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A Pooch with Your Pinot?

Carivintas Winery and Shadow’s Fund Raise Money for Pit Bulls and More


Sunday, December 5, 2010

While many choose to pair cheese with their wine, some prefer fancier or more obscure pairings. Carivintas Winery, however, believes that shelter dogs go best with their wines. Before you call the ASPCA, please note that the winery donated over $40,000 to nationally-acclaimed nonprofit Best Friends Animal Society — and that was just one of the winery’s many charitable contributions. In fact, Carivintas’ founders Paul Ramos and Fleet Hamilton started the business with a charitable purpose.

“As a normal individual, you may be able to give 50 bucks here, 100 bucks there. You help out a little bit, maybe do a little volunteer time,” explained Ramos. “We wanted to find a way to make more money [for charities], so we basically incorporated raising nonprofit funds into our business model.”

The winery sources fruit from Temecula up to Sonoma, creating a large variety of wines that possess distinct labels, each displaying an animal-in-need’s photo. The animal’s story covers the back of the label, sharing delightfully detailed anecdotes and information about the organization that the bottle of wine benefits.

Recently, in an event that practically proves the existence of fate, Ramos ran into animal philanthropist Jill Anderson, who founded and runs Shadow’s Fund with partner Cody Rackley. A couple of years ago, a very old dog sat tied to a tree outside an animal shelter, abandoned by his family. At such an old age, he faced extremely slim chances at being adopted. This was too much for Anderson and Rackley, though, who brought Shadow home to their ranch where he spent his final year living a canine’s dream.

Devastated, Anderson said, “We needed to do something to keep part of him alive.” Just before Shadow’s passing, they had purchased a wheelchair for him that arrived too late. Instead of returning it, they opted to sell it and donate the money to another senior shelter dog. “And that become Shadow’s Fund,” she said.

Before they knew it, they were running a full-time dog rescue foundation on top of their full-time careers. Upon realizing that the pit bull’s negative public perception makes the dogs as high-risk as older dogs for euthanasia at shelters, the breed became a major focus for Shadow’s Fund. In one of their more successful — and amazingly impromptu — moves, Anderson and Rackley saved 13 pit bulls by making two trips from Los Angeles to Buellton with five or six dogs packed into their jeep.

“It’s such an uphill battle right now,” said Anderson of combating pit bull misperceptions. “In the early 1900s, pit bulls were the number one family dog in America, they were called the nanny dog….A couple decades of some unscrupulous people exploiting their natural capabilities, and making money off them, and suddenly the media hype has shifted perception.”

Teaming up with Carivintas, Shadow’s Fund will have its own line of wines featuring its beloved dogs which will help the foundation thrive, including aiding their expansion into a full-blown animal sanctuary. Titled “Lovers Not Fighters,” the wine club will likewise raise awareness about the breed’s lovable nature with labels that read things like, “If there’s one thing these dogs are ‘bullyish’ about, it’s snuggling.” With the unfavorable economy, they are not only struggling with less people taking animals in, but they also must deal with increasing numbers of abandoned animals, as many lose their homes and financial security. Shadow’s Fund also strives to inform pet owners that “there’s always a way” to keep happy, healthy pets in any circumstance.

Taking full advantage of their close proximity, Carivintas now holds pet adoption days in the tasting room on Saturdays from noon until 3 p.m., featuring the Shadow’s Fund dogs. While that may seem out-of-place, walking into the Carivintas tasting room — which offers dog beds, water bowls, treats, and plenty of open space — makes it seem as if Ramos and Hamilton built the place specifically for it. So far, the idea has proved successful, and has even found homes for a few of the animals in its short run.

“People see the dogs more in their own element,” explained Anderson, “It’s not the shelter environment or in front of a pet store — it’s in a winery where they also spend time and they think, ‘I can see myself spending time with this dog at home.’”

Said Ramos, “To me, there’s something so enlightening when I see someone walk in and lock eyes with an animal and next thing you know, they’re a family.”

And while dogs and wine aren’t typically considered complementary, such a pairing is a no-brainer for Anderson and Ramos, who suggest similarities between the two. For the most part, they say both evoke feelings of relaxation and hominess. Added Anderson casually, “There’s nothing that makes me happier than good wine and a good dog.”

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To sip good wine while supporting pit bulls and other dogs, check out Carivintas Winery at 476 First Street in Solvang. Call 805-693-4331 or see carivintas.com. For more on Shadow’s Fund, see shadowsfund.org. There is also a holiday reception at the winery to celebrate the release of “Lovers Not Fighters” three-pack on Saturday, December 11, noon-3 p.m., with wine tasting, appetizers, and adoptable dogs.

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