Donna Buck-Davis always had weird pets as a kid.
Far beyond the usual cat or dog that lots of kids had, she often found herself taking care of a menagerie of sick and wounded animals that would seemingly show up out of nowhere at her family’s front door in Oklahoma.
And while her childhood companions included horned toads and snakes, her mother’s animal entourage came complete with a recuperated skunk and raccoon that followed her around pretty much wherever she went.
“My family believed in taking care of animals and not getting rid of them,” Buck-Davis’, now 70, said.
It was little surprise that even as a kid, Buck-Davis’ dream was to open an animal shelter one day. In 2004 while getting ready to retire from a civil service job on Fort Wainwright she started Loving Companions, the Interior’s only no kill shelter.
Buck-Davis moved to Fairbanks in 1988 when her now ex-husband was stationed at Fort Wainwright. She had always wanted to live in Alaska and loved it immediately. The massive wooded expanse of the state and its wild animals was just what she was looking for.
“When I got to Alaska I said to myself, ‘Oh! I get to live here,” she said.
At the time, Buck-Davis was a reservist in the Navy, a job she said she “really, really liked.” But at the time the Navy was not maintaining a large fleet of ships, or any presence for that matter, in Interior Alaska. Buck-Davis applied to transfer her enlistment from the Navy to the Army, and it was granted.
The good news was she would become a medic in a reserve unit at Fort Wainwright but medical issues eventually sidelined Buck-Davis. A problematic and extremely painful gall bladder and other medical issues made doing physical fitness tests, and thus promotion, impossible.
“I couldn’t do push-ups and sit-ups, and that’s when I gave up,” she said. “I felt like I was at a deadlock.”
Buck-Davis found a job on base that eventually led to another job at Fort Wainwright, working with family housing maintenance.
During the push to privatize on-base housing across the military, Buck-Davis accepted a transfer to the Department of Public Works. While Buck-Davis worked on base, she volunteered off base with the Fairbanks North Star Borough Animal Shelter. She only lasted about a year there however. At the time, the Borough Animal Shelter put down a significant amount of animals on a regular basis.
“I couldn’t get comfortable,” she said. “I would never get comfortable with that part of it.”
As Buck-Davis worked toward retirement, she started making trips to animal shelters around the country to learn the best practices and ins and outs of running a shelter.
Eventually, Buck-Davis founded Loving Companions and opened the doors in 2004, working both her job on base and at the shelter.
She took in 98 animals her first year. Now the shelter takes in about 1,000 with a strict no-kill policy. The shelter has an annual budget of about $100,000, run on donations and by pet adoption fees. The shelter staff, even Buck-Davis, are unpaid.
The shelter will take in almost any animal from all over Alaska. Dogs, cats, goats, bunnies, all form of reptiles and amphibians, hamsters, guinea pigs and fish are just the surface of what Buck-Davis takes in.
Buck-Davis doesn’t just run the shelter; she has been an active voice in the community for establishing pragmatic ways to deal with animal overpopulation.
She has a food bank for pets and also runs a service for people who have emergency medical needs and can’t afford a kennel for their pet.
Buck-Davis said she is content with herself and what she has done with the shelter.
“I really feel like I am offering to the community and pet owners something that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” she said.
Contact staff writer Will Morris at 459-7582.