Meet Barbara Roach - Beloved Friend of Animals and People

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Barbara Bobbi Roach is a timeless beauty.  But it is getting better acquainted with her insides that reveals the true measure of her beauty . . . which is extraordinary.  

With a warm, two-handed shake and wide smile, Roach welcomes arrivals into her comfortable world.  A successful real estate broker for over 30 years, one might assume she’s finessed her game to a science, but her genuinely pleasant, unassuming personality has no salesman’s gloss or affectation.  Despite the sharp suit and professional air, Roach evokes a desire to kick off one’s shoes, grab a glass, relax and chat. 

The chatting this day must wait a moment though: doggy business comes first.  Currently dog-sitting a Chihuahua named Phoebe, who just endured a long business meeting, Roach knows her charge is eager to hit the grounds of the NW Sunset business park where she oversees more than 60 real estate agents for Prudential Northwest Properties.  Roach is equally eager to accommodate her, and expertly urges Phoebe to “get to work and pee.”  Business complete, we return to the building.

In addition to comfy guest chairs, family photos and a sizable glass-topped desk, Roach’s office is appointed with a dog bed and toys.  One eye-catching photo features a beautiful young woman astride an impressive horse.  “Yep, that’s me,” she says, launching into details about her days in the show ring. 

Roach was first exposed to horses while spending summers working at her aunt and uncle’s burger shack in Hood River.  She would accompany her uncle on his annual trek to the Umatilla Indian Reservation for the annual sale of “Indian ponies,” acquiring horses for trail riding and hunting.  “They were Cayuses,” Roach says.  “Tough little troopers, boy, and wilder than March hares.”

At 17, Roach married her high school sweetheart, George.  They settled in Clackamas County and operated a horse facility in Redland, showing, breeding and training horses.  Involved in the local 4-H, their daughter Kim would grow into an impressive equestrian herself.

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After Kim left home and George’s home-building business — which Roach helped run — was flourishing, they sold the horse facility.  Still longing to work with animals, Roach turned to dog rescue.  “I needed to switch to something smaller,” she says, chuckling.  “I do miss [the horses] sometimes, but I have to do this for now.” 

Roach had volunteered with various animal rescues for over a decade when in 2006 she dedicated herself wholly to Oregon Dog Rescue, a Portland-area no-kill shelter.  Today she works with volunteers, runs ODR’s Facebook page, and posts weekly updates for the group.  She also spends Saturdays at the Tualatin PetSmart, greeting prospective adopters, tending to the animals, and generally advocating for ODR and dogs in need of forever homes. 

Describing her role as the public side of the rescue, Roach says, “I’m the one that picks up the dog and goes to a Clackamas fundraiser or the grand opening of a pet shop.  I also do a lot of volunteer recruiting.  We are all foster-based — all our dogs live in homes — and we can only take in as many as we have places for them.” 

Clearly made for this role, her gifts are a perfect fit.  “I think when you’re in this business for a long time like they have been [referring to ODR co-founders Deb Bowen and Krystyna Schmidt] you lose a little bit of the people compassionate side.  All of your compassion goes to the animals, to which they give 100 percent.  I’m able to still go out in the public with a smile.”

And while she admits to feeling conflicted at times, she says experience allows her to find reasoning in certain cases of owner relinquishment.  “I understand people run into hardships.  Not everyone, when they’ve lost a home ,can spend a $400 non-refundable deposit per pet for two or three animals.  It’s sad, but people do have to make choices.”

Her empathy is not without limits.  Having seen firsthand the consequences of puppy mills, hoarders and cruelty, Roach pauses when asked how she copes.  “It hurts your heart.  I’ve seen so much animal abuse.  I don’t have much compassion for somebody who can be cruel to an animal.  The biggest why I have is exactly that . . . Why?” she says, throwing up her hands.

“We took in two adorable Chihuahuas that had been locked in a back shed on a property their whole life.  Two sweet little Chihuahuas!  Why?  I can’t answer that.  The worst problem I have is when I have to see the faces of people who do such things.  Often we don’t see the people — we just get the result of what they did, so our focus becomes just getting the dog well.  If I had to see the people and actually talk to them . . .” she drifts with the thought . . .  “I just don’t understand why they have them.”

Gazing down and affectionately stroking the Chi in her lap, Roach says “You know, I understand people who have them and wind up in a financial situation.”  She tells of a woman who took her dogs to the Tualatin PetSmart three days a week for day care and grooming.  She lost her job, then her home, and had to move in with family whose rental wouldn’t allow additional dogs.  Eventually she took her dogs in to be fostered and adopted.  Naturally she was devastated.  “That lady, through no fault of her own, got into a situation; those are the people I have all the compassion in the world for,” Roach says.

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In fact, she fostered one of those dogs herself, something she does regularly, with careful boundaries.  “I would be a hoarder,” she says, jokingly.  “I mean really, you have to be careful.  We laugh a lot, saying it would be so easy to become ‘one of them,’ the exact ones we save dogs from.  My husband says it’s a good thing we’re not on our ranch anymore.  We had a 10,000 square-foot arena that would’ve been perfect!”  She laughs, continuing, “I am limited though because my foster dogs come to work with me.  I would love to be able to take the big ones — German Shepherds and Aussies used to be my breed — but I have to limit myself to the little dogs, the ones I can stick under a desk, and foster one at a time.”

Little Phoebe has jumped down and Roach spends considerable time brushing fur off her black pantsuit.  “I can’t bring two or three dogs to the office and I do have my own dog, Ruby, who is my husband’s sidekick.  He’s retired now, but does take care of our rental properties, so it’s all he can do to take care of the one we have at home.” 

Roach mentions happily that in July she and George will celebrate 47 years of marriage.  “I still like him,” she says with a smile.

When asked how Ruby deals with fosters, Roach laughs and says, “She forgets she was adopted!  She thinks she’s above all that.  She’s a silky Terrier, an alpha female.  The minute they walk into the house she snarls her lips and says, ‘I’m the boss and don’t even think about touching my man.’  She doesn’t like to share her stuff so she says, ‘This is my basket and everything in it is mine.’  She has a little shirt that says ‘I have to ask . . . am I adopted?’  ‘Yes, you are,’ we say to her, ‘you were one of those dogs at one time.’”  Roach continues, laughing, “She definitely doesn’t like me bringing them home, but she does what she has to do and her job is to behave herself fully.”

In addition to fostering and working weekly adoption outreaches, Roach spends much time networking with other animal organizations and professionals, volunteers and supporters.  She says Facebook has been a dream come true for connecting people and showcasing events as well as dogs in need.  She started ODR’s Facebook page, which now boasts a “friend” count at a very healthy 1,676. 

In fact, Facebook has a role in one of her favorite recent rescue stories, about two dogs to be euthanized in an Idaho shelter in the dead of winter.  She posted them on Facebook and watched as the screen lit up with people responding, one of whom ultimately flew both dogs to Portland.  Roach’s delight is fresh today, and infectious.  “This gal flew them here; we had never even spoken before but she stepped up and did it.  It’s just incredible the way people all came together.”

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On this drizzly Saturday afternoon, Roach is working the crowd at PetSmart.  One hand holding the leash of a Terrier, she chats with people considering the more than two dozen crated, hopeful dogs.  Walking the line, it’s clear she knows every history, and who would be the best match for each.  She points to one nervous Chi saying she has yet to find her forever family, even after two months.  When asked if it’s hard to see these dogs stay in foster care week after week she shakes her head emphatically.  “Don’t feel sorry for these dogs.  These are the lucky ones!  They will stay with us until they are adopted.”

Roach says it’s not unusual for people to stay in touch with her long after they’ve adopted from ODR.  One woman sends a card every holiday featuring her three adopted Chihuahuas.  “She sends me Christmas cards, Mother’s Day cards, Easter cards, every holiday from the dogs to me!”

“Sometimes we get disillusioned with the human race and some of the cruel things they do.  So about the time I get discouraged with people, here come these angels who do something that makes such a difference.  Those are the things that keep you going.”

Meet Barbara — and plenty of her adoptable charges — Saturdays at the Tualatin PetSmart.  Or friend Oregon Dog Rescue on Facebook.  

Photos by David Childs

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Nikki Jardin is a Portland-based freelance writer who loves to write about people dedicated to making the world a better place for all beings. When she’s not writing, she’s either exploring the great outdoors, traveling, or volunteering with Fences For Fido, a local nonprofit dedicated to giving dogs freedom from a previously chained life.