Proud Spirit Dogs: A Photo Essay

This blog post on was part of‘s 4th Annual Pet’Net blog competition for animal charity.

There are plenty of people who tirelessly work to save unwanted and abused animals. I recently got an opportunity to spend time with two of them. Melanie Sue Bowles and Jim Bowles, founders of the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary, are retired professional fire firefighters who have been saving abandoned and neglected horses for the past 20 years, They have intervened on behalf of nearly 400 horses, and continue to do so.

Over the years, they’ve also opened their hearts and home to plenty of dogs that have found their way into their lives. All of them either abandoned, or locked up in shelters or sent to the vet as puppies because they didn’t meet breed standards. Today, all 13 of their dogs live harmoniously in the house and share the affection of their owners with 58 horses and donkeys in Mena, Arkansas. The horses and donkeys run freely on 320 acres of their property near the Ouachita Mountains. The dogs, however, never leave Melanie and Jim.

As a dog lover, I can never understand how someone can abuse or carelessly abandon their dogs. These innocent animals, some of them very young, diseased or elderly cannot fend for themselves. While most of them suffer due to no fault of their own, some fortunate ones who get rescued by organizations or good-natured people like Melanie and Jim get a second chance and find loving homes. My time at the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary will always remain one of my favorites. Never have I seen so much love, and experienced the joy of being around so many happy animals. That’s the beauty of animals- no matter what they’ve been through- they respond in kind and are loyal to those who care for them. “All they want is some food and love,” says Jim Bowles, petting a dog that Melanie had rescued the first morning I was there. In addition to providing home to so many dogs, the husband and wife team have also helped place dozens of rescued dogs with forever homes.

One of the recent additions to the Bowles’ household is the beautiful dog pictured here with me. His name is Winston, a pit bull mix named after Winston Churchill. He was the size of a rabbit when Melanie and Jim found him and his littermates on the side of the road near their ranch, scared, starving, and covered in fleas and ticks. Melanie was able to find homes for Winston’s siblings, but he became a part of their family and quickly adjusted to the lifestyle with the rest of the dogs. During my stay, Winston followed me everywhere, and was super sweet (as you can tell from the picture). He was full of energy, and never tired of playing with his furry friends.

While I loved all the dogs at the Sanctuary, one in particular stole my heart. Her name is Trudi, a small beagle mix that resembled my own puppy. There was never a moment I could sit on the couch or the porch without Trudi running up and sitting on my lap and showering me with kisses. Melanie and Jim found Trudi, and her sisters Daisy and Trixie as puppies in a ditch with a box of adult dog food next to them that they could barely eat. Today, all three sisters, although the smallest of the bunch, know how to assert themselves. In the picture below, you’ll see little Trudi having a “conversation” with one of the donkeys of Proud Spirit.

Then, there are the fluffball corgis, who with their little legs would climb up to my knees and plead for attention with their curious wide eyes. Most of them are rescued from shelters, and animal hospitals where they were sent to be euthanized because they weren’t “perfect” purebred puppies. One has a blue right eye, another a left blue eye, and another has a floppy ear. Luckily, their imperfections don’t come in the way of how much love they give.

The most captivating story of all of them is that of big Louis. Jim and Melanie’s friends found Louis near death in Florida. He was emaciated, with gun pellets in his body, and suffering from heartworm disease. The Bowles’ friends cared for him, and tried to get him adopted. When no one came forward, Melanie drove all the way to bring him home to Arkansas.

Louis, named after Louis Zamperini, World War II hero written about in Unbroken, has definitely been through his share of suffering for most of his life. Today, he is a much loved member of the Proud Spirit family. He has fully recovered from his ailments, and bounced back to health. Towering over the rest of the dogs, Louie is very possessive of Jim and makes sure no other dogs come near him, but there is plenty of love to go around for all of them.

In the endearing picture below, you’ll see Louis nuzzling his best friend’s ear. “Every dog must be loved this much,” says Melanie, with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face.

How to Help

  • Purchase The Dogs of Proud Spirit book by Melanie Sue Bowles for more true stories about the Proud Spirit dogs. All proceeds go towards the Sanctuary and rescue work.
  • Visit to learn more and make a donation.
  • Before you buy from a breeder, consider rescuing instead. Visit or your local shelter to find your next best friend.
  • Hug a dog or two, it’ll do you some good.