Wellington High School graduate Justin Bartlett was only 24 years old when he was tragically killed in a car accident. Now, more than a decade later, countless lives are being saved in his honor.
Tucked away in a shopping center at the northwest corner of Southern Blvd. and State Road 7, professional animal lovers work rigorous hours to save dogs and cats at Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue, giving them a new lease on life.
Peter Torres, the organization’s founder, was a friend of the Bartlett family. As a token of his appreciation to the Bartletts for supporting his previous rescue organization, as well as of Justin’s love for animals, Torres named the organization after him. The nonprofit, no-kill rescue consists of an adoption center, an animal hospital and a thrift store.
The organization maintains high standards when adopting out animals. In order to assume ownership of a Justin Bartlett pet, interested individuals must first complete an application and then be approved by one of the rescue’s adoption counselors. Applicants are asked to include information on subjects such as their previous pets, family veterinarians, HOAs, the type of home they live in and references.
According to Torres, the in-depth process applicants must complete is a necessity, as an unfit owner can be detrimental to the physical and mental well-being of the pet. The case isn’t always that the owner is irresponsible, but that the dog and owner may not be the best fit for each other’s lifestyles.
Torres used the example of a newly married couple, living in a one-bedroom apartment, in search of a husky or German shepherd. The couple may be perfectly fit to own a dog, but not one as high-energy as these particular breeds.
The goal of the rescue is to find the animal a loving, permanent home.
“Dogs need someone to look up to, and once they have that trust in you, they’ll do anything for you,” Torres said. “But if today it is you, and six months from now it’s somebody else, they feel that, and they know it.”
Despite the team’s best efforts, Torres said that dogs walking out of their doors don’t always end up staying at its new home. Sometimes the owners decide it’s too much effort to own the dog, and sometimes, to their own disappointment, the dog has behavioral issues.
The rescue has a dog trainer for such cases, and if the owner is willing, the trainer will evaluate the dog and see what can be done. If it’s a fixable issue, he tells the owners what to do, and they decide what action to take from there.
The evaluation is at the cost of the organization. Another amenity they offer is a free vet visit within seven days of the adoption, and if the dog or cat has an ailment, the clinic will treat it free of charge.
In addition to these services, all the pets adopted through Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue have had at least two sets of vaccines, are dewormed, fecal tested, spayed or neutered, and microchipped. While donations and adoption fees are beneficial in keeping the rescue in business, additional funds are always needed.
Justin Bartlett’s CFO Debra Mammino, who is also an adoption counselor, hospital and rescue manager, and “jack of all trades,” is in charge of transferring animals to adoption events. Where a company bus used to be utilized for such purposes, both vehicles are currently out of commission.
The buses, which include crates and supplies for the animals, are expenses that have had to be put on the backburner, as more serious needs must first be met.
“On Saturdays, I have seven or eight dogs, and I’m trying to fit them into a little Xterra because the buses aren’t working,” Mammino said.
Torres must keep the focus simultaneously on saving animals while also carefully watching the bottom line.
“You cannot bite off more than you can chew,” he said. “You cannot rescue more than you can handle — financially, mentally and all of the above.”
According to the nonprofit’s founder, animal rescue workers tend to fight emotional exhaustion because as much as they want to save them all, they simply cannot. It all takes quite a toll on the team.
“And it takes a toll on me,” Torres said, “but at least I always find a way to think positive.”
Mammino also has to battle against the challenges of the work. Her plan of attack? Puppy love.
“When I have a bad day, I go home, sit in the middle of my floor, and get all the puppies out that I’m fostering, and [they] just jump on me,” Mammino said. “And that soothes it.”
Mammino advises anyone overwhelmed by the bleakness and severity of animal suffering in the world to simply “save the ones you can.”
If you’re looking for a new pet, perhaps a visit to Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue is in your future. If not, Torres urges people to visit one of the many available shelters and animal rescue organizations.
“If you want to go to any other shelter, that’s OK,” he said. “You’re saving a life.”
Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue is located at 10405 Southern Blvd. in Royal Palm Beach. If you would like to learn more about fostering or adopting through this local nonprofit, call (561) 684-1010 or visit www.justinbartlettanimalrescue.org.