While strolling the grounds of the remote Denkai Animal Sanctuary, a 14-year-old Arabian named Jasmine closely follows visitors and occasionally shoves her brown head into the conversation.
Later, after passing a pen where furry Dotty and Frosty live, one learns that llamas take turns going potty in the exact same place, a practice from the wild that makes it more difficult for predators to find them.
Jeb, a 26-year-old former dude ranch mule, likes a morning bath.
This foursome is part of a larger animal family being cared for at the Denkai Animal Sanctuary, a dusty, sprawling ranch nearly three dozen miles north of Fort Collins, just outside of the scarcely populated town of Carr.
The operation, run by chatty Floss Blackburn, is similar to other sanctuaries in that it accepts a variety of animals in varying conditions. But at Denkai, Blackburn has also sought to establish a low-cost spay and neuter clinic and vet services. The site offers adoptions, animal sponsorships, educational tours and volunteer opportunities.
Volunteer Shannon Canfield said she’s involved with the three-year-old sanctuary because of her lifelong love of animals.
“Animals are just people in fur,” Canfield said in a telephone interview last week.
For $30 a month, Canfield sponsors a 3-year-old black and white paint horse named Black Majic [sic] that was saved from death.
“(Black Majic) came to the sanctuary as her previous owner was entirely afraid of her,” Blackburn explains on the Denkai Web site. “Black Majic would charge her and try to bite . The woman tried to give her away for free, but since nobody was able to catch her, she could not find a home. Luckily she did not get snatched up by a killer buyer and shipped to slaughter.”
History of Denkai
In addition to llamas, horses and the mule, Denkai Animal Sanctuary is home to nearly 90 animals, including turkeys, sheep, chickens, dogs, cats and miniature horses.
Also living there is Eldora the goat and the pot bellied pig Deputy Dangles, both 11.
Blackburn, the 27-year-old founder of the sanctuary, was raised in the ranching community of Cortez in deep southwestern Colorado. Blackburn was named after her grandmother Florence’s nickname.
Although she had never previously owned a farm or ranch, animals were always around, Blackburn said of her childhood. Since starting the sanctuary – a non-profit operation that began in Ault just east of Fort Collins – Blackburn has worked tirelessly to gather the animals, care for them and begin the sanctuary’s various programs.
She named the site after her two young children. Denali, who is 6, and 3-year-old Kaia.
After moving from Cortez to Ault, Blackburn started working at PetSmart with its animal adoption program and eventually her reputation for animal care grew. The local humane society gave Blackburn several goats to care for. Also at this time, she was given a 2-year-old miniature horse named Sweet Pea, who had an extreme case of clubbed feet, and Spirit, a 2-month-old buckskin colt. Both horses are now permanent residents at the sanctuary.
After leaving Ault, she moved to Windsor, where Blackburn volunteered at a dog and cat sanctuary. Later, she moved to an area outside of Nunn in Weld County but decided to relocate after a year because the home she was living in with her kids was, in her words, worse than the facilities for her animals.
Two months ago, Blackburn leased the ranch outside of Carr, where she works full time running the sanctuary and raising her two children.
Animals arrive at the Denkai Animal Sanctuary as a result of several situations. The local humane society has donated some and others are the result of court battles, which include neglect cases or animal custody matters. Occasionally, Blackburn or a volunteer find strays or strangers call and ask to donate an animal.
Some animals, such as Sweet Pea and Spirit, stay at the sanctuary indefinitely while others are adopted by people in the community. All adopted animals are spayed, neutered and vaccinated.
The entire operation is run by volunteers and operates on donations.
As an alternative to adoption, people can also sponsor an animal. For example, $5 a month sponsors a chicken and $8 a month will help feed a turkey. People who donate will receive a framed picture of their sponsored animal and the story behind it.
Bre Hunter, a CSU senior biology major who works at the Boyd Lake Vet Center in Loveland, volunteers her time and sponsors animals at Denkai Animal Sanctuary.
“I have always had a thing for animals . I had a variety of different pets growing up (including) snakes, dogs, rabbits, ducks and cockatiels,” Hunter said. She currently sponsors two animals at Denkai; a thoroughbred horse named Latch and a box-pit-bull puppy named Jasmine.
Other opportunities include volunteering time. Blackburn needs help on a number of fronts, including grant writing, fundraising and barn helpers who perform maintenance, office administration and public relations.
Denkai also is always in need of monetary contributions as well as donated food, equipment, minerals and oats. Other necessities are listed under a “Wish List” on the sanctuary’s Web site at www.denkaisanctuary.org.
Any assistance toward Denkai serves an even larger purpose, Blackburn says. In addition to saving lives, the site is visited by at-risk youth and mentally or physically challenged adults and children.
The visitors learn more about the animals; how to prevent animal abuse and occasionally the animals are used in various communication and socialization exercises to help adults or children.
Erin Aggeler, Liz Sunshine and Tanner Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.