A row of dogs lay down covered in heating pads and blankets. In front of them are charts, medicine, and thermometers.

Underdog Animal Rescue and Rehab: Giving Reservation Dogs a New Leash on Life

Activism, Outreach and Education

There’s a spectrum of dog devotion in Utah. At the base, you’ve got the newlyweds with their trendy goldendoodle engagement gift. Then there are the seasoned owners, adopting dogs from local shelters and training them well. Climb higher, and you hit the “my-dogs-are-my-children” group, spoiling their pups with specialty diets and outdoor adventures. At the summit? The devoted people who volunteer their time and passions caring for the dogs who need it most—people like Katy Gullette.

Gullette is the founder and CEO of Underdog Animal Rescue and Rehab in Moab, Utah. Like most pet care organizations, Underdog provides veterinary care, spay/neuter and vaccination clinics and adoption services. Unlike other pet care organizations in the state, though, Underdog provides these services exclusively to Native American reservation communities.

“It was a lifelong goal [of mine] to have some sort of animal rescue or sanctuary,” Gullette says. When a friend of hers who worked as an animal control officer on the Ute reservation told her about a property for sale that would make the perfect rescue location, Gullette jumped on it. “She said to me, ‘I think this is your time.’ So I bought the property and turned it into Underdog.”

“It was a lifelong goal [of mine] to have some sort of animal rescue or sanctuary.”

Katy Gullete smiles into the camera with a dog glancing up at her.
Gullette fulfilled her longtime dream of opening an animal sanctuary with Underdog. Photo courtesy of Underdog Rescue.

Now, seven years later, Underdog Rescue is a full-fledged rescue center with 13 full-time staff members. Unfortunately, the task still ahead of Gullette is no easy one. There are an estimated 250,000 stray dogs roaming the Navajo Nation, but Gullette estimates that due to decreased spay/neuter clinics during the pandemic, the actual number could be as high as 500,000.

“It’s impossible to adopt our way out of the problem of 500,000 stray animals,” Gullette says. “Statistically speaking, you need to have more than 50% of the animals in an area [fixed] before you have a real management of that population.”

Underdog Rescue’s goal is simple: do the impossible, one dog at a time. Since its inception, the organization has rescued over 3,000 dogs, and with each one comes a little bit more hope—not just for Gullette, but also for the communities Underdog serves. “Part of what we’ve done is [build] trust with these communities,” Gullette says. “People want to do the right thing, they just don’t [always] have access to what they need.”

“People want to do the right thing, they just don’t [always] have access to what they need.”

More than 35% of people living on the Navajo reservation live below the poverty line and around 30% of households don’t have running water. With limited access to funding and water, it can be difficult for Navajo families to care for a household pet, let alone strays. Underdog Rescue acknowledges that the hardships reservation dogs face are indicative of larger issues that affect the entire community, and it certainly doesn’t mean dogs aren’t cared for in Navajo culture.

“Even dogs that live outdoors that are working animals are still really highly regarded in the Native American lifestyle and in culture,” Gullette says. “While we do have cultural differences in our care for animals, Native Americans really value their animals—they value them as guardians, workmates and spiritual guides as well.”

Although they have a long road ahead of them, Underdog Rescue is determined to continue to do what it does best: community outreach, free clinics and dog rehabilitation. As for Gullette herself, she’ll continue to maintain her top-tier dog-loving status by always leaving room in her own home for an Underdog foster or two, as long as the seven dogs of her own (Perl, Jean, Maggie Mae, Jackson, Mei Mei, Frida and Sariah) don’t mind.

If you’re inspired by Underdog Animal Rescue and Rehab’s mission, visit underdogrescuemoab.org. From making a donation to signing up as a volunteer, purchasing merchandise, or simply following them on Facebook or Instagram at @underdogrescuemoab, your support extends a helping hand to an underdog in need.

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