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The Lifeline

Bringing you the best local stories in and around our community.

Much to Celebrate, Much Still to Do

Featured Photo from Much to Celebrate, Much Still to Do

Demand for new pets during the coronavirus crisis has emptied local animal shelters, right? Actually, not quite. While lots of local families have welcomed a new pet into their home, many four-legged friends are still hoping to find their perfect match.

So much has changed during the COVID-19 crisis, but one thing has unfortunately remained the same: there are still far too many homeless animals in dire need of assistance.

Across the country, animal lovers have stepped up to help shelters save the lives of a never-ending stream of kittens, puppies, dogs, and cats. Many families with extra time on their hands (due to shutdowns and stay-at-home orders) have chosen to foster and/or adopt a feline or canine buddy. In addition, companies and individuals have donated tons of pet food and supplies to shelters that were running low. Seminole County has been no exception to that type of generosity and kind-heartedness. Here, we introduce you to three local shelters and rescues that are doing wonderful work in our community to help homeless animals.

We’d also like you to meet several families who have opened their hearts and homes to furballs in need. In return, these Good Samaritans have been showered with hearty thank-yous from shelter and rescue workers, plus plenty of puppy-dog kisses and kitty-cat purrs.

Almost Empty

Seminole County Animal Services has come justthisclose several times during the pandemic to having an empty dog kennel. If that ever happens, it will be a first for the Sanford shelter.

“We’ve done really, really well,” says Diane Gagliano, the shelter’s program coordinator. “Our dogs are at an all-time low because fewer are being brought into the kennel. We don’t know why we’re getting so few dogs in, but we’re very thankful about it. Pretty much as soon as we get them fixed and into adoption, they get adopted.”

In addition to dogs, the shelter adopts out cats, small animals such as guinea pigs, and the occasional livestock animal. The shelter, established in the early 1970s, typically houses between 60 and 75 adoptable canines. New dogs still come in almost daily, but in recent months, the number of adoptable dogs in the kennel has often dropped into the single digits.

Cats are another story, though. That’s because the spring and summer months are known as kitten season, when countless litters are born.

“We are doing a lot of adoptions of cats, but we are getting a ton in,” says Diane, adding that the shelter’s foster network cares for the kittens until they are old enough to be adopted.

Diane hopes the goodwill that people have been showing toward homeless animals during the past few months will continue when people eventually resume their normal lives.

“These are the pets that brought you comfort and joy, and that you walked every day because you were working from home and had the time,” she says. “So, please don’t let them down once this pandemic is over. Make sure that you continue the walks and you continue giving them attention.”

Adoptions at Seminole County Animal Services are currently by appointment only. To learn more, call 407-665-5201 or visit SeminoleCountyPets.com

Worth the Wait
For Adrian Hodges and his wife, Tracy Terrell, the pandemic was the perfect time to adopt a dog because of the unexpected extra time they’ve had at home.

“We couldn’t go out, and we needed something else to occupy our time with, so we just turned to a dog,” says Adrian, who lives in Sanford.

The couple went to Seminole County Animal Services in June and asked to see the dogs that had been there the longest. They clicked with a pit bull terrier, a stray who had been at the shelter for 10 months. Adrian and Tracy liked everything about the white and brownish-red pooch except his name – Vader – which they thought would be better suited to an all-black dog.
Now known as Duke, the three-year-old pooch has settled into his new digs and has become best buddies with the couple’s cat.

“Duke is spoiled rotten, and he is very much loved,” Adrian says. “A lot of people out there have a lot of time on their hands right now and are really, really lonely. If they could adopt a dog or cat, they would have a companion.”

Best. Birthday. Ever!
Destiny Scale was adamant about what she wanted for her 11th birthday this summer.

“She kept saying, ‘All I want is a dog,’” says the girl’s mother, Nanetta Lovell of Sanford. “She had been begging and begging and begging.”

The child’s previous dog died of cancer last year, leaving her without a canine friend. Happily, Destiny’s dream of another dog came true when her family adopted one from Seminole County Animal Services in June. They chose Ox, an eight-year-old pit bull who had been surrendered by his owner.

“We just loved his demeanor; he was very calm,” Nanetta says. “We really lucked out with Ox. He’s very well-mannered and is such a sweetie. Destiny just adores him.”

When the family was looking for a dog, Nanetta lobbied for an older one.

“Everybody wants puppies or younger dogs,” she says. “The older dogs deserve to be out of the kennel and have a nice home. At least their ending will be happy. Ox may be eight years old,  but he’s young at heart.”

Not All Heroes Wear Capes
Diane Daye is regarded as a hero by the staffers at Seminole County Animal Services. That’s because she recently adopted one of the shelter’s oldest kitties – a toothless 16-year-old named Baby.

The shelter’s Facebook postings and pictures of Baby, who was owner-surrendered, pulled on Diane’s heartstrings.
“It would just be too sad for her to spend her senior years in a shelter,” says Diane, who began looking for a new cat after her previous one died.

Diane adopted Baby in June along with Maria (now called Midnight), a one-year-old black kitty who came to the shelter as a stray.

“Baby and Midnight have brought a bit of companionship and meaning to my life,” Diane says. “It’s kind of nice to have them to look after. They’re just so loving and really sweet.”

When Diane adopted the pair, the shelter posted this grateful note on Facebook: “Diane has given a retirement home to Baby, and we could not be more encouraged with the love and compassion our adopters show for our older animals.”

Constant Caring

Judy Sarullo, founder of Pet Rescue By Judy (PRBJ), has been preaching the same thing during the COVID-19 crisis that she always does.

“I just keep telling people to spay and neuter, spay and neuter,” says Judy, a rescuer since 1992.

Many of the Sanford rescue’s adoptable dogs and cats come from high-kill shelters, are surrendered by their owners, or are strays. Law enforcement agencies also bring in animals that are found in unsafe conditions.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to adopt quite a few of our animals out these past few months, but so many more are coming in, and we can’t refuse those,” Judy says.

Having a vacant shelter – no matter how briefly – would be an amazing experience, says longtime PRBJ volunteer Tricia Vega, but the milestone still eludes the organization.

“If people want to try to clear our shelter, we’re up to that challenge,” Tricia says. “It would let us open up our hearts and our rescue to even more animals. We would probably fill up again the next day.”

One benefit of adopting during these troubling times is that a furry friend can ease feelings of loneliness and isolation.
“People can’t hug each other right now, but they can hug their animals,” Judy says.

Tricia adds, “People crave contact. I’m hoping they will realize that the contact and camaraderie they’ve had with other humans can be shared with animals, as well.”

However, Judy cautions, adopting a pet is a decision that should not be taken lightly.

“This is not just a temporary thing to help you get through the lockdown time,” she says. “This is a lifelong commitment.”

Pet Rescue By Judy adoptions are currently by appointment only and for adopters with an approved application. For details about the nonprofit, no-kill rescue, call 407-302-4497 or visit PetRescueByJudy.com. 

A Fabulous Foster Failure
At first, Becca Teague was planning only to foster Houlie, a deaf Catahoula leopard dog who had been waiting patiently for a home of her own for more than two years. But after spending just one weekend in March with the three-year-old dog, Becca and her husband, Curtis, knew they wouldn’t be returning her to PRBJ. Instead, the Altamonte Springs couple gave Houlie a brand-new start and renamed her Amaya, after a deaf female cartoon character.

Pet Rescue By Judy’s workers and volunteers were overjoyed when this special-needs pooch was adopted.

“She waited so long to find her furever home, and she is proof that there is the right family for every pet,” PRBJ posted on its Facebook page.

The Velcro-like Amaya has made herself right at home with the Teagues and gets along with their other dog, Rey (named after the Star Wars character).

The Teagues, who are newcomers to Central Florida, moved here from Virginia in late February. Curtis works for a bank, and Becca was all set to start a job at Walt Disney World in mid-March. However, the theme park’s months-long shutdown due to the coronavirus delayed those plans. Instead, she has been working as a delivery driver for Amazon.

Becca has been especially thankful for her canine companions during this time of social distancing, which has prevented her and Curtis from meeting people in their new environment.

“I am a very social being, and I do not like being by myself,” Becca says. “Having Amaya in addition to Rey has been really helpful. It’s kind of weird to think of life without Amaya now, because she’s so integrated into our little family unit.”

Double the Love
When Al Kamhi decided it was time to bring a new pet into his household, he relied on a lesson learned during his time as a volunteer at PRBJ.

“What I have found in the years I’ve spent volunteering at Judy’s is that you don’t really pick the animal... they pick you,” Al says.

The Kamhi family has almost always had dogs, cats, or both. But last year, their only remaining pet, a 17-year-old Labrador retriever, passed away. In June, Al, his wife Patricia, and their son Terry headed to the rescue and hung out in the cat room for a while, looking for the most approachable kitty. Instead, they found two – Aster and his brother, Kenai.

“The two were bonded – where one went, the other was always in tow,” says Al, who adopted both eight-month-old kittens.
The playful pair have brought the family “absolute joy and entertainment,” Al says, and have been therapeutic for the 45-year-old Terry, who is recovering from a stroke.

“Their presence and contact have made a world of difference for Terry,” Al says. “They seem to give him energy and appear to cheer him on as he regains the use of his left side. This pair is amazing, and we’re thrilled they are part of our lives. They picked us, and for that we are very grateful.”

Shelter in a Storm

During hurricanes and other natural disasters, the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando typically sees an influx of volunteers offering to foster a dog or cat. The foster families temporarily welcome the animals into their homes so they won’t have to ride out a scary storm in a shelter.

The same thing has happened during the pandemic, says Steve Bardy, executive director of the animal welfare agency.
“We have had significant community support with fostering during this time, so that’s been extremely helpful to us,” Steve says. “People realized they were going to be working from home longer and would have time to foster. We have a need, and they have time, so that part has worked out nicely.”

Pet Alliance has two shelters, one in Orlando and another in Sanford. Many of the shelters’ adoptable dogs and cats are surrendered by their owners. Others are transferred in from different area shelters or taken in from large-scale hoarding situations or areas impacted by natural disasters.

“For people who foster and maybe don’t want a pet of their own long-term, this time has allowed them to have a dog or cat a little bit longer – something to share the quarantine with,” Steve says. “And people who have adopted have used this time to housetrain and get their dog or cat acclimated.”

In addition to the uptick in fosters, Pet Alliance has received a tremendous amount of dog and cat food donations from the public. Because of the community’s generosity, the agency was able to offer free pet-food distribution days on May 1 and July 26. The curbside pickup events were wildly popular with Central Florida pet parents, with about 15,000 pounds of food distributed in May and about 10,000 pounds of food handed out in July.

“It was a new thing we did because of COVID-19; It was pretty huge,” Steve says. “If the only thing preventing someone from keeping their dog or cat is some food, we’re happy to give it to them.”

In-person adoptions are currently by appointment. Pet Alliance is also offering virtual adoptions with curbside pickup of the adopted dog or cat. For details, visit PetAllianceOrlando.org or call 407-351-7722.

A Healthy Habit
Kelly Hammack has a hard-to-break habit of adopting from Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, even when she says, “No more.”
She and her husband, Tripp, already had three cats and one dog when they agreed to foster another pet in March, right at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. Their four-legged houseguest was Noel, a seven-year-old dog that had come to Pet Alliance from Puerto Rico.

“Our intention was to foster her until things got back to ‘normal,’” says Kelly, who lives in Winter Springs. “But she is the most amazing dog, and now here we are with another adopted dog.”

Bessie (Noel’s new name) is what’s commonly referred to as a Sato – a Puerto Rican slang term for a stray mutt. When she arrived at the Hammacks’ home, Bessie suffered from severe separation anxiety and stayed glued to Kelly’s side. Kelly worked tirelessly to allay the dog’s fears and give her much-needed stability. The presence of their other pooch, the one-year-old Bailey, helped Bessie adjust. The dogs bonded immediately and are now inseparable.

“Now it’s as if Bessie has always been a part of our family,” Kelly says. “She has my heart completely. There are always dogs like her who just need a chance, a little patience, and a lot of love.

An Adoption Story of My Own

“Who Rescued Who?”

That’s a phrase commonly used in animal-rescue circles, and it’s one that definitely applies to me.

A few months ago, my heart broke when I had to say goodbye to Sawyer, my 13-year-old, buff-colored cocker spaniel. The sweet, playful boy had been by my side every day since he was a puppy (Thank you to the caring staff at Lake Emma Animal Hospital, who helped Sawyer cross the Rainbow Bridge).

To me, a house is not a home without the companionship and unconditional love of a dog. Although I will never be able to replace Sawyer, I needed to find another canine friend to help fill the emptiness in my house and my heart.

So, I perused the adoptable pet listings at local shelters, and one dog in particular caught my eye – an adorable brown-and-white Chihuahua mix at Pet Alliance. The main reason? The posting said Buddy (as he was then called) really likes cats, which is a must for anyone residing in my household.

The pooch’s soulful brown eyes reeled me in, and I couldn’t resist adding him to my furry family. This quirky little dog, now called Sonny, has brightened my days and lifted my spirits – so much so that I just might have to give him a canine sibling one day soon. Stay tuned.

- Jill Duff Hoppes

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