Many are familiar with the white lie, “Your pet went to live on a farm in the country.”
Well, in the case of Steven’s Animal Sanctuary, nestled between Enumclaw and Black Diamond, that little untruth becomes real.
Run by Dr. Heather Stewart and Laura Thompson, the two take in animals of all kinds whose owners (or parents, if you prefer) can no longer provide the care their animals need, whether due to old age, sickness, disabilities or — sadly — because they were mistreated or legally surrendered.
The Sanctuary became an official nonprofit in 2017, but Stewart was taking animals into her home for at least a decade before that.
“I’m not really sure who was the first one,” she said, right before her pack of small dogs — a motley crew that includes one with incontinence issues, another with mostly paralyzed back legs, a third with only one eye, a fourth with three legs, and a fifth with no real special needs at all — take off running full tilt toward a fence to greet a neighbor’s dog.
“Because of what I do for a living, I end up with clients’ patients if they couldn’t take care of them for various reasons,” Stewart continued, referencing her mobile veterinary clinic, Carousel Mobile Veterinary Services, which offers services in from Bonney Lake to Covington, which includes setting up shop outside Cobber’s Pet Pantry in Enumclaw every Friday. “They needed to re-home them or euthanize them, and I felt like they still had quality of life, so I would take some here and there.”
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), an estimated 1.5 million “companion animals” (mostly dogs and cats) are euthanized every year. While it’s unknown how many of these euthanizations are to alleviate pain and suffering or simply due to a lack of space or resources at shelters, the number has decreased from an estimated 2.6 million in 2011. ASPCA has stated the decrease is in part because adoption rates have increased and it’s easier for lost pets to be reunited with their families.
Many of the animals currently at the Sanctuary would most likely have been euthanized due to their various conditions and general unadoptability, Stewart said.
“But they’re here because they’re still happy,” she continued, the barking of dogs carrying over the field.
STARTING THE SANCTUARY
Stewart got her start as a vet when she graduated in 2003, and quickly gravitated to treating horses.
“But I didn’t want to just do horses, so I got into the small animal practice, but it was in an office and you can’t see horses in that setting, so I thought I’d do this mobile thing… that way, I can see horses and dogs and cats and goats,” she said. “That’s what started me collecting peoples’ rejects.”
Her home soon became a true Island of Misfit Toys, a group Steward fit in with when she blew her Achilles Tendon and needed assistance around the house and grounds.
That’s when Thompson entered the picture; she was one of Stewart’s mobile clinic patients, but started coming to the Sanctuary to help her out around the house. Eventually, Thompson put her business skills to use by helping balance Stewart’s books, and before too long, moved in to become a part of the Sanctuary’s team.
It wasn’t a hard decision after that to pursue becoming an official nonprofit.
“Sometimes I’m not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing,” Stewart said. “I think I have more animals now now that we’re official, but at least we can get donations… it helps them and it helps us, and it works out.”
The two ended up calling their nonprofit Steven’s Sanctuary after an arthritic steer, Steven, stayed with them for a number of years.
“He was just a nice guy. He was a rescue and ended up being a 3,500 pound pet,” Stewart recalled. “His marking are on our logo, because his forehead had a bit of a dove to it.”
Although the Sanctuary does receive some monetary and supply donations, the vast majority costs are covered by Stewart and Thompson, who both work full-time jobs.
“Everybody gets what they need, one way or another,” Stewart said.
And while Stewart has a large property, trying to care for more than four dozen animals — from diabetic barn cats to old horses that need special diets to compensate for bad teeth — she and Thompson are reaching their limit.
“Right now, we don’t really have any more room… but we still have tried to help people figure out where they can go if we can’t take them,” Stewart said. “We’ve started networking with other places so we can at least not say, ‘Oh, no, sorry, bye.’”
Unfortunately, the two agree, the nonprofit isn’t quite suitable for general volunteers; many of the animals are wary of strangers because of their various states of injury and sickness, and any veterinary care they require can’t be administered by someone without veterinary knowledge.
But those wanting to lend the Sanctuary a hand can do so through its website, www.stevensanimalsanctuary.org/; there’s an option to give a financial donation, or by clicking the “wish list” button on the top of the page, you can buy one or some of the myriad items for the animals and their care.
Donations of hay and grain would also be highly appreciated, Stewart said.
For more information about the Sanctuary, you can call Stewart or Thompson at 253-261-4622, send an email through their website, send mail to P.O. Box 363 in Black Diamond, or visit their Facebook page.
Editor’s note: An incorrect P.O. Box number was published in the print article. This article has been updated.