The Redland Dog Sanctuary is only one and half years old, but its founder and director, Junior, has been helping rescue dogs ever since he emigrated to this country from Brazil twenty-five years ago. He first came to the US to get medical help for one of his triplets, but eventually brought his whole family here to stay.
Trained as a veterinarian in Brazil, he began working as a dog groomer and trainer in Redland, Florida, eventually building up his dog grooming business into a sizable enterprise that included 25 mobile groomers, and employing all three of his children.
Eventually, though, as usually happens, his kids wanted to make their own way, so he scaled down his business and now trains others to be groomers and trainers (and his three children are now an engineer, an architect, and a med student).
Junior is a wonderful storyteller, with a warm personality, and a way with animals. One might (and an awful lot of rescues in south Florida might also) call him a dog whisperer.
His sanctuary takes in the dogs that others have given up on. The reactive dogs, the aggressive dogs, the dogs often the first to die in a shelter get a second chance here. Junior is able to rehabilitate 85% of them.
Local rescues and the Miami-Dade shelter reach out to Junior to assist them with dogs they don’t know how to handle. He does behavioral assessments for pretty much everyone and anyone, but they aren’t like the typical behavioral assessments that shelters do in a few hours (often as soon as a dog arrives). Junior brings the dogs to the sanctuary and spends a month, or longer, with them. He gives them a chance to relax and show who they really are.
Because Junior won’t give up on a dog, many of the most difficult dogs end up staying with him at the sanctuary much longer than a month. I tried to pin him down on how long, but it could be years if that’s what it takes to reach a dog. Like Cane, the Cane Corso who has become a bit of a mascot at Redland. He’s here for good now, unless the perfect adopter happens along. Cane has a bit of a rap sheet and has been disappointed multiple times by different organizations who professed to have his best interests at heart.
Ain-hoa, one of the volunteers who works with Junior, explained that Cane has a few triggers, and you just need to know them. Cane barked at me when I approached his kennel. It was a pretty intimidating experience as he likely weighs as much as I do. But then Ain-hoa, who had been petting him through the fence stepped beside me and put her hand on my arm, and addressed Cane. “She’s a friend, Cane. She’s a friend.” He calmed down almost as if he understood her.
Junior is often the last chance for a dog. He has about 45 dogs on the property when we visited him and was technically ‘full.’ I asked what he would do if another dog needed him and he shrugged and said, “I’ll have to find a place for another.”
Junior’s dogs come from other rescues, but many are dogs he picks up on the vast network of dirt roads that crisscross Redland and its thousands of acres of nurseries and citrus groves. Junior is a wealth of knowledge about dogs and about rescue in Redland, which he says is ranked number one in the nation for dumping dogs. He has been helping other rescues in Redland for years, and spoke highly of the new director of the Miami-Dade shelter where he pulls dogs who are running out of time. He is hopeful that she is here to find better outcomes for the huge number of dogs the shelter handles.
Junior lives at the Sanctuary along with Randy, who he is mentoring to be able to train the dogs too. Randy was an early investor in Junior’s work. Initially, he was only investing financially in this business of saving lives, but now he is there working every day caring for the dogs. He told me that when he has to travel for his work four days a month, he really misses the dogs. It’s just the two of them and another volunteer who occasionally helps to handle a workload that seems immense.
Most of the dogs live in outdoor kennels and large pens. Junior believes they are healthier and happier outside. All the dogs looked great and after an initial bit of barking at our approach, relaxed again lounging in the grass and on picnic tables. Junior handed out pig ears to the dogs who were in large kennels under a pavilion. Everyone seemed pretty content.
A man who adopted a dog that Junior rehabilitated recently arranged to have two brand new unneeded FEMA trailers donated and installed on the property which will help Junior to do even more. The trailers are air-conditioned and have bathrooms.
I asked how people could help and Junior shook his head. I don’t know if it’s a Brazilian thing or a Junior thing, but he told me he doesn’t feel right asking for money. Currently, he and Randy fund the sanctuary. Randy works for an airline and Junior continues to train groomers and trainers. Occasionally, a grateful adopter or advocate makes a donation.
Junior believes the answer to the problem of so many damaged and unwanted dogs is education. He runs a training program for teenagers whose families have adopted dogs to teach them how train and groom their dogs. Junior being Junior, he works in life lessons too about consistency and paying attention and caring for your health.
I had originally wondered if this was really a rescue, not a sanctuary, but I believe it is both. There are so many souls being healed at this sanctuary. What Junior does is unique, but I know that trainers and rescuers who work with reactive and aggressive dogs are hard to come by and usually charge immense prices for their work.
As Junior said time and again during our visit, these dogs just need time and space. But more than that, they need someone who won’t give up on them. This remarkable man, living here at the very bottom of Florida is saving the dogs no one believes are saveable.
Rescue, sanctuary, call it whatever you want, clearly, miracles happen here.
Until each one has a home,
The mission of Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is to raise awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them.
You can learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020). It’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold go to help unwanted animals in the south.
Amber’s Halfway Home is our short documentary film produced in partnership with Farnival Films. It follows the work of a remarkable woman and one day of rescue in western Tennessee. Selected for sixteen film festivals (to date), it’s won eight awards (including Best Short Doc, Best Soundtrack, Best of Fest, and Audience Choice), and was nominated for an Emmy! It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story we hope will compel viewers to work for change. Please watch it and share it far and wide.