WILLIAMS, Ariz. — On a dusty back road in the heart of Ash Fork is a small ranch with several dogs, horses, cats and a lone pig. Here is where Vietnam veteran Larry Westbrook chose to retire and follow his dream of a quiet life surrounded by animals.
Westbrook has lived in Ash Fork for years and has set up a small animal sanctuary on his property that has housed dozens of dogs as well as numerous other animals over the years.
His reputation as an animal caretaker is well-known throughout the community, and he wasn’t surprised over the years to find an occasional extra animal at his feeding stations in the morning.
Westbrook is also well-known at the Williams Veterinary Clinic where he has brought his animals in for routine vaccinations and occasional medical treatment.
It was during one of these recent visits when veterinary technician Traci Melchert noticed Westbrook visibly in pain.
“We began talking and he said was having some medical issues,” Melchert said.
Melchert probed further and found that the 73-year-old Westbrook was seeking medical care and was finding it difficult to tend to the animals at his ranch.
“We talked to him about how we could help and said we would come out and assess the situation,” Melchert said. “We went out there and found there was no way we could say ‘no’.”
Melchert began reaching out to the Williams and Ash Fork communities via Facebook and through word-of-mouth seeking help for Westbrook while he was in the hospital.
“The help from the community has been amazing,” Melchert said. “I began having people donate money, purchase dog food, bring in pet beds and provide items for Larry.”
Melchert said Westbrook’s kind heart has kept him from turning any animals away from the sanctuary and he was quickly becoming overwhelmed. She said the property needed clean-up and Westbrook’s trailer was in need of replacement.
“I think if he had to choose between him eating and his dogs eating, he would choose the dogs,” she said.
Melchert reached out to the local community and to connections in Prescott Valley and was able to secure an upgraded trailer for Westbrook. Pet Headquarters in Prescott Valley also began fundraising for him.
The Williams Veterinary Clinic, where Melchert is employed, has begun providing free medical care for the animals including spay or neuter services, routine vaccinations and heart worm tests. The clinic is also actively seeking homes for some of the dogs.
“Larry is such a great guy, he’s very funny and humble,” she said. “We were like, we can help you.”
On Oct. 28, Melchert, veterinarian Daniel Jacoby and several community members assisted Westbrook with a clean-up day on the property. Several loads of trash and recycle were collected, and repairs were made to the fences and kennels.
“He is so humble about being a veteran, but I said you deserve the respect,” Melcher said. “You served our country and we are going to do what we can to help you.”
Community members have set up a GoFundMe account and have already raised several thousand dollars toward the trailer replacement and repairs on the property. The Williams Veterinary Clinic has an Animals in Needs fund where people have donated money too.
Ash Fork Animal Rescues
“This community is good at pulling stuff together and getting things accomplished,” Melchert said. “I just got two new dog houses today and the Arizona Cattle Dog Rescue gave us a generous donation.”
Melchert and the Williams Veterinary Clinic found that the relationships they have built with their customers gives them a unique insight into the needs of the community.
We build a relationship with a lot of these people,” Merchert said.
Melchert has been feeding and taking care of Westbrook’s animals during his stay at the hospital. She is hoping to find additional help for the animals and new homes, although some of them are fairly wild.
“It’s going to be a slow process,” Melchert said. “I think all the dogs are very workable. I don’t think there’s one there that couldn’t be the most awesome dog for somebody.”
Anybody interested in volunteering or donating to the Animals in Needs fund can visit Williams Veterinary Clinic at 122 S 3rd St. in Williams or call (928)635-5392.