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Holli Pfau and one of her best friends enjoy a day in the mountains./Courtesy photo

Pure gold

Durango resident pens book to help animal shelters
by Jen Reeder

Durango resident Holli Pfau makes no bones about it: her dogs changed her life. Each of her six golden retrievers – all rescues – has impacted her in some way, from causing her to quit her job to moving to Durango to helping her survive cancer. She shares those experiences in her new book, Pure Gold: Adventures with Six Rescued Golden Retrievers, and hopes the book will in turn change lives by raising money for and awareness about adopting pets from animal shelters.
“They have just come into my life and blessed and graced my life, so it seems like the least I can do,” Pfau said. “We’ll make a difference one book and one dog at a time. I’ve set a goal of donating $100,000 to shelters wherever I can around the country.”
Pfau and her husband, Walter, were living in Southern California when they adopted their first golden retriever, Nikki, from a golden retriever rescue organization when she was 3 months old.
“She was really the world’s most perfect dog. The path that she took me down was so astonishing for both of us,” Pfau said.
Pfau had been working in advertising and marketing for 18 years, was tired of it, and wanted to bring Nikki to work with her. She began researching jobs in which she could take her dog to work and stumbled upon recreation therapy, a rehabilitation therapy that uses leisure activities to increase physical, social and cognitive functioning in people with disabilities.
“For me, the one that stood out was a­nimal-assisted therapy, where the animal really acts as a bridge between the therapist or a volunteer, and the patient. It was one of those things that I knew was so totally right for both of us,” she said.
“So I quit my job, I went back to college, I got my second degree in therapeutic recreation, and away we went.”
Pfau started as a staff therapist at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., and established a volunteer animal therapy program that grew to include 40 volunteers and their dogs visiting the hospital and its patients almost every day of the week.
“It became a national model, and I wrote a training manual that has sold literally all over the world,” Pfau said. “All that from that little 3-month-old golden retriever.”
Since then, the Pfaus have adopted five more goldens, each with their own personalities and talents. They were living with mellow Tucker and flirtatious Sophie when they decided in 1999 to move to Durango, to a 10-acre property they named “Glad Dog Ranch,” in part so the trail-loving dogs would have more hiking opportunities. Life here was tranquil until they adopted their first dog from the La Plata County Humane Society.
“Daisy just arrived like a tornado,” Pfau said.
The couple spent more time and money to train Daisy than their previous dogs combined, but she proved to be great at running agility courses.
Pfau began competing with Daisy in agility trials, a new activity they both enjoyed together. Five years ago when Pfau had surgery for cancer and was at Mercy Regional Medical Center for two weeks, one of her biggest incentives for recovering quickly was getting back to agility competitions with Daisy.
“She was the motivation to get out and go do it,” Pfau said. “And at 8, she is still a firecracker!”
These sorts of personal experiences and triumphs are chronicled in Pure Gold. Pfau offers the book at its wholesale to animal shelters so they can mark up the price and keep any profits. And Pfau is in the midst of a book tour around Colorado; in each location, she donates $5 from each book sold at a local animal shelter. On Nov. 15, Pfau will sign books in Durango at Maria’s Bookshop to benefit the La Plata County Humane Society.
“We’re extremely happy that she’s donating the proceeds from the book to us, especially since one of the dogs in her book actually came from here,” said Chris Nelson, shelter director at the La Plata County Humane Society. “Funding is one of the most difficult things we deal with … we’re not 100 percent funded by the county, as many folks think.”
But the biggest problem facing the local animal shelter and shelters nationwide is the lack of space for unwanted or accidental litters of dogs and cats. In 2010, the shelter had about 3,000 animals come in, and adopted out 950 cats, 658 dogs and 30 other small creatures like guinea pigs and rabbits. They were able to transfer 300 to other shelters and return about 500 to their owners, but there was still a surplus.
“The biggest things with dogs and cats is to get them spayed and neutered. It makes your dog or cat healthier, less likely to roam and it saves lives in shelters.” Nelson said. “There’s already nationwide about 5 to 6 million animals being euthanized each year in shelters for no other reason than there’s not enough homes for them all.”
People can request a call when a certain breed comes into the shelter or they can sometimes be transferred in from other shelters. He said though people sometimes see a “free” puppy or kitten outside a supermarket, the hidden costs of vaccinations, spaying or neutering and microchipping will cost much more than a $59 kitten adopted from the shelter that comes with all of those services already provided.
“Before you go to a breeder, always check at the shelter. There’s probably a dog or cat that will fit your lifestyle, and it’s affordable,” Nelson said.
It’s no surprise that Pfau wholeheartedly agrees.
“There are all kinds of dogs out there that need homes for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Always turn to rescue first. There are glorious dogs out there.”

For more information, visit To preview dogs and cats available for adoption from animal
shelters in Durango, Farmington and around the country, visit