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From international travel to animal rescue

Twelve-year-old Laurie Peterson had been attending school in Europe because her father worked for the American Consulate. On a working ski vacation with her international school, Peterson and 25 other people were crammed inside a gondola riding to the top of the Matterhorn in Switzerland, when the cable broke, stranding the group high above the ground.Peterson recalled the terrifying hours trapped in the gondola. ìWe dangled for nine hours at the top of that mountain until they could get a rescue crew up there to fix the cable,î she said. ìWe were hanging there right at the top of the Matterhorn and a blizzard started swinging us, and everyone was wetting themselves and sitting there knowing it was the end. I thought, ‘I’m going to die. What’s that going to be like?’ I look back on that and think how that really formed me as an individual.îToday, Peterson and her family don’t spend much time in gondolas; instead, they spend time rescuing West Highland White terriers through Westie Rescue Network Inc., a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization.All of the money Westie Rescue receives is spent on the animals. ìOur adoption fee is $425,î Peterson said. ìWe spend about $880 on a well orphan and about $2,000 on a sick orphan.î Peterson said all the Westies up for adoption are inoculated, neutered or spayed and microchipped. The veterinarian provides a clean bill of health before they can be adopted.Growing up, Peterson said her family had Bedlington terriers. She always wanted a Westie, she said. ìI was hooked on this little white package with the piercing brown eyes,î Peterson said.When she and her husband Paul settled into their home, they thought it was the perfect time to bring a Westie into the family. ìAt that time, we had been on the wait list for probably seven months,î she said. ìMy husband had wanted to surprise me, but the director of Westie Rescue told him there are no surprises with Westies. I had to fill out the application if I wanted one.îThe couple drove with their new son Tristan to Denver with hopes of adopting a Westie named McCloud. ìI wanted the perfect spunky 2-year-old female,î Peterson said. ìMcCloud was a deaf, going-blind, geriatric 8-year-old that had been painted by children for Halloween, so he had streaks of green and orange on him. But I had never been happier and that was the best Christmas of my life.îPeterson and her husband of 16 years now have two other children besides 14-year-old Tristan ñ 12-year-old Ian and Amelia, age 10. McCloud has long since passed, but 8-year-old Sprite and 14-year-old Mayhem ñ also Westies ñ complete the Peterson family.ìWe just have the two Westies right now, but we’re always fostering. I got hooked on the breed,î she said. ìAfter we adopted them, the director at Westie Rescue was saying, ‘Do you think you can go look at this dog?’ or ‘Do you think you can go to the shelter?’ And here we are, 15 years later.îDuring the early years of their marriage, Peterson was a nurse with a background in dementia care. Her training came in handy later in her life when she took in her elderly mother while her father battled Alzheimer’s. He lost the battle in 2005, and Peterson’s mother died in 2008.ìThe kids really benefited from having her under our roof,î Peterson recalled. ìIt was just fun to have her there and have her influence around.î Her mother’s influence made an impression on Peterson, too. ìMy mom had a degree in home economics,î she said. ìShe could sew and knit and bake anything. I realized after I put three arm holes in a blouse, I couldn’t match her.îPeterson’s father moved the family often, as his job with the American Consulate required. ìI was born in Germany in a town about 20 minutes north of Frankfurt,î she said. ìMy folks had already lived there before that. They moved to France, just outside of Paris, then moved back to Germany and lived there for several years. We moved to Colorado, and then went back to Germany again. In all, I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia, Germany, England, Turkey, Greece and Italy.ìWe just traveled our little hearts out. It was a phenomenal experience.îPeterson had enough credits her junior year in high school at Dougherty High School to graduate. ìI went to aesthetics school when I was 15 and did that for two years,î she said. ìThen I did my nursing stuff until I had kids, and that’s all I’ve done.îOnce she became involved with Westie Rescue, Peterson said she realized that animal rescue is all-encompassing. ìWe’re blanketed under All Breed Denver but we rescue Westies only,î she said. ìWe have to stay breed-specific. If we take on more than one breed, we’d get burned out.îA typical workday for Peterson involves about nine hours of time dedicated to rescuing Westies. ìI’m constantly driving to the groomer, driving to the vet, talking to the vet, everything,î she said.Often Peterson will get a call from someone who needs to relinquish a dog because of death, divorce, illness or a dogís terminal illness.ìPeople will call and surrender their dog that is just riddled with cancer,î she said. Some people cannot be present when itís time to put a dog to sleep. Peterson will go for them. ìWe take our turkey lunch meat and sit with our special blankets, and the dog leaves this planet with love.îUltimately, Peterson said her rescue organization is about providing the animal with a loving second home. ìIt’s about finding the best fit for the dog,î she said. ìI think people think we’re this big warehouse full of dogs, but that’s not how we do it. We have people come meet the dog at its foster home then we do the placement. While the dog may be cute, he may not be a fit for that family.îWestie Rescue averages about 80 adoptions annually, but Peterson said she only expects to reach 65 for 2011. Peterson said she loves the breed but she canít keep all the dogs she fosters. ìWhen I adopt them out, I know they’re going to the best home they’ve ever had,î she said.Her latest rescue, Henry, came from a puppy mill in Missouri. ìHe had a type of self-contained mange,î Peterson said. The mites were killing him, she said. ìSaving his life was kind of big and expensive.îPeterson found Henry a permanent home with a couple who already had one Westie. Although Henry was still missing some fur and had an under bite, the couple and their dog fell in love with him. Peterson said when she saw the ìlootî under the Christmas tree for Henry at his new home, she knew Henry would be OK.ìThey’re a rewarding breed and they just want to be loved.îFor her, Peterson said that’s what it’s all about.

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