Our last stop on our January shelter tour was a tiny animal control facility beside the wastewater treatment plant in Live Oak, Florida.
Mary, the sole ACO for Live Oak city shelter, was in the yard with a dog whose story haunted me the entire drive home. Mary picked up T-bone and another female dog (who could have been a mate or sister, as she looked just like him) after a woman called to say that her son had left the dogs at her house in a pen. She’d been feeding them by throwing food over the fence, but now the female wasn’t looking so good. The woman was too old to deal with the dogs, could Mary come get them?
Polk County, Florida is ranked first in Florida and fourth in the nation for number of dogs ‘euthanized’ each year. The Polk County shelter killed 5000 dogs in 2020. Which is even more remarkable considering 2020 was the year so many shelters were emptied (momentarily).
The only way a dog labeled a bully breed can leave the Polk County Shelter alive is if a rescue pulls it. They are not allowed to adopt out any bully breeds. In 2020, the county took in 16,000 dogs; they killed nearly a third of them.
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.
I first heard about the Redland Rock Pits Abandoned Dog Rescue when another ‘dog writer’ and friend wrote about it on her excellent blog.
I was horrified and drawn to this forgotten place on the very tip of Florida where thousands of dogs were dumped, left to fend for themselves, fight with each other, and possibly be eaten by alligators (my fear) in this remote spot next to the Everglades.
When we put together our Florida tour, I knew I had to see Redland for myself. So on a warm, rainy day, we traveled to Felix Varela High School to interview Yleana about the veterinary magnet program, and afterward she promised that we could follow her to see for ourselves what Pam had written about.
I often hear shelter directors say the way we fix this problem of so many unwanted dogs and the resultant neglect and cruelty is with the next generation. Well, on our last shelter tour, we had the opportunity to see it in action.
At Felix Varela High School in Miami Florida, a remarkable woman named Yleana runs the Veterinary Science magnet academy.
I have to explain, that no, we aren’t a rescue, but we help rescues. We aren’t a shelter either, but we help shelters too. We don’t transport or train dogs. And we have nothing to do with cats (mostly).
Because we don’t directly handle dogs (although we meet thousands), it’s sometimes hard to explain what we do or to ask for money to help us do it.
As we walked up the drive alongside the ring where a gleaming dark bay horse cantered like a metronome, my worlds collided. Having spent fifty years loving horses, many of those years riding, teaching, and training them, today was a special treat. Before they ever became rescue heroes and movie stars, Danny and Ron were already famous in the hunter/jumper world I once inhabited.
There’s a great energy at Furry Friends and their new director, Jason, (on the job 44 days when we visited) exudes a contagious positivity. The building is bright and airy and…fun.
From the lobby we watched as cats ascended the tower between the first and second floors. 40 cats live in this ‘free range’ space complete with shelves and cubbies and tunnels and toys galore. There is even an evening laser light show at random times throughout the night to keep them entertained. Want to see it for yourself? Watch it on their live stream on website – https://www.furryfriendsadoption.org/about-us/live-cam
Imagine a shelter where, instead of cages, the dogs live in bedrooms with their buddies. Where they get to play in enormous play yards with pools and obstacles and Astro-turf (which is really good for itching your back).
A Second Chance Rescue began in 2007 rescuing primarily puppies and kittens, but also some special needs dogs and cats. They are 100% volunteer-run and foster-based; each year they transport between 900 and 1100 animals to south Florida from Alabama (they also rescue a few from local places that reach out).
We happened to arrive in the area on the night they were receiving their monthly transport. So we got to see their beautiful, enormous, trick-out custom van arrive with 46 animals and watch as fosters arrived to pick them up.