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Safe Harbor Ranch a refuge for gentle giants

Cows were the original inspiration for Dr. Tim Bonney and his wife, Terry, but it was a horse called Yellow that stole their hearts and brought Safe Harbor Ranch to fruition.
“His hoof had been ripped off. He was in the field, dying,” says Tim, a renowned obstetrician and gynecologist whose medical training has been tested in ways he never imagined in medical school. He and Terry moved to Gunnison from New York. They were city folk, through and through.
“We had an idea then that we were going to rescue downed animals,” says Tim. They’d seen video of what happens to old cows past their prime, when they collapse and can’t get up due to injury, weakness or disease.
“We value the elderly, in people as well as animals,” Tim says.
“We just realized there was such a need in this community,” says Terry, who is active with the Crested Butte Music Festival. “Tim has his medical training, and I was willing. Horses are often put down for conditions very simple to treat. With proper medical care and some stick-to-it-ness, a lot of them could be saved.”
Tim was originally from Boston, and Terry from Chicago. Tim graduated from State University of New York (SUNY) Health Science Center at Stony Brook in 1984 and built a bustling practice in Islip, Long Island. Terry, meanwhile, was an accomplished concert pianist. They met while Tim was in medical school. The couple spent more than 20 years near the Big Apple, pursuing professional careers.
Tim left a bustling Long Island practice and Terry a successful musical career to move to Gunnison.
“We were traveling and skiing. Tim liked the ocean, and I was trying to point him toward the mountains. I wanted to get out of the city. The goal in my mind was to find a ski town that wasn’t too expensive, one that needed an obstetrician,” she says. “Then on one summer trip through Gunnison, I happened upon this property and said, ‘This is it.’”
Since then, “Tim has skied the hell out of Crested Butte,” Terry says. “And me? I’m still on Painter Boy.”
The desire to help animals lingered as they settled in their place north of town. Before they were ready, along came Yellow to provide on-the-job training.
“Yellow’s leg was bigger than my thigh from hoof to hip, a swollen, infected mess,” Tim says. “He let me get in there and scrape.”
“When you begin to understand how these animals suffer,” Tim’s voice trails off as he squints into the sun, gazing across the pasture. A wave of anguish washes over his face. “They are thinking, considerate creatures.”
Bonney consults with local veterinarian Dr. Alicia Grossman whenever he needs an anatomy lesson, and calls her in for anything major, like surgeries. He performs all wound care and injections himself. “If it was a vet coming out here twice a day, nobody would do it.”
Handling these gentle giants has been a revelation for the Bonneys. Early on, the horses had Terry running to close a gate behind her, not because the animals were aggressive, but because she was unsure of them.
“Before we moved here, the biggest animal we’d ever been around was a German shepherd,” says Tim.
Rarely do animals spend time at Safe Harbor, recuperate, then go home. Rather, most that arrive, stay. “It’s a hospice,” says Tim.
“We allow them to decide, and we help them, especially if there’s pain, to exit. When it’s time,” says Terry, “it’s obvious, but we want to give them all every possible day in the sun.”
Safe Harbor animals come from those who can’t care for them. Several have experienced trauma at the hands of humans.
“Ace was being abused,” says Tim. “A woman sued the owners and won him in a court battle, but couldn’t afford him.”
Tim has welcomed each owner who relinquished a horse to visit anytime. “They say they love them,” he says, “but they never come back.”
Several owners have guilted him into action. “They tell me, ‘If you don’t take him, I’m going to shoot him.’”
The Bonneys are now skilled caretakers. They’ve developed techniques to help fallen horses get up again, and have helped horses convalesce and heal from conditions or injuries that experts have insisted were beyond hope.
“I built a penthouse for Yellow,” he says, their name for the Weather Port on the property. “There were no structures when we got her,” says Terry. “We got Yellow and had to hurry up and put something up quickly.”
“Everyone said, ‘He’s not going to go in there,’” says Tim. After Yellow was treated, “He ran in there and lay down, for months.” Taking weight off Yellow’s leg allowed it to heal. “So he didn’t develop laminitis.” Laminitis is an inflammation of the lamina, a plate on the bottom of the hoof. Too much weight bearing upon it can cut off blood supply. It’s a common condition for horses here, grazing on rich, Gunnison Valley grass throughout the summer, growing too fat, too fast. It’s also common in injured horses, bearing too much weight on a good foot while favoring a sore one.
“He still loves it in there. In fact, I think he’s in there right now,” says Terry. “He prefers the penthouse to the barn.”
Winter is especially challenging for these fragile animals and their caretakers. “Vascularly, they’re compromised,” says Tim.
The Bonneys have been caring for abandoned, neglected and abused animals since Yellow, eight years ago. In 2011, Safe Harbor Ranch was officially founded as a 501(c) non-profit.
Today, 15 horses, two mules, two donkeys, six alpacas, 15 sheep, three llamas and five dogs have found refuge with the Bonneys, surrounded by lush Ohio Creek Valley pastureland north of Gunnison. “All rescues,” says Tim, including the dogs.
Terry says she’d like to offer a kids’ day each month, welcoming children to visit with their parents, brush the horses, help muck stalls and learn about the animals. “We encourage hands-on touch,” she says, which is therapeutic for critters and humans alike. A monthly senior day is in the works, too.
Delaney Keating and her daughter, Cooper, visit Safe Harbor Ranch regularly. “Terry’s a great teacher and she’s really bonded with Cooper,” says Keating. “When someone has that kind of passion, you just get sucked in. It’s hard work, but Cooper loves it. The donkeys are fun. Hosing off the alpacas, that’s her favorite. I also feel it’s important for a person to shovel someone else’s sh** once in awhile. It’s our way of giving back to the community.”
The Bonneys’ woolly charges produce ample, plush fleece. “We have Jacob’s and Shetland sheep,” says Terry, two uncommon breeds in the area. Alpaca fiber is also prized. She hopes to offer yarn at next year’s farmers market, but has plenty available now, if anyone’s interested.
Ranchers donate hay to Safe Harbor, but it’s not enough. “It’s not sustainable for two people,” says Terry. “We need the community behind us.” Volunteers, cash contributions and donations of feed and supplies are all welcome and appreciated.
“My patients are my buddies,” says Dr. Tim. His practice is decidedly small, which allows him to split his time between doctoring and the ranch. Manageable as it is, Tim admits the inherent challenges in his original line of work, yet insists it’s a perfect balance. “You may ask, ‘What do I do for the horses?’ The better question is, ‘What do they do for me?’ If I’ve had a stressful day, I come home, and [a horse named] Diamond rests his head on my shoulder.”
Tim makes a sweep of his hand across the visual expanse of Safe Harbor Ranch, to include all his four-legged buddies. “This complements my work.”

To learn more about Safe Harbor Ranch and how you can help with food, blankets, or money, or to sponsor an animal, go to www.safeharborranch.org.

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