a woman sitting on a couch with three dogs
Payton’s Promise Sanctuary is currently home to eight special-needs and elderly dogs – including Simon, Noelle, Momo, Lina and Tanner – all receiving care from founder Karen Thomas. NATALIE LUCCO-DANKO/Contributed

Karen Thomas, the dog-loving founder of Payton’s Promise Sanctuary in Marathon, embodies the kind of selflessness people associate with angels. This sanctuary offers a haven for homeless, special-needs and elderly dogs that might struggle to find forever homes elsewhere. At Payton’s Promise, these pups receive the love, care and nurturing environment they deserve for the rest of their lives. 

The sanctuary’s namesake is from a German shepherd by the name of Payton Rose that Thomas cared for in 2020. But her dedication goes beyond the physical. Thomas strives to gain insights into the dogs’ emotional and social needs, fostering a deeper understanding of each furry resident. The goal is a haven brimming with love and empathy, where the dogs feel safe, loved and empowered to heal on their own terms.

“Payton was very loud and bossy,” said Thomas, adding that the German shepherd inspired her to begin creating the sanctuary. “I kept telling her, ‘Payton, after I see you through your journey, I promise you I will start the sanctuary,’ and thus Payton’s Promise Sanctuary was born.”

Thomas leverages her background as a registered nurse to provide care for the dogs at Payton’s Promise. She said her 30-plus years of experience translate seamlessly into wound care, meticulous medication schedules and informed assessments of the dogs’ well-being, allowing her to make compassionate decisions that prioritize quality of life. Thomas is also an author and a Healing Touch for Animals practitioner. 

“It was my initial intention to take only hospice dogs that had a short lifespan so I could give them their best last days … and let them cross the Rainbow Bridge of love and respect for all the things that they do, which I still do,” said Thomas. “But what I found is that they are treated so well here that they are recovering and living much longer lives. It’s pretty amazing.”

Thomas’ dedication extends beyond Payton’s Promise. While managing the sanctuary full-time, she operates a business offering remote expertise in animal communication and energy healing to private clients. This allows her to assist animals facing various challenges, including health issues, behavioral problems, stress, anxiety and even end-of-life transitions. Thomas’ passion for animal welfare fuels her desire to help not only the dogs at the sanctuary, but also those in shelters, sanctuaries and rescue organizations across the wider community.

Payton’s Promise Sanctuary relies solely on the kindness of its supporters. Every wagging tail saved is thanks to generous donations – at the moment, there’s no government or local funding. A new website offers direct donation options, or to help by following and sponsoring a particular pup or choosing donated items from Amazon and Chewy wish lists.

“A lot of my dogs have very specific needs and are on special diets,” said Thomas, “so while donating general types of food is really generous, we really are in need of very specific items for each individual dog.”

With eight adorable dogs calling Payton’s Promise Sanctuary home, Thomas is always looking for loving volunteers and helping hands to help raise money. For more information, visit or visit “Payton’s Promise Sanctuary” on Facebook and Instagram.

Jen Alexander
Jen Alexander is a teacher and volleyball coach at Sugarloaf School. She is a lover of travel, adventure, action, home improvement and family. A self-proclaimed "master of none," she is a doer of all and partaker of anything fun and exciting.