When Sybille Castro and her family moved to the Kenai Peninsula from Virginia five weeks ago, it was in many ways a dream come true, except for one thing the move was hard on her 7-year-old son, Nicasio.
"The move was big for him and he had some trouble adjusting," Castro said.
Children don't always understand the necessity of moving, the advantages of moving or, most importantly to them, why they should have to lose friends to moving.
"He would say, 'Mom, I just want a buddy,'" Castro said.
In Alaska, best friends aren't hard to find if you know where to look, and Castro had a pretty good idea where she might find one for her boy.
"He wanted a play dog, so we went to see what we could find for him," she said.
Castro began researching to find out about local animal shelters, since she had had good experiences with them in the past.
"We have always gotten our animals from shelters, because there are just so many unwanted animals there that need good homes," she said.
In fact, that was where she found one of her best friends, a thick-coated husky she named "Nome" after the town the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ends in. Castro was an Iditarod fan and trail committee member long before she made the big move north.
But, Nome was her dog and her son wanted a pal of his own.
"We had heard about the Alaska's Extended-Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski, so we went there," Castro said.
Alaska's Extended-Life Animal Sanctuary, owned and operated by Tim Colbath and Sue Whipp, is a non-profit organization dedicated to the rescue, adoption and care of unwanted animals.
They are also the only no-kill shelter on the peninsula.
"They are just awesome, awesome people," Castro said in regard to Colbath and Whipp.
"To devote their land and lives to the cause of saving pets is just exceptional. People like them make the world a better place. They are true heroes in my eyes," she said.
In addition to paying accolades for their altruism, Castro also said Colbath and Whipp are very knowledgeable at helping people select the right pet for their lifestyle.
"You tell them what you want the dog for, the size of dog you're looking for and information like that and they will match you up with the perfect dog," she said.
That's what Castro did. She stressed they didn't want a puppy since they get adopted so easily, so they would rather rescue an older dog. Also, it would be for a young boy and the dog would likely get a lot of play and exercise.
From their close to 200 animals, Colbath and Whipp were able to suggest a canine candidate that would likely work well as a pet for Castro's boy.
"It was a year-old black Lab. She was already spayed and had come from someone who lived in an apartment and the dog had grown too big for them," Castro said.
She said she didn't understand someone giving up a perfectly healthy dog with such a sweet and loving disposition.
"It's very sad how some people don't understand that dogs are for life, and not to be discarded just because you're moving or they are no longer convenient," Castro said.
The Lab, which may have been unwanted by her first owner, will be anything but by its new owners. Already named "Airbud" by her son, after a dog in his favorite movie, the two are already off on the start of a long friendship.
"My son loves the dog and the two of them are doing great. They play for hours wrestling on the floor. It's wonderful," Castro said.
Castro hopes more people would take her example and think about adopting a shelter animal when they're in the market for a new or additional pet.
"A lot of people think that shelter dogs all have been abused or have problems, but most don't. Most are good family dogs, and shelters have a lot of good cats and other animals, too," she said.
As to the Alaska's Extended-Life Animal Sanctuary in particular, Castro said, "I would recommend to anyone looking for a pet to go there.
"Their adoption fee is nominal. People need to understand they don't have to spend $500 on a pure-bred dog, when there are so many good ones available here."
"Also, by supporting them, more money goes to supplies and building materials to house and shelter more animals," she said.
Castro added she intends to go back to the Nikiski shelter for one more pet that caught her eye while she was there the last time.
"We're going back for a small husky. We've already picked out its name," she said. Like the place where their dreams have already started to come true, the new addition's name will be "Kenai."
Anyone interested in more information about adopting an animal or making a donation to Alaska's Extended-Life Animal Sanctuary can call 776-3614.
Their list of adoptable animals can be viewed on the Web at Petfinder.com.
Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at email@example.com.
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