“That’s my dog!” [screams, enters the house to call police as a wolfdog carries her dog’s dead body in its mouth]
“Yeah. Don’t…you take another bite of him!” [returns to the front porch, a wolfdog stands over the corpse]
“Hey! Hey! You’re supposed to be domesticated. Listen!” [a second wolfdog arrives at the corpse]
“Obviously, you’re not.”
“Leave my dog alone!”
“Hey. Hey!” [Man appears with a leash, tries to catch the three wolfdogs]
“He’s fucking dead!” [crying]
“How did this happen? How did they get out? They’re not supposed to.” [she says to him]
In the cell phone video, Breanne (Borlin) Kozera cries as Oakley, her chihuahua-terrier mix, lies dead in the grass. Wandering around her parents’ yard, Blue, Lazlo and Celine, wolfdogs from nearby Predators of the Heart (POTH), are difficult to distinguish from large, white and / or gray husky mixes. On social media, Breanne commented, “My dog was in his own house until 30 seconds before he lost his life. He was ON HIS OWN property when he was murdered.” When completing the NOTICE OF INTENT TO DECLARE DOG DANGEROUS forms for the wolfdogs, the Skagit County Animal Control officer checked the box indicating that they, “Killed a domestic animal livestock without provocation while off the owner’s property.” Having been declared dangerous dogs, all three wolfdogs would be subject to the same stringent restrictions, including: yearly registration, special signage and confinement “with secure sides and a secure top.” In addition, the owner must have a $250,000 insurance policy to cover the costs of “any person injured by the dangerous dog.” The subsequent USDA inspection report reads in part, “According to the licensee, the three [escapees] were quickly recalled back to the facility…however, ‘Celine’ killed a small dog. Due to the local animal control regulations, the facility elected to euthanize that animal.”
Twenty-five years ago, a pastor’s son named William David “Dave” Coleburn filed the paperwork to establish Predators of the Heart as a nonprofit corporation, listing its purpose as “educational and religious.” During the early years, Dave ran it (which, since 2001 has been located on a 10-acre property just off of Welch Lane) under a USDA Class C “Exhibitor’s” license, with a minimal budget. From 2008 through 2016, according to documents filed with the Washington Secretary of State, the organization reported an average revenue of $77,000. In 2009, Dave and his wife Denise purchased the property adjacent the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL) within which the organization had been in operation and continues to be today.
In 2012, after someone reported “a big white dog which may have been hurt, loose in the Heart Lake area,” a City of Anacortes animal control officer arrived at ACFL Trail 304 accompanied by her tracking dog. She quickly realized “that this was not a dog but a wolf” and reported that “it stood its ground and had its head lowered and tail down,” “started to come towards [the officer and her dog],” gave “a little growl,” and “was starting to circle [them].” It took her plus two police officers to get the wolfdog into the animal control vehicle, where it proceeded to tear its fabric canopy to shreds. Eighteen hours earlier, it had escaped its enclosure, about two miles away from where they captured it. Dave wrote on FB, “Our White Wolfdog Shasta 60 lbs. jumped on a wooden crate, jumped on to a metal roof and off a 10 foot roof over a eight foot fence to the ground.” Not only had he not called in the wolfdog’s escape to animal control, he had “referred to the Wolf as a shepherd mix.” Animal Control cited and fined him for the incident.
Three years later, on April 9, 2015, Skagit County filed a complaint against Dave, his wife, and POTH, seeking “injunctive relief, to abate a nuisance, and to impose a civil penalty,” in response to a dangerous animals law enacted in the County in 2014 that prohibited ownership of exotic animals including some species housed at POTH. Dave explained his organization’s efforts in a video, which included a plea for supporters to contact the Skagit County Commissioners, “Originally, when we first started the program, we would go to schools and talk about predators stalking our kids: drugs alcohol murder and suicide…We’ve had no issues. Our animals don’t even have the opportunity to hurt anyone because they’re all contained and they’re safely housed.” Skagit County later “dropped the lawsuit after finding that while county code prohibits ownership of the animals, there is a state legal exemption for animals exhibited at state fairs,” a practice that POTH engaged in at that time under its Exhibitor’s license. Dave then filed articles of amendment to its articles of incorporation stating that POTH would not “allow…direct contact between the public and an animal…[or]…engage in breeding its animals in the sanctuary.” Two years later (August 5, 2017), it displayed content on FB about a litter of wolfdog puppies that it had bred.
Dave began offering Howling with Ambassadors (HWA) experiences in 2017, which allowed paying customers to visit the facility, observe and learn about its animals…and pet the wolfdogs. Howling with Ambassadors was a huge hit. At one time, it was the top-rated Airbnb experience in the world. POTH offered tours for $200 per person Monday through Saturday for up to ten participants per session, twice a day, with the potential to gross over 1.2 million dollars per year in Airbnb-related revenue.
Moving the wolfdogs from their enclosures to the public interaction area required restraining them. During a September 2018 tour, a hiker lost his way along an ACFL trail and entered POTH’s property, “Predators of the Heart owner Dave Coleburn, who was nearby with two wolves on leashes and a group of guests, warned the man that he was on private property and that he had wolves with him…One wolf broke away and bit the hiker’s dog, and a second wolf then broke away and joined the attack. Coleburn and others in the group tried separate the animals, but the wolves killed the dog.” According to the Incident Report, after escaping Dave’s grasp, Max “got away from the owner and grabbed the dog’s neck.” The hiker reported, “the wolf just held onto his dog’s neck and did not let go while “[Kakoa] broke loose…and grabbed the dog’s back.” Initially, the animal control officer “filled out the Notice of Intent to declare the two wolves…as Potentially Dangerous;” however, after a meeting (with Dave, the animal control officer and the Sheriff), the Sheriff decided that the two wolfdogs would not be declared potentially dangerous because “he did not feel there was a tendency to attack as this was the first known attack.” The incident prompted the City of Anacortes to post signs in the ACFL indicating the existence of POTH and the difference between coyotes and wolves.
Once the organization began these “experiences,” Dave got greedy. From 2017 through 2019, he demanded that the organization that he’d founded, led and run–barely in the black–for so long pay him over $440,000 in compensation. In June of 2020, after his behavior towards his employees, volunteers and customers became erratic, the Board staged a hostile takeover. Its members ousted him from the role he had held as president for over two decades and barred him from any position with the organization whatsoever. According to lawsuit-related legal documents, days after the coup he withdrew $177,000 from POTH’s account (which he eventually returned) and prevented workers from entering the facility to care for the animals for several days on two separate occasions during which he neglected them, “leading to the death of an animal [an armadillo].” After one of the takeovers, the staff returned to find its dead body in the freezer. It reported the death during the subsequent USDA inspection but told the inspector that it “died due to unknown circumstances.” A couple of weeks after the ousting, Dave filed a complaint against his daughter seeking “monetary damages [his $10,000 a month salary] and attorney’s fees. POTH countersued. Each side had its say and in January of 2022, they agreed on a settlement. POTH agreed pay Dave $25,000 in wages and $50,000 for attorney’s fees while Dave agreed to sell the Welch Lane property to POTH and stay off of it. The litigation cost the organization $177,766 in 2020 alone and cost Dave his: land, livelihood, marriage, and relationship with Ashley.
Sixteen months after Ashley took over as President, on October 19, 2021, three wolfdogs dug their way out of their fenced enclosure, entered a neighbor’s property and killed a rescue dog named Oakley. According to witness testimony, “[the neighbor’s mother-in-law] had heard some barking, looked outside, and saw all three wolves chasing after the smaller dog. Then the smaller sable colored wolf grabbed onto the small dog while the two larger white wolves were fighting with [the neighbor’s mil’s] German Shepherd. She was able to get her German Shepherd inside and all three wolves participated in playing tug of war with the dog. All three wolves appeared to be trying to feed on the small dog.” Ashley told the animal control officer that “the wolves got loose at 0928 and the staff had them back at 0958,” then blamed the dead dog for provoking the attack, refused to take responsibility for the wolfdogs’ actions, and during settlement negotiations, asked the dog’s person to sign an NDA. She refused. When the negotiations broke down, POTH’s insurance company agreed to pay Breanne $50,000 for the “unprovoked” attack on her dog. In private, it drafted an apology, “Many of you are aware of the unfortunate and tragic events that occurred last year. POTH has conducted a thorough investigation regarding the events, and it appears that our initial statements regarding the behavior of our neighboring dog were incorrect. While POTH wolves are often provoked by off-leash dogs in the neighborhood, there is no definitive evidence that this particular off-leash dog provoked the wolves,” which it never offered publicly. In fact, its president continued to blame the dead dog for the escape. In a February 22, 2023, FB video, Ashley deflected responsibility, “There was dig pattern coming from the outside in, where there is no electrical fence because there is not a leash law in Skagit County, allowing the neighbors’ dogs to run up and down our fence line.“ In other words, the dead dog dug the escape hole that allowed the wolfdogs to escape and kill him. The dog weighed 12 pounds, about the same as an average house cat.
Three weeks after the wolfdogs’ escape, Skagit County again filed suit against William and Denise Coleburn “for injunctive relief and to abate a nuisance being maintained by the Defendant on real property.” By offering its Howling with Ambassadors tours, POTH was operating an animal preserve without the permit required to do so. Under duress, it filed a Special Use Permit Application (in March of 2022) to become licensed as the “Animal Preserve Wildlife Education, Conservation and Sanctuary Center” that it had been operating as for the previous five years. “The Special Use application process provides an opportunity to recognize and permit land uses not specifically allowed in certain zoning designations…A Special Use permit allows a specific type of use or activity to occur in a zone, although it is not a preferred use in a zone, subject to conditions for construction and/or operation.” In the February video, Ashley assures followers that, “[Skagit County] is not requiring we get better fencing,” yet the County’s mitigation measures indicates, “The entire subject property for POTH must have primary perimeter fencing installed around the entire subject property” and “A second perimeter fence is required that is at least five (5) or more feet inward from the primary perimeter fence.” Why lie? Around the time of submission of the Permit application, Ashley filed a petition for an order of protection against her father for harassment.
In response to the SUP application, neighbors’ counsel’s written comments listed four reasons for opposing its approval, “A wild animal ‘sanctuary’ is incompatible with the neighboring properties because it poses a significant threat to the safety and health of the Welch Lane community,” “The proposed use violates the Skagit County Code,” “Predators already creates and will continue to create undue noise and odor for the surrounding dwelling units,” and “Predators and its frequent paid tours generate and will continue to generate intrusions on the privacy of surrounding uses.” Next, they delivered a cease and desist order demanding that the organization stop offering Howling with Ambassadors experiences and, in July, filed suit on behalf of ten neighbors (Edward Borlin et al) against POTH, Ashley and her parents (who owned the property), seeking the following relief: “A declaratory judgment that Predators’ activities constitute a public and/or private nuisance,” “A preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting Defendants…from engaging in any commercial activity on the Property that involves potentially dangerous wild animals; requiring Defendants to remove all potentially dangerous wild animals from the Property,”…and award damages to Plaintiffs. In spite of that, three days ago Ashley stated “We are being sued for the wolves howling.” Noise is listed as one of the reasons for opposing the SUP; however, she neglects to mention several other more significant reasons for it and the lawsuit.
KING 5 News video-reported on POTH’s plight last month, preying on the mostly uninformed public’s sentiments about the (not-actually-currently-a) sanctuary, in which it claimed, as it had after Skagit County’s filed the 2015 lawsuit, that up to 80% of the animals may have to be euthanized if they have to shut down. POTH set up a donation campaign through PayPal called Operation Relocation, soliciting 1.6 million dollars from followers to move the organization and its animals ($41,600 collected so far). With the cost of defending the neighbors’ lawsuit depleting their funds and the loss of the Airbnb experience revenue, POTH’s counsel is asking the Court to pause the litigation as it awaits the SUP hearing scheduled in July. It’s unlikely that POTH will be able to afford the County’s extensive list of mitigation measures, and even more unlikely that the County would approve the permit without the POTH complying with them.
In the meantime, Dave Coleburn refuses to accept defeat. The same week that he was forced to sell the Welch Lane property to POTH, he purchased a 0.95-acre parcel designated Commercial in Oak Harbor and filed documents to obtain a USDA Class C license (since obtained) for a company called Northwest Wildlife Sanctuary. There, for $179 per person, he offers visitors an opportunity to observe the creatures housed in the 2,500 square foot structure on the property. The latest inspection report lists 28 of them, including two wolfdogs, two raccoons, one badger, two porcupine and nine guinea pigs. He has even offered to help rehome POTH’s animals.
POTH’s wounds are self-inflicted. Its menagerie doesn’t include a single wolf and the wolfdogs (which the staff nearly always refer to as “wolves”), according to the SUPA, are bred at the facility, ‘A common misconception is that our wolves are rescues—they are not. Our wolves are bred, and are taught/trained to be “ambassador” wolves—they help the general population to understand humans and are introduced to them at an early stage of their life.’ On the same application, POTH offers that it doesn’t always feed the animals, “Mammals and birds are fed daily Monday through Saturday and fasted on Sunday.” The USDA “requires that animals be fed at least once daily.”
If POTH’s Howling with Ambassadors experience were fully booked, it could bring up to 120 visitors per week to the otherwise quiet street. In a year, that’s up to 6,240 strangers driving past the neighbors’ houses (on 5-acre lots) and through their neighborhood, sometimes stopping by to ask directions, creating traffic, pollution and noise that wouldn’t otherwise exist–an unreasonable burden to place on a handful of homes and their inhabitants. That, in addition to several escapes and the death of two domestic dogs is evidence enough to support the neighbors’ attempts to prevent POTH from becoming an animal preserve. From personal (Howling with Ambassadors) experience, I can see why POTH has such an enormous following: the volunteers and staff members who care for the organization’s creatures are excellent. Ashley Carr is unarguably a better leader now than Dave was near the end of his term as president, but rather than take full responsibility for everything the organization and its animals do now and have done in the past, she continues to deny, deflect and be dishonest.