For this installment of the Superhero Spotlight series, we are so excited to introduce Janet and Dennis Buckman of Rio Rancho, NM—two superheroes that are most deserving of some time in the spotlight.
Janet, originally from Albuquerque's East Mountains, and Dennis, born in Farmington but raised in Monument Valley, have been married for six years.
Some of our folks had the pleasure of meeting Janet and Dennis recently and were blown away by the stories of their animal rescue efforts in and around the Navajo lands near Pueblo Pintado in north-western New Mexico, about 50 miles west of Cuba.
Janet and Dennis are not part of an animal rescue organization. They don’t get paid to locate, rehabilitate, and find homes for abandoned and injured animals. But that’s exactly what they’ve done for roughly 70 animals a year over the past five years.
That’s upwards of 300 animals to date.
“We just have a big heart for animals. I think most people do,” Janet said in an interview for this blog.
Receiving, Rehabilitating, and Rehoming Animals In Need
The Buckmans run a small store called Chaco Trade Center outside of Navajo Nation near Pueblo Pintado, between Cuba and Crownpoint. This is the local hub where they tend to accumulate many of the unwanted animals they encounter, Janet explained.
It’s not a service they advertise at their shop.
“It just kind of happens,” she said, adding, “People just kind of throw away their dogs. And they bring them to me.”
And the Buckmans take them in—the animals dropped off in their care, those they find hiding out in their storage unit behind the store, and the ones they find in or on the side of the road in the sparsely-populated desert lands between their shop and their home in Rio Rancho, a 1.5-hour drive away.
“We just end up with a herd of animals,” she said. They’ve received as many as eight puppies at a time, which Janet says can be fun for a time but is definitely a challenge. And many of the puppies and kittens have to be bottle fed until they’re strong enough to go off on their own.
Most of these animals are malnourished, and many are injured and require urgent veterinary care—care that the Buckmans procure from local vets (like Dr. Abernathy at Sunrise Veterinary Clinic) or animal rescue organizations (such as Carma Cat Rescue, Farmington Animal Shelter), who have come to know them well. They pay for it all out of their own pocket.
And then they find homes for them.
“Sometimes we’ll take them to the Humane Society, but I think everybody we know has a ‘res rescue,’” she said, adding that their neighbors and Janet’s mother have taken in some of the strays.
They recently picked up a small black dog in the middle of the road near a canyon. It was dehydrated and hours from death, and it had a broken jaw. They suspected he had either been kicked very hard or thrown out of a car. They named him Ruckus.
“It was the sweetest dog,” Janet said, “Just the sweetest. But it had a broken jaw and could barely eat. And the smell was amazingly awful. It was such a bad infection.”
They took him to their vet, Dr. George Abernathy at Sunrise Veterinary Clinic, who confirmed the jaw was broken and told them the infection was so bad that they’d have to get that under control before he could have surgery on the jaw.
So the Buckmans kept him for a month, administering antibiotics and getting his strength up. He started feeling better and wanted to play with all of their other animals, which was a danger since his jaw was still broken.
“It was chaos around our house for a while,” she said, adding that they finally reached out to the Human Society. “The woman who was doing the intake said, ‘This dog is never going to reach adoption. This is going to be my dog. I’m taking him.’” And she adopted him on the spot.
One of their most successful—and creative—methods of finding homes for their rescues is at the grocery store.
“You know when they ask you, ‘Did you find everything okay?’ I just say, ‘No, I actually need a home for…’ you know, whatever animal I have in my care. And I have actually found so many people who are receptive to that.”
'Who's Saving Who?'
She told a story of one such encounter at a Sprout’s grocery store, when Janet showed the teller photos of a litter of puppies she was trying to find homes for. They were born under a boxcar that the Buckmans use for storage behind their store.
The cashier told Janet she had been looking for a puppy for her adult autistic son who is non-verbal. She came over after her shift that night and picked one out. She named him Mocha.
The woman later told Janet, “It’s the most perfect dog I’ve ever had, and my son has opened up so much. When they’re together, he’s a different kid.”
“It was so life-changing to me to know that these ‘throw-away’ animals have such an impact far down the line,” Janet said. “This dog was somebody else’s problem, this dog was trash. But it’s had such an impact. And this is what keeps me going. It’s what kind of drives me, when I see another dog on the side of the road.”
Unwanted and Neglected Animals on Tribal Lands
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like these roadside encounters are going to slow down any time soon. Animal abandonment on tribal lands is a big problem that only seems to be growing.
“It’s a Navajo taboo to alter your animal, which was a culture shock to me,” Janet explained, proposing that this is why many animals are not spayed or neutered. And more often than not, it’s female animals that are abandoned, so they won’t have another litter.
“I would say that 98% of the animals that we ever got were female,” she told us.
Whether the reluctance to spay and neuter pets is due to cultural beliefs or not, the result is unnerving. By some estimates, 250,000 stray and neglected dogs roam the Navajo Nation today, according to an article in Santa Fe New Mexican.
It not only puts the animals themselves at risk, but it’s become a public safety concern, as dog attacks are increasingly common across tribal lands.
There are efforts to bring spay and neuter services to the reservation at low-to-no cost. Veterinary clinics and rescue organizations throughout New Mexico and the Four Corners region offer mobile and in-house spay and neuter clinics in an effort to curb the problem of overpopulation and animal abandonment.
Janet told us of a spay and neuter effort by a couple of vets from Colorado who would drive down every few months to do a clinic for shots, and to spay and neuter. But after a few visits, they stopped coming because only about five people would come to the clinic each time.
“Even though there is help, it doesn’t get utilized, “Janet said, adding, “I often stayed up at night thinking, ‘How can I help that?’ We offered our facilities, our parking lot, to put their mobile units. But nobody showed up. I don’t know how to help that other than take the animals in when we can find them.”
Two People Making a Huge Impact
The Buckmans may not be part of a formal organization, but they definitely operate like one in many ways.
They do a bit of training when necessary to make sure the animals aren’t food-aggressive before allowing them to move on to homes or shelters. They screen potential adopters as much as they can before letting the animals out of their care.
They even modified their home, replacing the carpet with waterproof vinyl flooring and tile, and building an enclosed cat house along the length of their entire house.
“Even though I’m allergic to cats, we have three,” Janet laughed, adding that it’s too dangerous in their neighborhood to let them loose outside, where there are coyotes, bobcats, owls, and other predators.
In fact, out of the 300-plus animals that the Buckmans have rescued, they’ve found homes for nearly all of them, keeping just three cats and one dog, whom they call “Bo” (short for Little Bo Peep) themselves.
“All of our animals have come from our store,” Dennis told us.
And it’s not just cats and dogs that they’ve rescued.
“There have been horses too,” Janet said. “I don’t know what it is, but people will own horses, but they don’t take care of horses. So sometimes they get out, and they’re just wandering.”
As we know from our interview with Connie Collis of Tamaya Horse Rescue in Bernalillo, one of our partner organizations, horses are often abandoned or neglected in New Mexico.
Janet and Dennis encountered one such horse on the side of an interstate.
“There was a drought, and there was no food out there,” Janet said, adding, “There was one horse, and we called him ‘Bony Pony.’ He was just skin and bones.”
They filled a trough, and he drank for minutes without a break. They brought him food to eat from their store and returned periodically to fill the water trough for the two weeks that followed.
“That was enough to get him through,” she said, adding that it finally started raining about two weeks later. Shortly after, they returned to find that the horse had been picked up—they don’t know by whom.
In the two weeks they were feeding and watering Bony Pony, they called several horse rescue organizations, but nobody was able to take him. Some said it was too far for them to come, while others just didn’t have the funding to take in another animal.
So Janet and Dennis took it upon themselves to keep him alive.
What's Next for the Buckmans?
After a recent scare that they might be forced to sell their store in Pueblo Pintado, Janet and Dennis just learned that they won't in fact have to do that. And they are elated—as are we!
“We [are] the largest independent employer in the community with twelve employees,” Janet explained, adding, “We love our people. We try to make sure we were a blessing to our people. We've made an impact.”
With the news that their store is safe, they are relieved and grateful, not only that they can keep their business but that they can continue to be of service to the community that means so much to them.
Dennis wrote an email to us with the good news, writing, "God is so good to us and in the literal blink of an eye has redeemed our business from closing and within days has restored not just our revenue, but the hope and service and ministry we can bring to our friends and customers."
It’s pretty clear to us at DPFF that their passion and natural ability to find, nurture, and ensure a better future for animals—and people—in need will continue to burn brightly.
"Maybe getting some kind of non-profit and helping as many animals as we can, you know, carrying that on, maybe that’s part of our future,” Janet told us in the interview.
Whether they establish a non-profit or continue working as individuals, they will continue to open their hearts and home to the animals they encounter at their store and in the community. And for that, they will always be superheroes in our eyes!
Thank you, Janet and Dennis, for inspiring us with the great work you are doing. Thank you for reminding us that individuals, everyday people, can make a HUGE impact on the world and those in need. You are truly superheroes, and we are wishing you all the best in your next endeavor.
Thank you for sharing your story with us!
We also want to give thanks to Carma Cat Rescue, Farmington Animal Shelter, and Dr. Abernathy at Sunrise Veterinary Clinic in Rio Rancho—all of whom have helped the Buckmans in their rescue efforts. Keep up the good work!