Arrest nets animal sanctuary 35 dogs

Posted: Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Alaska's Extended Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski always has numerous dogs and cats to care for, and now, by responding to a recent call for help, they added 35 more dogs to the list.

"With taking in these, we're at close to 200 animals. We're literally busting at the seams right now," said Tim Colbath, proprietor of the animal sanctuary.

The call for help came at the tail end of a series of events that began Sept. 12, when at approximately 3:15 p.m., Alaska State Troopers were called to serve a "Writ of Assistance" at the end of Melody Lane in North Kenai.

The writ was issued from Anchorage District Court at the request of the owners, the Kenai Native Association, who were interested in having an alleged squatter, Eric Swearingen, removed from their land.

While attempting to serve the writ, Swearingen refused to vacate and was arrested for criminal trespass in the first degree and was taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility. Swearingen was then transferred to Wildwood Correctional Facility, where he continues to be held.

"He was living out there like a hermit with his dogs," Colbath said.

With Swearingen's arrest, the 35 animals he kept as companions were left without a human caregiver.

As such, the Kenai Native Association's board of directors called the animal sanctuary and Kenai Mayor John Williams, who dispatched the Kenai Animal Control Shelter to assist in collecting the animals.

"We went out to help rescue the animals, but none are being housed here. We were just trying to help out and be good neighbors," said Bill Godek, chief animal control officer in Kenai.

Animal rescue groups arrived to find that a few of the dogs had broken free from their tethers or slipped out of their collars and were running loose. Nearly all of the dogs, having only been socialized to Swearingen, were leery of strangers.

"The majority of the dogs were terrified, which didn't help the situation. It took us 12 days from when we started, until the last dog was taken off the property," Colbath said.

Colbath said none of the dogs appeared neglected or abused.

"The dogs were all well taken care of. They were in good physical condition, had been cleaned up after, had food and had water from a well that (Swearingen) had dug. Heck, the dogs even had grass clippings for bedding in their houses that he had cut himself with a machete," he said.

"These dogs were his life. He even said in court, 'All I care about is my dogs. Who's going to take care of my dogs?'" Colbath said.

He added that with the rescue behind him, the real work begins, since the animal sanctuary is a "no-kill" facility, meaning unless the animals are dangerous to themselves or others, they are rehabilitated and cared for as long as needed until they are adopted.

However, maintaining a no-kill shelter is challenging and expensive, Colbath said.

"I'm going through about 140 pounds of dog food a day, now. Plus, all these dogs are intact, so they need to be spayed and neutered so they're not breeding amongst themselves. They also need vaccinations and other medical treatment. It will be roughly $5,000 to get them all back on track," he said.

Most of the dogs have calmed down after settling in at the sanctuary, and many likely will be good candidates for adoption after more socialization with people, he said.

Colbath said anyone interested in adopting one of the dogs now, could do so for free. After the sanctuary invests money for medical treatment, they will require an adoption fee to cover their expenses.

To offset the resources being used to rehabilitate the animals at the sanctuary, Colbath is asking for donations of any kind.

"Money and dog food are always good, but at this time, building materials are almost more valuable than cash. I need a lot of supplies to prepare for winter," he said.

To make a donation or to inquire about adopting a pet, call 776-3614.

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