By Bill Johnson, Denver Post
Toni Phillips called the other day from the front seat of her pickup now parked on 80 desolate acres outside of Guffey, just her and 55 of the dogs that remain.
I have written of her often, mostly because I love the work she does, work that I think is special, that is needed, work that not only saves dogs from the euthanasia needle but rescues their owners as well.
She founded Mariah's Promise, a nonprofit, no-kill animal sanctuary, more than 20 years ago.
I last wrote of her a few months ago, after her husband, Mike, saw his business go under and they filed bankruptcy and were evicted from their home in Divide.
They were searching for a place to start over. The couple landed in the field near Guffey.
"I'm camping; I really am," said Toni Phillips, 53. "It's me, Mike, the 55 dogs, some kennels, a generator and a well. We're sleeping in the back of the pickup."
The land belongs to a woman named Paula, a benefactor and volunteer with Mariah's Promise for six years, who is letting them camp there until they figure out a next step.
Phillips is a tough ol' gal. It is her favorite way to describe herself. Yet in conversation, you can hear a lot of hesitation, a sign the hard edges might be softening a bit.
You had 87 dogs when we spoke last, I remind her. The other 32 either went back to their owners, she says, or found homes at no-kill shelters. She cannot take in any more.
She still gets more than a dozen calls a day, people seeking a shelter to take a pit bull.
There was a girl the other day who was in a panic because her neighbors in Denver had fled and left their pit bull.
It meant certain death if the city came for it. So Toni Phillips made a few calls to foster homes and shelters outside of the city. It is a good sign that the girl has not called back saying things didn't work out, she says.
The daily calls are a reflection of the still-terrible economy and the way it continues to wreck people and their pets, she says.
People end up out of work and homeless. They suffer. The dog suffers worse, she says. She used to be there for them. She can't anymore, she spits.
A different benefactor has agreed to purchase a Woodland Park property off Colorado 24 that Phillips says would be perfect for Mariah's Promise.
"A win-win for everyone," she calls it.
The benefactor has agreed to lease it back to her and Mike, but they must first come up with $15,000 of lease payments and earnest money.
So she has launched a pledge drive at thepoint.com/campaigns/campaign-0-564. If she doesn't reach that amount by July 5, all donations will be refunded, she said.
She spends her days, she says, praying the Woodland Park offer will work. If it does, she vows, she will "work smarter."
Still sitting in the pickup, she laments the fundraising, what her life has become.
"Maybe I'm just not bright enough to stop it all," Toni Phillips says. "But the calls, the e-mails ..."
Her voice trails off.
"I just can't."