Maddie's Pet Project

Kristen Ivey of CRCS transforms dogs with behavior issues

By Bonney Brown

Bonney Brown

Kristen Ivey’s passion for helping dogs led her to create Canine Rehabilitation Center and Sanctuary, which launched in 2011. Located in Washoe Valley, the group aims to help dogs who need it most – those with behavioral issues who end up in animal shelters.

Bonney Brown: What led you to get into the field of animal sheltering and welfare?

Kristen Ivey: I started out as a volunteer with a high-volume shelter. I was so drawn to the dogs who were struggling, getting overlooked, or the ones who sat waiting to be adopted for extended periods of time. I ran another business at the time but as the years passed, my heart was more and more with the dogs. There was a hole in the system. Someone needed to step up and support animal shelters and rescue groups with their work by taking the dogs who they couldn't place, the ones who were falling through the cracks.

I didn't want to be the person who sat around and complained. I needed to be the change. I really want to help people see what IS possible with these amazing dogs. Dogs are always willing to let go of the past and move forward. It's something we humans can learn from. They just need someone to invest a little time.

BB: What do you like most about your job?

KI: The journey – on every level. For the dogs we help. For the people we help. And, for my incredible team. Who we become and the lessons we learn because of the work we do is life changing. The dogs actually teach us. We just have to pay attention.

BB: Tell me about your first pet?

KI: Oh my gosh, my parents were not dog people when I was young. I'm sure they caved and got a dog because any time they couldn't find me, I'd be off with an animal somewhere. I remember trying to save crawdads and other critters that were being held captive in Tupperware containers by neighborhood kids or finding random dogs down the street who needed someone to sit with. My very first pet was a dog named Crackerjack. She was a total mutt. She would ride wagons and scooters with my sister and me and "help" with whatever we were doing. Even back then, I learned from her.

BB: What pets do you have at home?

KI: I have 3 rescue dogs. All large breed. One I adopted from the Humane Society about 9 years ago and the other two are CRCS graduates from 7 years ago and 3 years ago.

BB: What, in your own words, is the mission of CRCS?

KI: It is so much more than saving a dog. … It's much bigger than that… When you take a dog who has been living in isolation and invest a little time, you can literally watch the life come back into them. That alone is a completely beautiful journey. Not only did you just end suffering, but it was done in a positive way, not by euthanizing. Obviously that's beneficial for the dog, but the effects of that journey and the positivity it can continue to bring are limitless. What if you then adopted that dog to a veteran who had also been through trauma and craved a connection with another survivor? What if those who witnessed the journey of recovery (staff, volunteers, adopters, the community) could learn lessons of strength, forgiveness and perseverance that could help inspire them to make different decisions in their lives? What if that story could be told to others and they could learn from it or be encouraged to get out and make a difference somewhere else? What if someone heard the story and knew of a dog in their shelter that was similar, what if they saw that it IS possible and it helped them make different decisions about helping that dog? When you can take something as harsh as abuse, neglect and suffering and you find a way to learn from it and use it to positively affect so many, that's impact. The mission of CRCS is not just to save a life, it's to then use it to inspire, educate, help and save others. I want to change the way people view these dogs … to end suffering by helping.

BB: What are your plans for CRCS?

KI: My plans are to help this community first and get CRCS to the level I've always envisioned it – a fully built out campus offering a variety of programs and services designed to support adopters, shelters, rescue groups and dog trainers. We are a rescue and recovery center for dogs overcoming trauma and we also provide support services to shelters and adopters in the community. We offer behavior help, training, socialization, education classes, one-on-one coaching, consulting and various support services to those who adopt. These services allow us to save more dogs, help more people and have a bigger impact on the community as a whole. In the future, I really want to help people in other areas of the country do the same for their community. Through education, we plan to give those ready for a change, all the tools and support they need so they can make the change in their communities. The animal welfare industry is a people industry. We've got to support the people so they feel inspired to continue to support the animals.

BB: What are the most pressing needs you see for animals in our community?

KI: I truly believe that information and education pre-adoption, support and behavior help post-adoption, and low-cost medical would be the most pressing. Education and support before and after adoption could really alleviate a lot of issues and returns. We take in a lot of dogs who needed medical attention but never received it due to cost. The medical issue led to a behavioral issue because the dog was hurting and in pain.

BB: What is your vision for the animals of the community?

KI: Wherever they need help, I'd like to have someone in that niche who can help. Groups that work together, for the animals.

BB: How can people help?

KI: Volunteering, adopting, becoming a monthly donor, creating your own fundraiser, bringing your group out for a tour, invite us to speak at an event, donate professional services, bring in much needed items (blankets, cleaning supplies, etc), sponsor a dog, foster, attend a class, share our organization with a friend, partner with us on an event, donate gift cards (Home Depot, gas cards, etc), follow us on social media. Truly, every minute, every dollar, every "like" or "share" – it all adds up and makes a big difference. We simply cannot do what we do without the support of our amazing community.

Bonney Brown is co-executive director of Maddie’s Pet Project in Nevada and president of Humane Network. You can reach Bonney at Kristen Ivey is the executive director of Canine Rehabilitation Center and Sanctuary; learn more at

CAPTION: Kristen Ivey with Beckett, one of the dogs she’s cared for and trained at CRCS. Photo by Michele Ting.