Sanctuary!

By Anne Marie Swan

Just north of Salida, Dawn and Curtis Emel are living their childhood dream of creating an animal sanctuary. No exotic animals here. No lions or tigers or giraffes to admire from a distance. Instead, Pearl’s Sunrize Sanctuary is closer to a petting zoo for 12 birds, four dogs, 23 cats, two sugar gliders, two ferrets and more, in and around their 800-square-foot cabin.

“We provide a forever home,” Dawn Emel said. “They’re here with us for life. I told Curtis, we may have to get rid of the kitchen table.”

I open the cabin door to a delightful cacophony. A parrot catcalls me when I step in, and silky gray cats weave between my ankles. This sanctuary is a little hectic, a little zany. Dawn hands me a sugar glider, Icarus, with soulful, brown-marble eyes. Icarus climbs my arm, tickling me, and I’m instantly charmed. I transcend time while playing with this sugar glider. I seem to have left my worries and hectic schedule outside the cabin door. Pearl’s Sunrize Sanctuary is a light, happy fun house full of animals to love up.

“It’s like having tons of two-year-olds,” Dawn said. “We’re constantly cleaning up after them. We love it. We wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Fourteen cages and two enclosures house the critters, and this is just inside. The Emels’ birds include a Green-winged macaw, an African Gray parrot, a Black-and-gold macaw, an African Ringneck parrot and a family of cockatiels that weren’t fed properly and, generally, ignored. All are thriving at Pearl’s Sunrize Sanctuary. It’s common to hear an expert rendition of R2D2 from “Star Wars” and meows and submarine sounds and thank yous around the room.

The Emels were quite a sight on the road when they hauled most of their rescued animals from southern Oregon, outside Klamath Falls, to Salida. When their car broke down in the Nevada desert, the birds made the most of it by singing French music by Pierre Felere in the moonlight.

Sadly, the Emels lost their favorite pet, a Goffin cockatoo named Pearl, and the sanctuary’s namesake, on the trip. “Pearl would have been the ambassador,” Dawn said.

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