The sign on the door at Kathy and Tim Osborn’s Craig home greets visitors with the words, “Welcome to the zoo.”
To the contrary, the scene inside the house is almost serene, as Kathy sits in a green leather chair, surrounded by deep green walls with dark pinewood trim.
At her feet is Gunther, a 130-pound bull mastiff. A schnauzer poodle mix, Homer, lies on a nearby chair.
Only Walter, a Shih Tzu, wanders around, his bulging eyes watching Kathy’s every move.
“My favorite part of evening is when I’m just sitting here, and I look around and I just see a bunch of quiet, content dogs,” Kathy said.
The only thing different about a usual evening in the Osborn house is that there usually are more dogs, all rescued in some form or another, strewn around on chairs and empty patches of floor.
From a slinky border collie — who Kathy says is the “alpha dog” — to Slim, an enormous black lab and German shepherd mix, the Osborn family has expanded throughout the years to include any dog that gravitates toward them.
“We don’t pick them, they pick us,” Kathy said. “They just seem to find our family. We have an uncanny ability to end up with dogs with medical issues. Right now, we’re in the middle of a dog with rectal cancer, and we’re struggling with that.”
The number of dogs fluctuates, but Kathy said she’s always been able to count her canine friends on both hands.
She said her home can sometimes feel like a zoo, when all the dogs and the family’s three cats are wound up and tromping around the living room.
“We go through a lot of vacuum bags and poop bags,” she said. “Now, when I clean, I check the ceiling for Gunther’s drool.”
Even with a handful of dogs young and old, the Osborns manage to keep track of every birthday.
Since the dogs are all adopted, they usually figure out their ages and assign them a random date to celebrate once a year.
In the case of Walter, the Shih Tzu who turns 12 in a few weeks, he was assigned the same birthday as the shelter worker who put the dog in Kathy’s hands more than a decade ago.
“We counted back and realized that his age put his birthday close to hers, so we just used hers,” Kathy said. “Her name was Julie, I can still see her. Now, we know that every time he has a birthday, so does Julie.”
Walter, like many of the other dogs in the house, was named after a patient in the nursing home Kathy and Tim used to work at. She said he has tendencies to resemble his namesake in crankiness and gratitude.
“You have to be careful, because sometimes they end up turning out just like the people we named them after,” she said with a laugh.
Kathy calls Walter her “one in a million dog,” but many others might not see him that way because of his reputation for defiance and the occasional bite.
She knows in many other situations, Walter might not have been accepted into a forever home.
“I’m convinced God put Walter in our life,” Kathy said. “If he had been adopted by anyone else, he would have been put down.”
Walter is one of the tattle-tales of the group, who barks when other dogs jump on the bed or bring their toys outside.
Kathy said the myriad personalities teach her lesson after lesson about social interaction, love and forgiveness.
“You learn something from every single one of them,” she said.
From Walter’s defiance, she has learned that love is patient and kind; it was more than a year before she was able to bond with him in a significant way.
“They make me a better person for the rest of the people on this planet,” she said.
Tim also has learned from the animals, like Burt, who follows his every move and often sleeps on his lap on his recliner.
“You learn to be compassionate and sensitive to other people,” he said. “Dogs will always give you another chance.”
But the lessons of the pack often are bittersweet. The more dogs the Osborns collect, the more loss they experience.
Kathy has adopted dogs that have lived only a year or two under her care.
Gunther the mastiff is one such gentle giant, who came to the Osborn home last year at age seven when his family was no longer able to take care of him.
“Mastiffs don’t live that long,” she said as she scratched behind his ears on his watermelon-sized head. “We knew we wouldn’t have much time with him. Even if we had him since the day he was born, it wouldn’t be enough time. He’s a wonderful dog.”
Slim, a large black lab mix, is another animal Kathy prays will have many more joyful romps outdoors before his time is up.
For the past year, the Osborns have taken him to veterinary specialists on the Front Range to remove cancerous tumors once every few months.
He sometimes needs pain medicine, but the Osborns didn’t think twice about all the added expense of keeping Slim healthy.
“He has a good quality of life,” she said. “I know he knows he’s sick. The other dogs know it. But he doesn’t let his health issues stop him. He still has good days, and we want to give him as many good days as we can.
“We put all the money into it even though we know there’s a good chance this will kill him, but it’s not about us, it’s about him.”
The memories from each and every dog that has lived in the Osborns’ house still linger, but Kathy said that grief and loss are nothing compared to the feelings she experiences when seeing an abused or underfed animal bound through the yard, happy for the first time.
“We don’t go out to replace a dog,” she said. “You can never replace one. Your heart just continues to grow with each one.
“There’s always room for more. I don’t know what my heart would do without them. What they give to us is far more than what we give to them.”