If there’s one thing that Wellington-area families cherish more than our wonderful lifestyle, it’s our animals. Many of these pets live like kings with good food, lots of love, plenty of room and medical attention when they need it. But what about those not so lucky? Life can be grim for animals who find themselves lost, abandoned or stuck in a shelter. Luckily, there are a number of nonprofits that have stepped in to save them.
Amber Nelson was just seven years old when she started helping established rescue operations in Broward County. Now 18 and living in Loxahatchee with her parents Kelly and Troy, Amber has already logged three years as a foster parent for a number of dogs through her own organization, Amber’s Animal Outreach.
Kelly explained that their nonprofit is not facility-based, but rather a foster operation.
“Amber takes in dogs that are about to be euthanized unnecessarily, gets them back to health and fosters them until they are adopted,” she said. “Many of the dogs are love-starved when she gets them. We also get calls from people going into nursing homes, who love their pets but can’t take them with them. If we can help, we do. Even though we are small, Amber saves hundreds of dogs every year.”
Like most rescues, the challenges for Amber’s Animal Outreach are twofold — getting funding and finding the right home for the right dog.
The hard-working teenager depends on donations acquired primarily through fundraisers and her Facebook page.
In an effort to find potential adopters, Amber and her supporters spend just about every other weekend at PetSmart, hoping to find homes for the dogs. She also is a presence at Roger Dean Stadium during baseball games.
“All this started because Amber couldn’t stand the thought of dogs being put down,” Kelly said. “As her mom, just seeing her following her dream makes me happy. Her love and compassion are amazing. She was home-schooled and just graduated this year. We’ll see where her path takes her now.”
To support Amber Nelson in her mission, visit www.aaodog.org.
On six acres in western Loxahatchee, Elizabeth Accomando operates Barky Pines Animal Rescue & Sanctuary together with her husband Steve, and daughter Mary Montanaro. The group received its nonprofit status in 2015, although they’ve been rescuing all kinds of animals for the last 20 years.
“We take in dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, ferrets, turkeys, tortoises, cows, pigs… everything except horses, and that’s only because of the expense. Most come from Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control, and we take them, so they are not euthanized,” Elizabeth explained. “The small dogs have their own building, and the larger dogs are in a different building. The chickens are in coops. The cows roam the entire property.”
Although small, Barky Pines has rescued hundreds of animals.
“We do fundraisers and are always looking for sponsors,” Elizabeth said. “Our for-profit business is a mobile auto body repair, but all the leftover money from that goes to the animals. We also apply for and receive grants, but we are always, constantly on the hunt for funding. Right now, we need more housing to save more lives.”
Elizabeth and her family take care of all the animals themselves.
“We’re in the trenches, not just sitting on a board. Once an animal is rehabilitated, we find it a home,” she said. “We do screenings on our potential adopters, but the geriatric dogs generally stay here for sanctuary, and we hospice them and care for them until it’s time for them to move on. We also find family companions for families with special needs. Some dogs go on to become comfort dogs after we have taken our time to make them that type of pet.”
The work is difficult but rewarding. “It’s a lot of work for no money, but getting them better, healing them — especially the ones that we can adopt out — it brings such joy, not only to the dog or cat, but also to the family,” Elizabeth said. “Making that match, completing their family; now that animal gets love in a home of its own.”
Once an animal is adopted out, Elizabeth stays in touch with the family through social media.
“It’s our Barky Family, as we call it,” she said. “We love hearing all the stories and about the joy and happiness that the animals are bringing to the families.” Learn more about Barky Pines at www.barkypinesanimalrescue.com.
You don’t need lots of acreage to rescue animals. In Royal Palm Beach, Denise Willoughby has put together a group of volunteers who foster pets in their own homes. While Willoughby works full-time at a nursing hospital, foster volunteer Kat Calloway helps keep things humming along at Luv-A-Pet.
“Denise used to foster animals through Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control (ACC),” Calloway explained. “But it bothered her that she never got to see where the animals were going. So, she gathered together a group of ladies she knew and founded Luv-A-Pet in 2004.”
Key to the operation is the M*A*S*H (Mobile Animal Surgical Hospital) unit, where veterinarian Dr. Virginia Sayre donates her time to provide low-cost vaccines, as well as spay and neuter services for area pets. Volunteers like Calloway allow the unit to park on their property, then take to the web to publicize its current location.
“We’re small, but we try to make an impact wherever we can,” Calloway said. “We take in dogs and cats we get via word-of-mouth, Facebook and the ACC, if they’re full. We also take in strays. Some of these animals are broken, some are sick, some have astronomical medical bills, but Denise won’t turn them away. I find that admirable. Because we have no designated space of our own, we are completely dependent upon our foster volunteers.”
Calloway got involved in 2015 when her son was earning community service hours by showing some of the foster kittens at PetSmart in Royal Palm Beach, in hopes of finding adoptive homes for them. In addition to adoption events, Luv-A-Pet uses Petfinder, Facebook and word-of-mouth to place the rehabilitated animals.
“Some kitties who needed fostering came my way, and it became a labor of love,” Calloway said. “I have two dogs of my own but have since determined that I am a cat person. I only take in cats and kittens.”
More than 100 cats have since found their way through Calloway’s home.
“I own the ‘crazy cat lady’ label,” she smiled. “As for Luv-A-Pet and Denise, I will never leave her. She genuinely cares for and loves the animals and will do whatever needs to be done to give them happy lives.”
Luv-A-Pet held its big auction fundraiser at the end of August and hosts other events to raise money throughout the year. All proceeds go toward caring for the animals. Although the need is great and the task is daunting, the loyal volunteers at Luv-A-Pet never miss a beat to save lost souls.
Learn more about this nonprofit at www.luvapet.net.
Ron Danta and Danny Robertshaw had always rescued dogs, but things got official when the pair jumped in to save 600 suddenly homeless pups following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That’s when they organized as the nonprofit Danny & Ron’s Rescue.
Based in Camden, S.C., where they work as horse trainers, Danny and Ron have long been providing dogs for Wellington families that they meet at equestrian events. Their story has been immortalized in the documentary Life in the Doghouse, currently available on Netflix.
Danny and Ron have turned their own house into the ultimate safe haven, personally caring for injured and abused animals until they are ready for adoption. Each dog receives a wellness check from a veterinarian, then is spayed/neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, dewormed, groomed and loved like part of the family.
Prior to Katrina, Danny and Ron would go to the shelters, save four or five dogs from euthanasia, rehab them a bit and adopt them out to friends in the horse community.
“We’d go to the greyhound kennels, where 150 dogs were scheduled to be put down, pick up six or eight greyhounds and take them home to our South Carolina campus,” Ron recalled. “Since Katrina, we’ve rescued 11,500 dogs.”
The couple were at their second home in Wellington when that deadly storm changed their lives.
“We had just bought a house in Wellington the year before, so we were there when all the chaos began,” Danny said. “Many of our friends were involved with the horse rescue, but when we turned on the TV and saw all the stranded animals, we felt that that was where we could really fit in. It touched our hearts and caused us to take big steps in that direction.”
Since then, they’ve rescued dogs from junkyards, freed animals chained to trees and saved abandoned pets living on the streets. They rescue over-bred, long-caged puppy mill dogs; bait dogs used in dog fighting; and shelter dogs about to be euthanized.
“In Danny’s barn, we used to do cats, too,” Ron said. “We had cages on both sides of the aisles and caging across the aisle and over the tack room. We used to call it the Kitty Hilton. But once we started doing such huge numbers of dogs, well, it’s hard to rescue dogs and cats in that volume and keep them all safe. So, we focused on dogs.”
While they love to place dogs in loving Wellington homes, they also support the work of the many other animal rescues.
“With five airlines showing the Netflix movie, we get calls from California, from Europe, from far away,” Ron said. “We ask them to go to their local shelters and save a life.”
“All we want is awareness in the world,” Danny said. “If each person who appreciated our movie would help one animal or one shelter, that’s total gratification for us.”
Learn more about their mission at www.dannyronsrescue.org.
Cheetahs are the second-largest big cat in the world, right behind the mountain lion. To hear a cheetah purring loudly, all one has to do is meet 14-year-old Charlie when he is around Judy Berens, founder of the Panther Ridge Conservation Center.
“I came to Wellington originally because it was a fabulous place to show horses,” recalled Berens, who competed as a hunter rider until 2010.
Her passion for horses eventually expanded to include exotic cats.
“I started in the early 1990s,” she said. “Then once I had all my appropriate licensing, people would call me and say there was an animal that needed help. I went from being a pet owner to a rescue, and as the years have gone by, we have become much more involved in the conservation of these animals because they are absolutely disappearing from the face of the earth.”
One such case of a rescued animal living at Panther Ridge is Toltec, a 12-year-old ocelot. The cat was living at another facility for wild animals but was severely abused there.
“He kind of wobbles around like a drunk sailor, but he is the first ocelot to ever receive stem cell surgery in the world,” Facility Manager Sadie Ryan said. “We did that for him about three years ago, and it helped, but he will, unfortunately, never walk normally.”
Now Toltec’s life is filled with enrichment training conducted through positive reinforcement, along with a variety of other treats.
“He also gets special CBD popsicles to help with his arthritis and loves his toys,” Ryan said. “Toltec is a fanatic for some expensive cologne, too. He thoroughly enjoys a good scent sprayed in his enclosure.”
Originally based in Wellington’s Palm Beach Point community, the growing nonprofit moved last year to a much larger home in Loxahatchee Groves.
Currently, Panther Ridge houses 19 exotic cats representing many different species, including clouded leopards, jaguars and even a rare fishing cat.
Mateo, a three-year-old jaguar, was transferred from a zoo to Panther Ridge, where he was hand-raised. Now that he is reaching maturity, the team has arranged for a two-year-old female named Onyx to be his future girlfriend, once the facility infrastructure is complete.
“The long-term plan for them is to start a breeding program for jaguars, in association with the Zoological Association of America, so that their cubs can go to other facilities and spread their genetics within captivity to maintain a healthy captive jaguar population,” Ryan said, adding that many years from now, the hope is to once again return jaguars to the wild. “Once there is a protected area for them to thrive in without being poached and hunted.”
Several other cats in the collection came to Panther Ridge from other facilities, some because of the animal’s safety and others for a unique opportunity.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the zoological community, and I have a real fascination with clouded leopards,” Berens said. “Then we were given an unusual invitation — to become part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for these cats. We had to meet stringent regulations, and now have successfully bred healthy cubs. The next group of cubs that we have, the SSP coordinator will come and determine which other facilities they will go to.”
Lura and Malee were the first two clouded leopards born at Panther Ridge, where they were hand-raised and well-socialized. Development Director Kandice Seitz shared the importance of having them.
“This is one of the only places you can go and get up close and personal with cats that are Class 1 endangered species, and we are very lucky to have clouded leopards here,” Seitz said. “It is very rare to see this many clouded leopards in one place. It’s just an amazing place that’s great for small kids, too, because it’s not too big for them to enjoy, even in the summer. Since our move a year ago, we’ve tried to create a more user-friendly facility for the public.”
Having a background in fundraising, Seitz never expected to be so involved with exotic cats.
“I’ve been here about three years,” Seitz said. “I actually went on my first tour with a group of prospective donors, and little by little, I began bringing people here to visit. Once I found Panther Ridge, I knew this is where I wanted to work.”
Seitz, like other docents and volunteers, also provides support for the facility by working directly with staff and even some of the animals. It is a love for the creatures in their care that brings the team together.
As the nonprofit grew in size, Berens made the difficult decision to move the facility and give up her time with horses.
“Horses can be put to pasture, retired or sold. There is no other safe option for these cats. These animals won’t survive without certain care and treatments,” Berens said. “But the quality of life for these special creatures is our priority. Our food bill alone is $45,000 a year for 19 cats.”
Berens, now championing exotic cats for almost 20 years, is hands-on every day — feeding animals and keeping a strong personal relationship with them, even the challenging ones.
“Fishing cats like Minnow here are very rare to see. Not a lot of facilities have them. In fact, they are notoriously difficult to deal with,” said Berens, who personally visits him every day. “He came to us at only five weeks old, and he was injured and had been weaned too young. On top of that, they were using the wrong formula. The long-term plan is I would like to get an unrelated female and breed some more fishing cats.”
Other species that can be seen at Panther Ridge include the caracal, serval and panther (also called mountain lions or cougars). Guests can also arrange personal encounters with a few of the animals.
The Panther Ridge Conservation Center is located at 2143 D Road in Loxahatchee Groves. It is open to all ages, and tours are available by reservation seven days a week. Call (561) 795-8914 or visit www.pantherridge.org for more information about the different programs available.
With a focus on the rescue, rehabilitation and release of wild animals, McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary is a nonprofit that melds all facets of this important mission. The eight-acre facility started out as a small, private space for Mark McCarthy and his exotic animal collection.
“At the time, in 1990, there were very few houses,” McCarthy said. “I talked to the neighbors beforehand, and they are my best ally. They never complain — and it gets loud here sometimes.”
The noise level isn’t due to loud music, but the sounds of exotic wildlife ranging from lions to lemurs. The sanctuary is a permanent home for more than 150 animals, in addition to a wide array of temporary creatures there receiving treatment for injuries before heading back into the wild.
While McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary works with many species, the rescue, rehabilitation and release process is for native animals only. Every year, the facility handles countless squirrels and birds, but this past season proved to have some surprises in store.
“We received an otter who was completely nonresponsive,” Office Manager Barbara Drury recalled. “He was unconscious for three or four days. All that time, we were still giving him medicine and treatment, so we were thrilled he pulled through. Eventually, he recovered and grew up enough to be released back into the wild.”
A reptile-guy for sure, McCarthy started his love of animals with snakes. When he was just 16, he moved to Florida by hitchhiking from Michigan to Miami with a backpack full of snakes and a dream to work at the Miami Serpentarium. Some dreams come true. He was hired on the spot.
Throughout his 30-year career working with animals, McCarthy also spent a significant amount of time in the television, film and print production business, during which he collected more exotic species, including birds and big cats. These animals often came to him under scary circumstances.
“I came back from Africa and had just brought back my wife, Aneth, and I get a phone call at 3 o’ clock in the morning from Officer Rick Brown from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission,” McCarthy recalled. “He does the Orlando area, and said, ‘Mark, I’ve got a problem. I just seized a tiger and a cougar out of a Motel 6 up here in Orlando, and I have nowhere to put them.’ We go up there, and sure enough there was this magician who was wanted in Minnesota for abandoning his facility, and he was literally doing magic shows out of his van on International Drive.”
Animals needing to be rehomed is a big concern, as the exotic pet industry often finds uneducated owners in deep trouble dealing with more than they expected. For example, nearly 30 large African spur-thighed tortoises, who grow to weigh well over 100 pounds, lived at McCarthy’s at one time.
“I built this place on birthday parties, and those parties turned into teachers seeing me, and eventually all these school programs on top of the production jobs,” McCarthy said. “I really enjoyed the school shows — it was probably my favorite thing to do. I mostly focused on elementary schools, but this grew so big, I don’t do them anymore.”
Now that McCarthy no longer travels to schools, guests are able to come in person to visit the animals at the sanctuary by calling and reserving a spot in one of the available tours.
Guided tours run multiple times a day, Tuesday through Saturday. Aside from getting the chance to see some rare creatures such as ligers (yes, that is a real thing), another benefit are the guides themselves. McCarthy prides himself in having keeper/guides — individuals who work with the animals every day and are able to share personal stories and insights with guests.
One such keeper/guide is Alexis Opisso, who was happy to share the story of Larry the Nile crocodile.
“Crocodilians have one of the strongest bite forces in the animal kingdom, and Larry here was a pet surrender. He was bought as a birthday present for somebody’s daughter. They were keeping him in a bathtub,” Opisso explained. “We got Larry when he was about three years old. We conditioned him not to come up to us for food. When I go in there to change his water or scrub his tub, he never bothers me.”
She then immediately shifted to fun facts about crocs, like why their teeth are so white and how she finds tooth caps that have fallen out on a regular basis as new teeth replace them.
“Education is a big part of what we do,” Drury said. “Between Mark going out to schools all those years, and all the people who come here with their families — some kids have never seen a tiger up close. So, that experience may inspire them to learn about how we can save the tigers in the wild. Then they grow up to be a child who wants to conserve what we have.”
More than 20,000 people visit McCarthy’s every year, and the organization continues a lengthy track record of excellent ratings on Trip Advisor, which also puts them in the top spot for things to do in the West Palm Beach area.
Despite all the attention, staff keeps the tours limited for the sake of the animals’ well-being. “The tours are scheduled in a way that guests are gone late in the afternoon and the animals can have a normal evening routine to finish the day,” Drury said. “All of this started because of Mark’s first impression, and now all of these other children get a ‘wow’ moment, too.”
McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary is located at 12943 61st Street North in The Acreage. To make a reservation for a guided tour, call (561) 790-2116. For more information about the mission, animals and how to get involved, visit www.mccarthyswildlife.com.
Tina is a four-year-old terrier mix. She misses her four-legged friends who have found forever homes, but she is also happy for them. She hopes someone will eventually adopt her as well, although she has been rejected time and again.
Tina is blind, but what she lacks in vision she certainly makes up for with a huge heart. She has a lot to give. One local law firm is determined to find Tina, and other dogs like her, a forever home.
Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith is dedicated to giving back to the communities it serves. The personal injury law firm, with 11 lawyers and four local offices, including one in Wellington, still abides by the moral directive of its founder, Joe Lesser.
In 1927, Lesser founded the firm by opening an office in West Palm Beach. He believed in providing excellent representation for the firm’s clients — that was a given. Lesser also believed strongly in giving back to the community, noting, “In the time we have on this earth, we have the opportunity and obligation to make a difference in some way.”
One of the many ways in which the firm tries to make a difference is through its Paws for Patriots campaign. Longtime Wellington resident and law firm partner Mickey Smith is particularly proud of this initiative.
“This program is a partnership with Big Dog Ranch Rescue,” Smith said. “We seek to place dogs from the ranch, ages two and up, with veterans and first responders. The law firm has committed to paying the adoption fee for 100 such placements.”
What he loves about the Paws for Patriots initiative is that he is unsure who benefits the most from it. “Anyone who has ever had a rescue animal knows that the emotional tide quickly turns,” said Smith, who has had several rescue animals through the years. “Initially, we feel the rescue was fortunate to find us. We soon come to realize, though, how truly fortunate we were to find the rescue. That’s a universal truth.”
The initiative began in November 2017, and there are still openings for interested veterans and first responders.
Paws for Patriots grew out of another partnership with Big Dog Ranch Rescue, Every Dog Deserves a Home. Smith said he is extraordinarily proud of firm partner Glenn Siegel’s tireless work with the local nonprofit, and with Every Dog Deserves a Home specifically.
“Glenn created this program,” Smith said. “Every month, the firm uses its social media clout to place the spotlight on a dog that is harder to adopt because of factors such as age or physical disability. Since the program began in May 2017, 27 dogs have been showcased and 21 have been adopted.”
For his part, Siegel humbly calls it “a labor of love.” Every Dog Deserves a Home is also an ongoing program, with the law firm again paying the adoption fee. The firm’s goal is to find a forever home for all of its sponsored dogs, including Tina.
The law firm has been involved in other projects for animals in the western communities. For example, Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith sponsored a room at Big Dog Ranch Rescue that is painted in a courtroom motif. Earlier this year, the firm sponsored the Rotary Club of Wellington’s Kevlar for K9s raffle that raised money to buy Kevlar protective vests for PBSO K9s.
Smith believes that the firm’s affinity with these animal-related projects arises from the personal injury work that is the firm’s focus.
“We fight insurance companies all day long on behalf of individuals and families who are suffering,” he explained. “Our heart is with the underdog and trying to make things better.”
Smith added that the law firm has been very impressed by the tireless work done by the animal rescue groups in the western communities, but they cannot do it alone.
“It is vitally important that local businesses and professionals leverage both their dollars and their contacts to help support these deserving groups,” he said. “After all, Wellington is known worldwide because of its connection with horses, and the local economy certainly benefits from that connection with animals. It’s only fair that we give back to less fortunate animals right here in our midst.”
For more info., contact Smith at email@example.com or (561) 655-2028.
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.
Over the last decade, Big Dog Ranch Rescue has found a home for more than 31,000 dogs, but founder Lauree Simmons clearly recalls her first canine client back in 2008. It was a lab mix named Angel, who was pregnant, homeless and living under a tree in Miami.
Two days later, Angel gave birth to 10 puppies in Simmons’ garage. In many respects, Angel is the “acorn” that blossomed into the tree now known as the Big Dog Ranch Rescue.
Today, Big Dog Ranch Rescue is dedicated to rescuing and providing a happy, safe and loving home for dogs while providing families with healthy, loving and loyal canine companions. Located on 33 acres in Loxahatchee Groves, the rescue is a cage-free setting. In fact, it is the largest cage-free, no-kill shelter in the U.S.
“We have built a happy environment for dogs,” explained Robin Friedman, Big Dog Ranch Rescue’s director of development. “Our focus is rescue. We save dogs from shelters that are on the list to be euthanized, and we accept owner-surrender dogs. We also try to find homes for rescue dogs by networking with other shelters like us.”
At Big Dog Ranch Rescue, dogs are saved and then given a new lease on life. While the organization’s name indicates that it’s a safe haven for big dogs, in reality, dogs of all sizes can be adopted through the organization.
“We have at least one of every type of dog,” Friedman said.
Currently, roughly 500 grown dogs and 100 puppies live at Big Dog Ranch Rescue. But once dogs arrive here, they are often adopted in less than three months, Friedman said. Puppies are adopted the quickest.
Once dogs arrive, they are fed healthy food and given lots of TLC. “Big Dog Ranch Rescue is the way the rescue experience should be for all dogs,” Friedman said. “We rescue dogs of all sizes, provide the necessary medical care, and find them their perfect forever homes. Big and small, we save them all.”
Most of its dogs come from shelters in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. However, during natural and humanitarian disasters, the organization reaches out to help.
Following devastating hurricanes, Big Dog Ranch Rescue provided food drops and rescued dogs from Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands and the coastal U.S. And recently, following a request from monks saving dogs from the Chinese dog meat trade, the organization began work with an Asian counterpart to provide assistance.
The dogs from China are often less than a year old. “Getting healthy dogs delivered from China has its challenges,” Friedman said. “Logistically, it’s difficult, but we figured it out.”
Friedman emphasized that her group remains local-focused, but humanitarian issues and disasters trigger their efforts to save dogs from other parts of the country and the world.
Big Dog Ranch Rescue is also specially equipped to house pregnant dogs,
Canine mothers and their puppies are housed in Puppyland, which features 10 small structures, each one specially equipped to care for mother dogs and her litter. Puppyland is sponsored by Rachael Ray Nutrish, which also donates most of the food fed to the dogs at Big Dog Ranch Rescue.
Other programs help senior citizens and cater to military veterans.
According to Friedman, Seniors for Seniors is focused on getting older dogs, which are at least six years old, trained to visit senior citizens living in retirement homes. Seniors, who often want an older canine companion, can also adopt a senior dog.
“Our Seniors for Seniors program improves the lives of senior citizens,” Friedman said. “We are also currently training 24 dogs to become companions for the Veterans Service Dog Training Program. It helps veterans with PTSD.”
If you are interested in supporting Big Dog Ranch Rescue and love to have a good time, the third annual Big Dog Ranch Rescue Valentine’s Night Out helps unite the local horse and dog-loving communities. The next one is set for Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.
“It’s a great time and attracts strong interest from Wellington’s dog-loving equestrian crowd,” Friedman said. “We are fortunate to have many fosters, adopters, donors and friends from the equestrian world.”
Adoption fees vary. For example, puppies are $350, adult dogs are $250 and senior dogs are $150.
While these adoption fees generate money for Big Dog Ranch Rescue, the majority of its income comes from outside sources. Big Dog Ranch Rescue’s biggest benefactor is the Fleming Family Foundation.
“We rely mostly on donations,” Friedman said. “Adoption fees cover a fraction of the costs to save a dog. We rely on the generosity of our supporters to further our mission to save more lives.”
Big Dog Ranch Rescue is located at 14444 Okeechobee Blvd. in Loxahatchee Groves. If you feel that you can provide a happy, safe and loving home for a dog, drop by between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., call them at (561) 791-6465 or check out the list of available dogs at www.bdrr.org.