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.
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.
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).
After nearly two weeks in Georgia and Florida (with one quick stop in NC), we are home and I’m sifting through all that we learned.
The chorus of too many dogs and not enough adopters, resources, or rescues were variations on the same theme. Just like other trips, we met heroic rescue coordinators, shelter directors, ACOs, kennel techs, and volunteers sacrificing selves and sanity to save dogs.
The biggest challenge continues to be changing minds and hearts. BSLs, ordinances, and prejudices condemn too many dogs regardless of the individual animal. Ignorance, culture, and too often access/affordability stymie efforts to spay and neuter to control the endless stream of puppies and kittens.
I don’t remember if it was Michelle or Liz who told me, “You are the drop in the pond, and we are the ripples.”
It was maybe the biggest compliment I’ve ever gotten. I’ve never actually met Michelle or Liz, two women who have become rescue sisters to me. Michelle lives in New Jersey and Liz lives in Florida.
I met both women as a result of my work advocating for shelter dogs. Both read my books and reached out wanting to be involved somehow. I had hoped to meet them in our travels in 2020, but like so much else, those trips were canceled.