Sanctuary owners make a mission of saving animals

Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2003

As Tim Colbath steps outside his Nikiski home, he is warmly greeted by a motley crew of characters, most of which have had a hard knock in life to say the very least.

There's Bullet, a dog that just wants to be in someone's lap, despite weighing more than 50 pounds. Bullet got his name after he was rescued from the verge of being shot to death.

Then there's Sheyanne, a shepard mix that was rescued after being locked under an abandoned house. She got her name because she's still shy around people.

Another addition is Cosmo, a collie that came from a former Nikiski woman who was recently convicted on animal abuse charges.


A puppy waits patiently for some attention and is in need of a good home.

Photo by McNair Rivers

"She's still so scared to death of people that when you touch her, she won't move, won't blink you can barely tell she's even breathing," Colbath said.

There's also the litter of wrestling, rough-housing puppies from Tyonek that were going to be drowned because they were unexpected and unwanted.

"Watch your shoelaces if you go in with them," warned Colbath. "They just hit that stage where their favorite thing to do is chew and they'll go right for your shoes."

Despite how it sounds, Colbath isn't out of his mind. He is crazy, though crazy about saving animals.


Chloe is one of the cats that roams the house and does not mind all of the dogs.

Photo by McNair Rivers

Colbath and his partner, Sue Whipp, are the proprietors of Alaska's Extended-Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rescue, adoption and care of unwanted animals.

There are other facilities that take in abused and abandoned pets, but what sets the animal sanctuary apart is that they are a no-kill shelter.

"Our main goal is to find good homes for adoptable animals," Colbath said while petting Chloe a tan-colored Bengal cat reputed to be quite a dragonfly slayer. "But we give animals a place to live out there lives if no one adopts them."

Tara, a malamute mix weighing more than 180 pounds, is one such animal that has found a home at the sanctuary. The gentle giant has been through a lot, starting with her tail needing to be amputated after she was run over by a previous owner.


Tim Colbath washes out donated rubber bowls that will be used for water bowls for the animals.

Photo by McNair Rivers

"Then one of her owners moved to Hawaii," said Colbath, but due to the island's unique ecosystem it has strict quarantine requirements for all incoming animals.

"Tara was just too big for the quarantine kennel, so she had to be left behind," he said.

A different owner enjoyed Tara's companionship briefly, but relocated to southern Colorado.

"They thought it would be too hot," Colbath said. "So they didn't want to take the big bear with them."


Murphy takes it easy in his chair on a warm day inside the house.

Photo by McNair Rivers

Not wanting to play musical owners with the unfortunate mutt anymore, Colbath decided Tara would become a permanent resident at the animal sanctuary. She now spends her days playing with the precocious puppies.

Tara is a bit of an exception, though. Only a few of the animals are so old, ill, or have suffered some trauma so extreme that they are not adoptable.

The vast majority of the animals just need a few weeks of special care and then they're ready to go on to a new, loving home. The animal sanctuary has already found homes for more than 100 animals, and currently has 50 animals available for adoption.

"There's definitely a need for this on the peninsula because there are so many animals out there," Colbath said. "That's why we spay or neuter all animals before they go out."


Sue Whipp gives Smoky the cat a warm snuggle.

Photo by McNair Rivers

This is a feat that isn't financially easy on the income Colbath and Whipp make. She's a teacher and he is on disability payments after a plane crash in 1995, but that hasn't stopped them from putting all they can into the sanctuary.

"We live paycheck to paycheck to cover it," Colbath said. "People think we're crazy, but we love animals that much."

The two have been fortunate in receiving financial and in-kind donations from many private individuals, they said. They also stated that most of what they do wouldn't be possible without the commitment and support from local veterinarians.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also has backed the animal sanctuary. It recently donated $1,100 in dog food.

"As people know we're here and what we are about, we're hoping the funds will come in, animals will go out to good homes and our facility will continue to grow," Colbath said.

Getting the facility up and running and attending to all their charges can be difficult at times, but it's not the most challenging aspect of the job.

"It's tougher to do the community work of teaching people responsible pet ownership than it is to clean up after 50 dogs and cats," Colbath said.


Sue Whipp tries to bring only one puppy out but some of them escape into the yard. All of these puppies are waiting to be adopted.

Photo by McNair Rivers

"It's hard, but I have a severe love of animals and I love what I do," he said. "It's rewarding when you have a little girl just burst into tears saying, 'I know this is the one!' about one of the dogs and they give him a home for life."

Kim Katancik adopted a kitten from the animal sanctuary more than a year ago, and thinks her cat named Happy has been fantastic. She thinks Colbath's sanctuary is very noble.

"What he's doing is such a big project, it's like taking on the world," she said. "But he's very dedicated and he tries to match animal personalities to people, to ensure a lasting relationship."

The animal sanctuary united Debbie Moore with a St. Bernard mix named Buddy.

He was very ill, emaciated and blind from a blue film across his eyes when he was rescued," Moore said. "Now he's a big, healthy hunk of a dog and a loving, loyal companion. He fit right in with my other two dogs. He actually had kind of a settling effect on them."

It's success stories like these that keep Colbath and Whipp going. They have a big goal set for themselves to put a stop to euthanizing animals on the entire peninsula by 2005.

By that year, the couple hopes the animal sanctuary will have grown and include a new building erected in order to ensure that no more adoptable animals are euthanized.

"We don't want anymore animals killed in shelters because of not enough funding and we're hoping to be an alternative solution," said Colbath.

"I know that not all animals are adoptable. Some are just too vicious or have other problems, but the majority of animals being put down in shelters are healthy, adoptable pets," he said.

Anyone interested in more information or adopting an animal from Alaska's Extended-Life Animal Sanctuary can call 776-3614.

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