A Sunday afternoon tour of Modjeska Canyon’s unusual homes, May 6, attracted some 250 visitors and raised money for the Modjeska Ranch Rescue.  The round house, home to Gil and Ester Domingues Dos Santos, was one of seven residences to open its doors.

By Russell Taylor, founder

Many people ask us how the rescue started and grew. 

My wife Teresa and I bought our house, with four acres, in Modjeska in 1999. It was in need of a great deal of work and, now 19 years later, it still is. Seventeen years of animal rescue makes an “impact” -- and I choose that word advisedly. I love clean lines, modern architecture, book-lined walls, art and sculpture, quiet jazz playing in the background, and antiseptic cleanliness. None of this describes life in our house. 

In 2000, Teresa had talked about the idea of rescuing animals, and emphasized to me, in her own unique fashion, that we had the ideal place to do it. She is a strong, persuasive woman with a Ph.D. in assertiveness! Having eventually “agreed” with Teresa that we should do this (maybe acquiesced is a better word), we got started. 

Certainly neither of us ever imagined the Modjeska Ranch Rescue would grow and flourish the way it did. Our plan was to take a few dogs from death row at the county shelter, and see if we could find them a home. There was no grand plan to save over 8,000 animals including horses, cats, sheep, goats, llamas, cows, and birds.

I spent a lot of time learning how to set up a 501(c)(3) corporation so we could offer tax-deductible giving. We set up a bank account, which we funded ourselves, and even got a credit card with a massive $500 limit. 

My business, at the time, had an office in Santa Ana. About half a mile away was the notorious Santa Ana shelter.  It was a dog Alcatraz. One day we went to Santa Ana shelter and took out two dogs. Our neighbors in the canyon, Jim and Diane, run a business called American Horse Products, and every year they had a parking lot barbecue for clients. They suggested that we bring our adoptable two dogs to the barbecue. We got a couple of signs made by friends, bought a little table, and set up in the parking lot, wondering what would happen. We adopted out both dogs, almost much to our own surprise. 

The next week we took three dogs out of the shelter. We asked Petco in Rancho Santa Margarita if we could stand outside the store with the dogs. All three got a new home.

We spent most weekends, for the next few years, standing outside Petco and then, after they asked us, PetSmart. Sometimes we would take five or six dogs to the store, and we became the weekend attraction. People would bring their kids to see us and want to leave their kids with us while they shopped! We also learned that not only are there shelters full of dogs, but there are lots of people wanting to give up their animals, for good and bad and indifferent reasons. 

Now we have 20 to 30 to even 40 dogs at a time, plus horses (and whatever else).   Our days begin at 5 a.m., and end when the animals agree that it does.

Greg and Nor Killingsworth filled the gardens surrounding their home with dinosaur sculptures.  The metallic T. rex greets visitors who venture up the front walk.

Phil and Melody McWilliams lost their original home in the 2007 fire.  Determined that it would never happen again, they commissioned a dome home, which is impervious to fires, earthquakes, gale-force winds, summer heat, winter cold and just about everything else nature can throw at it.

Modjeska Ranch Rescue: The inside story