Kids, animals and a ranch of happy campers

Posted on May 18, 2012 by Sonoma Valley Sun

In her fast-paced career as a business owner staging events for Fortune 500 companies, Linda McDonald traveled the world, saw the sights and experienced many things. “But nothing has given me more joy,” says the founder of McDonald Ranch, “than the laughter of children, the beauty of nature and the devotion of animals.”

Combining her entrepreneurial talents with a love for children and animals, Linda started McDonald Ranch – “a university for children, a sanctuary for animals” — in 1994.

Now a non-profit organization, the Santa Rosa ranch has always relied on the personal and financial support, and long hours, of Linda and her husband Richard. A fulltime hospital X-ray tech, he nonetheless finds time to teach kids lapidary, ceramics, leathercraft and painting.

Over the years, enriching children’s lives, and saving lives of abandoned animals, has brought them great satisfaction.

“We’ve had a lot of wonderful choices throughout our lives to travel or live a much easier lifestyle, but nothing would have compared to the memories we have from the thousands of children who have come through McDonald Ranch,” Linda feels. “Nor would anything
have filled us with a greater sense of purpose than remembering all the lives of animals we have saved.”

The time spent with children over the years continues to be its own reward.

“We have a very large ‘extended family,’” she says. “Many of our kids come to our program year after year, and some come all year around. Many have started at the age of seven or eight years and return each summer to work as counselors.”

The main emphasis of McDonald Ranch has always been to provide youth with opportunities to learn about the special connection they naturally have with animals.
Linda teaches the children confidence that they can make a real difference in the world by saving the lives of orphaned kittens and puppies taken from the shelters. She explains that the orphans must be fed every two hours, around the clock, during their first two weeks of life, “and you don’t have to be grown up to do that.”

She encourages children to hold the animals to socialize them, making them better candidates for pet adoption. With horses, the focus is on loving and caring for them even when they are no longer rideable.

The importance and significance is to teach youth commitment, responsibility and compassion, McDonald says. “Training animals teaches children about how they communicate in so many ways than just verbally. Learning from the care and interaction with animals touches almost every part of learning.”

It also gets kids off the couch and engaging all their senses.

“I see so many people living more and more of their time in a ‘virtual life’ through constant use of electronics, internet and social media,” McDonald said. “Getting kids outdoors and experiencing opportunities with animals connects them to a real world with natural consequences and reactions.”

Up until last year, McDonald Ranch had always been on Richard and Linda’s own ranch. However, approaching retirement age, they are looking for a new venue. This year as in 2011, Morton’s Warm Springs in Glen Ellen is the new home of McDonald Ranch summer camp.

The site allows kids to explore the creek that runs through the property, and swim in the outdoor pools. This summer, trail rides in Jack London State Park are part of the program as well. Find out more at 537.0955 or

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