Randy Skaggs has been called crazy, eccentric, and a nonconformist. And that’s just fine with him.
In the foothills of the Appalachians, Randy runs The Trixie Foundation in Elliott County near Sandy Hook. Billed as the largest no-kill, cageless dog sanctuary in the Appalachian area, Randy cares for an average of 200 dogs, as well as cats and chickens, at any given time. Formerly homeless, abandoned, or abused, they will live out their lives here with Randy as their pack leader.
It all began with a beloved dog named Trixie. In 1990, Trixie was attacked by other dogs; despite all efforts to save her, Trixie died in Randy’s arms. To this day, he still gets misty-eyed speaking about it.
“The very day Trixie died, I decided to start a shelter,” he says. “In exactly one week, I’d written a mission statement for what became The Trixie Foundation.” That mission statement expressed his goal to care for all the dogs he could, to do all he could to keep dogs, or any animal for that matter, from dying due to neglect or abuse.
In the beginning, he didn’t get a lot of support.
“My family thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard,” he says with a grin.
Yet here he is 16 years later, with lots of happy dogs running in large fenced-in areas. With food, shelter, plenty of room to exercise, and lots of attention from Randy, they’re much better off than before. And because this many dogs need constant supervision, Randy rarely leaves what he calls “the compound,” conducting his business by phone and e-mail, and sending out for supplies. An educated, well-spoken man, he stays with the dogs mostly out of necessity, but also by choice.
The dogs are a myriad group, as you can imagine, of all different breeds and mixes, young and old, healthy and ill. The females are spayed to prevent breeding, and old, blind, or sick dogs are tucked into comfortable corners of Randy’s office, let out to exercise under Randy’s constant scrutiny.
As a care-for-life sanctuary, these dogs are not up for adoption.
“Until there are more homes wanting to adopt than dogs available,” Randy says bluntly, “these dogs will stay here. This way, I’ll always know they’re being cared for.” While Randy applauds the work of rescues and sanctuaries across Kentucky, his feeling is that even adopted dogs too often end up back in a shelter or abandoned, and he’s not going to risk that happening to any of his dogs.
Caring for 200 dogs for the rest of their lives would be enough work for most people, but Randy doesn’t stop there—it’s not enough for him to simply take care of his own little corner of the world. True to his mission statement, Randy has been working to improve the lives of animals across the entire state.
Under state law, all counties in Kentucky are mandated to maintain an animal shelter and hire an animal control officer. Randy got curious about this, started investigating, and learned that not all counties are in compliance. He’s now on a constant mission to obtain that compliance.
“We do it like a team of lawyers would do it,” he says. With the pro bono help of attorney Robert Caummisar in Grayson, Randy exercises his right under the Open Records Act to request documentation, including financial statements, from all 120 counties in Kentucky that they are indeed complying with the so-called “dog laws” of Kentucky.
“I’m the only one in the state to do this,” he says. “At The Trixie Foundation, we stand up for animals, we do whatever it takes. Nobody else does what we do.”
Randy was lucky to find a friend like Robert, who says, “I have a strong sense that how we treat our animals is a measure of how advanced our society is. Randy is one of the few true believers of this. Yes, he can be abrasive and abrupt, but he’s on a mission.”
Robert has seen his share of abandoned puppies and kittens left to die or drown tied up in a burlap sack, and it sickens him.
“We’re teaching our children bad things by letting this abuse go on,” he says, noting research showing that children who abuse and torture animals often commit even more serious crimes later in life.
Randy’s considered something of a pest by government officials—”I’m not real popular,” he freely admits—but firmly believes it’s worth it. As a self-appointed “watchdog,” it was at least partially through the efforts of The Trixie Foundation, with information obtained by the Kentucky Attorney General’s office through Open Records appeals, that shelter dogs can no longer be euthanized by gunshot. That alone has saved many a dog from a horrific ending, and Randy is determined to do more.
Randy has been quite vocal, to say the least, in his criticisms of legislative enforcement and in how animals shelters are run. To that end, he has a lot of detractors of his work, and he receives his own share of criticism. Animal control officials say he’s not going through proper legal channels to improve the lives of animals. He’s also criticized for the number of dogs he keeps, and has been visited by water department, health department, and air quality officials in response to complaints. However, Randy has always been found to be in compliance, and has not been cited.
His lack of adoption policies has also come under fire. Some feel the whole point of a sanctuary is to find loving homes for these dogs rather than letting them live as they are in a large group. Even Robert Caummisar has his concerns, but for a different reason: “One of my greatest fears is that Randy’s work will all be for naught—if something ever happens to Randy, who will care for all these dogs?”
Randy takes it all in stride, sticking by his principles, and welcoming people to challenge his ideals. As he says, “I like to stir things up, to make people think. You’ve got to be willing to make some enemies in order to make some friends.”
Even among government officials, though, Randy has his supporters. Bill Smith of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Office of the State Veterinarian says Randy is “the Mother Teresa of animals.” Bill worked with Randy previously on helping to enforce dog laws, and says he greatly admires Randy’s work.
“Randy is a selfless person,” he says, “and nothing he does is for personal gain. He’s absolutely determined, and there are very few people like that.”
Randy doesn’t doubt the number of people who do all they can for animals, but is frustrated by a lack of money and support he feels should be more evident.
“The current animal control system is broken,” Randy maintains. “Animals are dying, and few people are willing to challenge the system, to see that animal control statutes are enforced.”
Meanwhile, life goes on at this Appalachian shelter—feeding, vet checks, carpentry on the new feeding stations, fund-raising (The Trixie Foundation depends solely on donations), and setting up a computerized monitoring system of the grounds. Randy finds his life here very satisfying, and doesn’t mind that he spends most of his time with just the dogs for company.
“I believe there is a positive force and a negative force in life,” he says. “What I do for animals is my way of influencing the positive force. That’s what it’s all about.”