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
Furry Friends began forty years ago as a volunteer-based Humane Society. The 2-year-old adoption center and medical clinic we visited is in Jupiter. Jason, the new director is not new to Furry Friends.
After spending fifteen years in the entertainment industry, he ‘retired’ (he’s 41) to Florida and wanted to find a way to help animals. First, he created a sanctuary for exotic animals in need of rescue at his home; he has all kinds of animals including a zebra, lemur, and a kangaroo. He also began serving on the board of Furry Friends.
Together with the chairman of the board, Steve, they dreamed up a future for Furry Friends that expands the current vision and extends to the Ranch – 33 acres in Palm City. As Jason and Steve both explained, they want to help move Florida from their spot in the top five states killing animals. To that end they have plans for a mobile spay/neuter and vaccine clinic they can take to low-income, underserved communities.
The rescue pulls from crowded Animal Control facilities and small overwhelmed rescues. They’ve just purchased a bus that will be used for disaster relief and transports to move animals from Florida to states where they need more animals.
They’d like to expand their shelter to service dog training program to help more veterans. Currently, they have a full time trainer who is a former marine and understands how a service dog can change a life. Inspired by her own service dog, Teesha became a trainer herself so she is uniquely qualified to evaluate not just potential dogs, but potential recipients, playing matchmaker and also deciding when a retired service member is ready for a service dog, and whether they need a fully trained service animal or would benefit from an emotional support animal. Furry Friends has two programs training dog for both jobs.
There are three full-time vets at their attached medical clinic. One is the shelter vet and the others are clinic vets who work with community animals (many of which are dogs and cats adopted from the rescue). The veterinary clinic stayed open throughout COVID, continuing to do spay/neuter surgery and care for the shelter and community animals.
After our visit at the facility in Jupiter, we drove out to the ranch. It is a peaceful, beautiful place with crushed shell paths and lush foliage, and space for the rescue’s big dreams.
Steve gave us a tour, showing us where the Pup Town would be (separate bungalows for moms and pups with birthing suites), the new training facility that is partially completed (in a building formerly a stable that still houses two horses), and the cat house where fifty cats lounged around with their caretaker on their own lanai and inside in a spacious, cat-centric space.
We walked through the adoption center at the ranch and the small and large dog kennels. Most of the dogs were outside, enjoying the roomy outdoor kennels (with misters and fans ready to go when the weather turns hot) and huge, shady play yards. There are several new enormous trailers on the property that were donated and will provide temporary space for a veterinary clinic, puppies space, and quarantine. The trailers are basically new; they were originally vaccination trailers for COVID, so they have HEPA filters, separate rooms, bathrooms and water.
The entire property is fully wired with fiber optics throughout. In addition to medical, training, and kennel facilities, there is also a secluded building for behavioral dogs who need their own space. Some will live out their lives at Furry Friends and others will be rehabilitated. Furry Friends has a full-time behaviorist to work with the dogs.
The property will have a community dog park and be able to hold training classes for the public. They are currently doing their homework to learn about sanctuaries so that they can establish one on the ranch for dogs who are not adoptable.
I asked Jason what I ask every director—how do we solve this problem of so many unwanted and mistreated animals? He didn’t give me the answer I usually get (spay and neuter), although from his plans it’s clear he knows that is a key component. He said the way we do it is through education. He is developing a humane education program for K-12 that can be integrated into curriculums using virtual reality-based gaming and delivered virtually. Thanks to the pandemic, our schools now know how to do that successfully, so it’s a matter of convincing school and government officials of the necessity of humane education.
There is so much to appreciate about this organization—the forward-thinking, the big dreams and plans, the programs like Seniors for Seniors (placing senior dogs with senior citizens and then covering all the medical expenses that plague older dogs and are out of reach for many older people who live on a fixed income).
Or the big dog food giveaway they just did in partnership with Stella & Chewy’s in which they gave out 100,000 pounds of high quality dog food to shelters and rescues all over Florida and beyond.
What I loved the most is the focus on solving Florida’s problem. They are working to build relationships and solve problems right here in their state and in their community. With 280 volunteers and a staff of 70, a supportive board, and innovative leadership, there is no doubt they will continue to lead the way in saving Florida’s dogs.
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.