On a bend on the Browns Canyon road above Peoa, just before it skitters down to the Weber River and the meadows below, the husband and wife team of Fernando and Dana Ramirez run their canine rehab center.

Although that’s not what they call it. The official name, as the sign announces out front, is “Rancho Luna Lobos,” a fancy moniker to attract the tourists who for the past nine years have been beating a steady path to the Ramirezes’ front door to take rides in their dog sleds, tour their kennels, and mingle with the regal creatures that pull them.

By any measure, Rancho Luna Lobos is a commercial success, but in reality, the business is a front. Its real purpose is to allow Fernando and Dana to indulge in their true passion: taking in dogs nobody else wants and giving them the life they deserve.

Virtually every dog in their kennel — all are large northern breeds like Alaskan huskies, Malamutes and Siberian huskies — is either a rescue, a surrender, or a shelter dog. The thing they all have in common is nobody else wanted them.

Luna Lobos Dog Sledding owner Fernando Ramirez works with sled dogs at Rancho Luna Lobos in Peoa, Utah on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Many, make that most, have been abused, physically, emotionally or both; some were just unwanted, others given up on as hopeless cases, still others simply ignored.

The Ramirezes take them in, give them time to regroup and recover — sometimes it takes five years and more for the most serious cases to come around — and eventually hook them up to a sled and let them run the way God intended.

When paying guests come, they are upfront about what Rancho Luna Lobos is all about.

“I’m so sorry, this isn’t about you,” says Dana in the speech she gives to customers before they go for their rides. “This is about our dogs, and you’re here to witness their art form. This is magic happening and they’re going to speak to your soul if you’re open enough to hear it.”

She continues, “When you’re out on the trail with them, you’re looking at dogs that in their past lives have been told, ‘you’re worthless,’ ‘you have no potential.’ They’ve been beaten, they’ve been told they should be put down. If they can overcome that and still be happy and live their best life, there’s no reason we as people cannot do the same — and they’re going to show you it’s possible.”

Every once in a while, Dana says, someone will ask for their money back, “because they’re like, ‘I just wanted a great photo for Instagram.’ They forget that the dogs are not circus animals, they’re living beings, they have emotions, and we want people to respect that. We’re here to serve the dogs, give them their best life, that’s our goal.”

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The roots of Rancho Luna Lobos can be traced back to when Fernando was 8 years old and asked his parents if he could get enough dogs so he could try his hand at dog sledding. He was living on the east side of Park City, surrounded by open spaces, and became intrigued with dog sledding by reading the “Balto” books about the heroic Alaskan husky that led a sled 55 miles without stopping to deliver life-saving serum to Nome, Alaska.

Fernando’s mother, Mary, agreed, but with this condition: Every dog he got had to be a rescue.

Fernando complied, acquired half a dozen castoffs from the shelter, and as a 9- and 10-year-old, he was entering dog sled races.

His dog sledding faded out by the time he was in high school and found another passion: distance running. He was good enough to win a spot on the Utah Valley University cross-country team, and after that was invited to join an Olympic training camp in Oregon. He got his 5,000 meter time down to 14:17, but injuries plagued him until he had to give up his hopes of competing on the world stage.

He came back to Utah, where two things happened that have directed his life’s path ever since: 1) He met Dana, 2) She loved his dream as much as he did.

“When we got married, we were talking about dream jobs,” Dana remembers. “He talked about dog sledding and I told him his dream was my dream, let’s do it.”

Sled dog Ozzy jumps on a kennel fence at Rancho Luna Lobos in Peoa, Utah, on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

They rescued seven dogs and started entering races as they held down their day jobs. The breakthrough that turned their hobby into their livelihood came when they happened on a 55-acre piece of sagebrush-covered dirt in Browns Canyon that the owner needed to urgently sell.

They laid out sledding trails on their new property, built a modest house for their family and kennels for the dogs. When they moved in in 2014 they had 14 dogs, “then all of a sudden it exploded,” says Dana. “People were surrendering their dogs left and right. We had like 80 dogs.”

It’s been like that ever since (they have 89 dogs currently in residence). On the Browns Canyon hillside, the dogs, and Fernando, can run to their heart’s content. In the process, Fernando has become a world-class musher. Last year, his team of rejects was added to the roster of Team USA (the United States Federation of Sleddog Sports) and invited to compete in the world championships in Sweden, where they finished eighth. Now, more national and international competitions are on the horizon.

“He always wanted to make a world team,” Dana says of her husband. “It didn’t happen in the human world, but it did happen in the dog world.”

“On paper, we are underdogs,” says Fernando. “But I can guarantee you that my dogs have more heart than any other.”

Adds Dana, “They have a soul, they have a purpose. They come here abused, so aggressive, then they completely change. They get a glimpse of ‘so this is what life is supposed to be — I’m supposed to be happy.’”