, discovered that his friend Nancy Simons would baby-sit just about anything he dropped off at her home in Utopia with the excuse that he was going on tour. "I was Kinky's official dog sitter," Simons says, "but he got me up to 10 dogs. We had to get organized, or he had stop picking up strays."

If the animal ranch was Simons' brainchild, then it is Kinky's love child. A couple of "Bonefits" and a little help from Kinky's friends built deluxe accommodations for the former pound dwellers. Simons says that the ranch averages about 50 dogs at a time, but has had as many as 65. Each one of the mutts comes with a story it carries like a pedigree.

The scars in the brown hide of Mama, a pit bull, give hints to her biography. Found in downtown Austin, her hind leg was so badly mangled that it had to be amputated. Probably bred and raised as a prize fighter, Mama is sweet and loveable to humans. Because of her lack of canine sociability she can't be put with other dogs, so volunteer Paul Emerson built her a doggie mansion complete with two rooms. Emerson drives 50 miles, one-way, on weekends just to give Mama a little extra attention.

Harold and Maude, a pair of geriatric black-and-white cocker spaniels, came to the ranch after they had outlived their owners. "We get about 10 calls a day from people wanting to drop off a dog," Simons says. "One dog goes out, and another comes in." Along with two horses that were rescued from a dying couple, the ranch has also inherited four peacocks.

Nancy and her husband Tony walk the dogs twice a day. The kids from the summer camp across the creek help out during the summer. "It's like a spa for (the dogs)," Kinky says, "they love it." The dogs even have music piped through loudspeakers. "We think the dogs prefer Hank Williams and Willie," Simons says. "Kinky insists they like classical music or his albums."

"To keep a place like this open is very tough," Kinky says. "There are lots of places like this that run out of steam, and some guy is left with 300 dogs he can't afford to feed.

"As you probably know, I've never held a job a day in my life. About all I can do is a little promoting of the place and occasionally a little work. We have always relied on the kindness of strangers," Kinky says with out-of-character modesty.

The easiest way to support the ranch is by buying Kinky Friedman's private-brand salsa. Proceeds from the sale of the Kinky-approved hot sauce goes to the dog farm. They also accept donations, and a gift of $1,000 gets your name on a pen gate for perpetuity.

"What we need more than anything is adoptions," Simons says. Each dog comes with a money-back guarantee. "We want to make damn sure the dogs have a good home," Kinky adds.

The Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch is open to the public on Saturdays from 10am to 3pm. The entrance to the ranch is about 16 miles south of Kerrville off of the winding and scenic TX 16 across from the Medina Children's Home. There is no pressure to adopt an animal once you get there, and you might even get to see Kinky Friedman doing manual labor. Now that alone would be worth the trip. For more information, call 830/589-7166 or visit their Web site at

635th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200 is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, Kinky Friedman, Tom Friedman, Echo Hill Ranch, Kerrville, Medina, Nancy Simons, Tony Simons

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