Financial, health problems force owners to sell wolf sanctuary

WILLIAMS — In the middle of declining tours and donations and an expensive battle with cancer, the owners of Howling Acres Wolf Sanctuary have fallen $30,000 behind on house payments and they face a July 9 auction of their home.

Charlie and Sherrie LaBat say they have been using all of their small Social Security and pension income to support the wolves and maintain the 14-acre sanctuary property across the road from their home.

"The wolves come first," says Charlie LaBat. "The main thing is to keep them going. They have nowhere else to go."

The LaBats are selling the sanctuary at 555 Davidson Road and a three-bedroom mobile home on site for $400,000, reduced from $575,000, according to their Web site, www.howlingacres.org, but they say they will drop that figure further for interested buyers.

Facing health problems, the couple say they want to retire on the coast.

"It's stressful when the house is in foreclosure," says Sherrie LaBat, 50. "We have no place to live. We have no money, just the Social Security and pension and it's not much."

She has osteoporosis and just finished chemotherapy for leukemia, leaving them owing $69,000 in medical bills. Their health insurance policy runs just two more months, he says.

A home health nurse, Sherrie has not been able to work during her illness. In addition, donations to the sanctuary in the sour economy have declined from a high of $45,000 a year to $400 for the first quarter of this year, Charlie says.

"Donations were down last year and tours have dropped quite a bit," he says. "Everything seemed to drop on us."

The couple is upside-down on their home, which sits on 13 acres. They bought it for $495,000. It's been reassessed at $198,000, with a $280,000 mortgage, Charlie says. They started getting behind on payments last May and the mortgage company, he says, has declined to renegotiate terms during the recession.

The LaBats say they do not plan to declare bankruptcy.

The sanctuary's trailer is now occupied by a volunteer caretaker couple. Whoever buys the sanctuary property must agree to care for its 20 wolves, rescued from illegal fur farms, illegal Internet sales and from people who kept them illegally as pets.

"They have a lot of medical problems," he says. "They were abused. They have to be fed, cared for and their pens cleaned on a 24-hour basis."

The Web site says the LaBats will carry $160,000 of the sanctuary sale price at 4 percent interest.

All permits with the U.S. Department of Agriculture are current, he says, and the 10-foot fence around each wolf compound, as required by the agency, is in good repair.

The LaBats are reachable at 541-846-8962.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.