By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun
It started with the rescue of a dog named Shadow, when Robbie Miller adopted the dog that had been dumped in the desert. Miller helped Shadow overcome the scars from her previous life of incomprehensible abuse. In turn, Shadow helped Miller overcome his previous path of bad choices.
The rescue continues, as Miller has launched a program in the Kern River Valley to rescue dogs who have been neglected or abandoned hoping to bring them the same happy ending that he and Shadow share.
How it began
To understand Miller’s passion for dogs, one must hear his story.
Growing up in Southern California, Miller had a passion for animals, often telling his parents that he wanted to be a veterinarian.
But during his adolescent years, Miller made some bad choices getting involved with drugs and gangs. Those choices landed him in an Oklahoma prison serving a 12-year term. While in prison he stopped the drugs, received his GED and became a positive mentor for other inmates. It was during his incarceration that Miller felt the tug to have a dog in his life.
In January 2014, he completed his sentence and was released. Miller returned to California to live with his mother in Bodfish.
Still wanting a dog, Miller learned that Kern County Animal Control officers found a dog crate abandoned in the rural desert. Temperatures were freezing and bullet casings were scattered around the crate. Inside were three large dogs. One dog had already died from hypothermia. The other two were cold, frightened and hungry. The dogs were taken to Kern Valley Animal Shelter and later sent to an animal rescue facility in Tehachapi.
“That story struck my heart and I knew that she was the dog I needed to rescue,” Miller said. It was an instant connection for both dog and man. Miller said he chose Shadow because she was an underdog with a rough past who had been locked up; something he could relate to.
Miller adopted Shadow, but less than a month after he brought her home, Shadow started coughing up blood. She was taken to a veterinarian hospital where an X-ray determined that Shadow had a 40-caliber bullet lodged in her lung. She needed immediate surgery.
“That was so hard for me,” said Miller. “I had just found my best friend, and I was worried that I would lose her.”
But Shadow’s strength to survive overcame her setback and she made a complete recovery. The bond between Miller and Shadow grew stronger during Shadow’s recuperation.
“That is when I decided I wanted to live my life helping dogs. I knew that if that dog could change my life, a dog could change anybody’s life,” Miller said. “She was everything I needed.”
Miller adopted a second dog named Dallas. At the time, he was uncertain how he could turn his passion for dogs and desire to rescue them into a career.
In December of 2014, Miller and his girlfriend, Jen Haratani, made the bold decision to move to Oklahoma, where Miller found a job as a kennel technician for a large animal sanctuary. It was his dream job and soon he was promoted to kennel director. Miller and Haratani spent the next 2 and a half years living on site and caring for hundreds of dogs.
Miller said he learned a lot about animal care while in Oklahoma, but his desire to start his own rescue bought them back to California last year, where Miller worked for an animal rescue for about 8 months. Then the couple decided to move back to where it all started – the Kern River Valley.
The rescue continues
In April of this year, Miller and Haratani launched Strength of Shadow Dog Rescue, or SOS.
SOS is a non-profit that helps rescue and rehabilitate shelter dogs with the simple lesson of unconditional love by placing them first in foster homes and then in their “forever homes.”
“We named it after Shadow, the dog that changed everything for me. I don’t know where I would be right now if not for her. She was part of the path that I needed to be on,” Miller said. Since Shadow was found in Kern County, Miller said they decided to focus on rescuing dogs in Kern County.
So far, SOS has pulled about ten dogs from the Kern Valley Shelter. Working with another organization, Unity Thrift and Outreach Rescue in Bakersfield, the dogs are first sent to foster homes.
Haratani said SOS has a team of volunteers in Tehachapi and Bakersfield who are willing to foster the dogs that come from Kern Valley and City of Bakersfield animal shelters.
Miller and Haratani have long-term goals, including finding property to house a rescue facility. For now, they are building their team of volunteers and establishing themselves and their rescue in the community.
“Our number one need is foster homes,” Haratani said. “The more foster homes we have, the more dogs we can save.”
Haratani said that SOS provides everything for fostering – from food and medicine to leashes, beds and bowls.
There are plenty of opportunities for community residents to help the newly formed rescue organization.
“If you can’t adopt a dog, foster one,” Haratani said. “If you can’t foster, then volunteer; if you can’t volunteer, donate; and if you can’t donate, share our story. Very few people can do it all, but there is something everyone can do.”
Speaking from his own experience, Miller said. “If you rescue a dog, you will change a person’s life at the same time. Dogs are medicine,” he said. “People can learn a lot from a dog and rescue dogs are so appreciative.”
Additional information about getting involved with the SOS Dog Rescue can be found on their Facebook page or website at: www.strengthofshadow.org.