Center Valley Animal Rescue—an Amazing Journey

by Mac and MJ McCulloch, Contributing Writers

Although the Voice has previously published articles on Center Valley Animal Rescue (CVAR), it’s such a wonderful organization with so many innovative things happening that it’s time for an update. First, here’s a brief history.

In 2004 the Penhallegons purchased 32 acres north of Quilcene, and Sara Penhallegon founded CVAR. She has grown this organization, with the help of some great volunteers, into one of Washington’s best domestic and wildlife rescues. Currently CVAR rescues, rehabilitates, and adopts out over 100 domestic animals yearly. Wildlife rescue is a big part of the operation too, with CVAR being the only rescue facility in Jefferson County that takes in all animals.

Tatonka the bison and the long-suffering Thyme.

Here’s an update on Tatonka, the baby bison rescue (see January 2019 Voice article for details). Baby no more, he continues to live up by Sara and Robert’s house. He is still extremely bonded to Sara as evidenced by his concern and unwillingness to leave her side when she recently took a fall. But he is a huge, powerful animal, now taller than Sara, so she’s careful not to get too close or turn her back on him. Tatonka is still good buddies with his steer companion Benson, and has some supervised contact with his favorite dog, Thyme, whose ears he still loves to lick. Sara says the main problem is that he’s pretty destructive and his favorite thing is to crash through gates. Regular electric fences do not hold him, so they have installed bison-certified ones. However, recently Tatonka has discovered if you push your big play ball against the electric fence, you don’t feel the shock. Stay tuned for the next solution.

Tatonka also shares his pasture with two other “unadoptables,” Blackie, the feral gelding that Sara spent many long days trying to rescue, and Bran, whom she fondly calls “her killer alpaca.” When asked what other animals currently reside at her residence above the facility, Sara says they are at an all-time low—outside, only her flock of chickens, her roosters, a turkey, and an emu. Inside are just four cats, and the aforementioned dog Thyme, Hardly any at all, really, compared to the usual Dr. Dolittle menagerie. Visitors to the household open doors with caution.

Sarah and A Goat

Wildlife rescue numbers are currently down temporarily because the summer season is over. The number of cats and dogs available for adoption is low too, because people have been taking them home in record numbers during Covid-19. Sara says she is not too concerned about people being able to care for their new pets after returning to the workplace, because CVAR’s very careful screening of adopters includes making sure they have a plan for this transition.

Here is one truly fascinating CVAR wildlife rescue story. A few months ago, a young assistant came running to Sara saying he had just caught a cougar on the property. Her first thought was “I wonder what he’s on?” Sara went to look at what she surmised would be a large feral cat, but saw it was indeed a young cougar who had burrowed into an outside animal enclosure. The assistant had the presence of mind to shut the enclosure door, so had really “caught a cougar.” The cat was a year-old female who normally would have been relying on her mother for help hunting for at least another year. But the mother had most likely been killed illegally shortly before in Quilcene. The young cougar was extremely emaciated and had probably entered the enclosure to die. Sara got rare permission from the State Department of Fish and Wildlife to feed and treat this cat. This is normally not permitted because of the difficulty of teaching a cougar to hunt in captivity, making release impossible.

At first, Sara fed the cougar small, frequent meals, throwing bits of food into the enclosure and scooting in buckets of water. After gaining a little strength, the cat would sit up waiting for Sara and catch the bits of food like a dog. However, an exam to assess the cat’s needs was necessary, so when the cougar was strong enough Sara tried to sedate her by darting her from outside the enclosure. This only made the cat woozy, so our heroine undauntingly donned a football helmet and entered the enclosure to further sedate her via hypodermic. This worked and luckily the cougar was neither injured nor suffering from disease; she was simply starving. With proper nutrition her personality quickly changed. She literally shredded the indestructible fiberglass walls of the enclosure into confetti trying to escape. Fortunately, Fish and Wildlife quickly found a good placement in a natural-habitat zoo in Texas. She was flown out of SeaTac to Dallas, and is adjusting well in her new home. Sara’s last words on the subject were, “This is the first time we’ve had an animal check itself in for rehab.”

Don’t try to pet this sweet-looking pussycat.

This year CVAR’s seizures due to severe animal neglect and cruelty have been way up. Most likely this is due to people stuck at home these long months taking their frustrations out on their animals, Also, individuals with reduced income who can no longer afford their pets don’t want to face that fact. Additionally, because most people are home now, they might be more aware of and willing to report their neighbors’ unacceptable actions towards animals.

The stories of these animal seizures are usually heart-wrenching. Sara spoke of one little dog they rescued who had been thrown against a wall, and a Doberman who had been abused by continual shocks from a shock collar. This dog also had neck scars and a tracheal injury from a pinch collar. The dog was unapproachable and vicious at first, terrifying volunteers and destroying the isolation room. Sara was the only one she trusted because as Sara put it, “She didn’t have a choice, I equaled food. Also, after we sedated her for an exam, I held her in my lap as she came out of the anesthesia, so she started to trust me then.” With Sara’s patient care, she finally became adoptable and was placed with a family who had Doberman experience. They sent a family Christmas photo that featured the dog with reindeer antlers on her head. This Dobie had come a long way.

Another sad case this year also had a happy ending. Pepper the dog and Misty the cat came to CVAR after being seized as part of a child abuse case. Four children were also permanently removed from the home. Part of the kids’ abuse had involved being made to watch their pets being maltreated. Thanks to a detective’s long, hard work with CVAR and other agencies, when two of these children went to their new adoptive home, Pepper was already a new adoptee there too.

The above examples, along with the increased numbers from hoarding cases, feral cat colonies, and puppy mills have made for a very busy, but successful, year in adoptions. There are always animals needing homes, of course—does anyone need a herd of miniature cattle or Jacob’s sheep?

However, more animals mean increased funding is needed, and there is always a long wish list of new projects and expansions. This year CVAR has partnered with Olympic Mountain Pet Pals in a joint Spay and Neuter Clinic, with plans to increase the clinics to once weekly. Also, CVAR has hired more staff—a full-time office manager and volunteer coordinator, a part-time administrative person, and a fundraising and marketing coordinator. There are three volunteer internship positions now as well, including one that comes complete with a newly-built apartment.

Another work in progress is a larger animal enclosure which allows Sara to look forward to her first bear rescue. Lucky her! There is also a newly-completed spacious flight cage for unreleasable education birds. CVAR also has three unreleasable racoons in an enclosure close to the parking lot, so they can easily be viewed when open hours resume. Future plans include new isolation and dog buildings, as well as expanded wildlife areas.

Sara’s newly-retired husband Robert, whom she affectionately calls her “highest maintenance animal,” is adding a new skill to his long repertoire. He is busy working on raising funds to buy an excavator and is learning to operate one. That will cut way down on construction costs. The excavator will also help to clear an additional 15 acres of their property for new pastures. And the list goes on.

Sara frequently says that none of CVAR’s growth would have been possible without their army of volunteers. Opportunities to help do the great work of this stellar operation are always available, so if you’re interested in volunteering or making a donation, please visit their website at or call (360)-765-0598. (You can also call this number for advice on any injured animal you discover.)

Thank you for supporting this exceptional organization so it can continue its important work to help the critters of Jefferson County.