By LOIS KINDLE
Several weeks ago, a sweet little Chihuahua mix named Lucy was left in a crate outside the gate at the Critter Adoption and Rescue Effort no-kill animal shelter in Ruskin. Attached was a handwritten, heartfelt note from the dog’s family explaining they had lost their home and, after three months of trying, could find no one to take her.
“She’s really a good dog (who) likes cats, dogs and chickens,” the note read, detailing how she knew most commands and liked eating cat food and broccoli. “She loves to run but (she’s) really a lap dog…I hate to do this but please find her a good home.”
“It happened a lot before we installed cameras at the gate,” said Gloria Blue, the shelter’s animal care manager for the past 16 years, noting people used to often drop animals over the fence, tether them to the gate or leave them in crates. And many times, those animals were sick or injured.
“We’d save every animal if we could,” she continued. “But we’re a small shelter with a limited number of volunteers and financial means. We can only take in what we can properly care for (about 20 dogs and 40 cats at one time). It’s absolutely heartbreaking when we have to turn anyone away.”
Fortunately for Lucy, C.A.R.E. was able to find her a new, forever home. She was recently adopted by Lynda and Mike Messman, owners of Borman Construction in Apollo Beach.
Others are not so fortunate.
Winnie, an 8-year-old Catahoula mix left in a cage at C.A.R.E.’s gate in May 2014, is still looking for a permanent home. Despite her incredibly sweet personality, she’s one that’s not so easy to place.
Winnie likes most people but not other dogs, and she needs to be in a home with a fenced yard. She has arthritis and requires special supplements. Without the right potential owner, this senior dog could potentially live out the rest of her years at C.A.R.E. (That can mean 10 years or more, as was the case of Leo, a tabby with special needs who died at the shelter recently.)
Dogs and cats come to C.A.R.E. via one means or another. Sometimes an owner dies and the pet is left without a caretaker; some animals are surrendered when their owners can no longer afford or are physically unable to care for them; and others are picked up as strays or abandoned.
Regardless of how they get there, each is physically examined and given medical care, as needed. Each is spayed or neutered, brought up to date on their vaccinations and micro-chipped. And each is lovingly cared for by the scores of volunteers who freely give their time to help keep the shelter operational.
C.A.R.E. has only two paid employees, one full time and the other part time, a team of about 100 volunteers who staff the shelter seven days a week and a medical team from Boyette Animal Hospital in Riverview. It includes Blue and veterinarians Bob Encinosa (the shelter’s medical director), Michelle Ferrera and Amanda Esposito.
All this care costs money. C.A.R.E. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that depends on the kindness of others
C.A.R.E. depends on the kindness of others to stay financially afloat. Whether an animal stays briefly or is there for its lifetime, the cost of such guardianship can prove quite expensive. Animal care and facility costs run about $145,000 annually.
“A recent cost projection for this year’s budget of expenses versus income showed a $30,000 deficit,” said Michelle Rhodarmer, C.A.R.E. board president. “Our task is to find new ways to raise money (which includes increasing the number of individual and business donations, end-of-life bequests and grants from organizations like 100 Women Who Care). Every dollar we receive is spent on our animals and operations.”
Finding those dollars can be difficult.
“We’re not located in a large metropolitan area with access to a large population of donors,” Rhodarmer said. “We don’t have an advertising or fundraising budget like larger shelters.
“But we absolutely appreciate every donation we receive, especially from the residents of Sun City Center,” she said.
Rhodarmer added C.A.R.E. also needs donations of pet food for its pet food pantry, which provides for the feeding of strays or helps owners who can’t afford the cost of food for their pets. Amazon helps by providing the shelter with pallets of supplies it can’t resell.
The shelter is always looking to partner with various local organizations to bring out animals for potential adoption and goodwill visits.
And there is always a need for additional volunteers to care for the animals, work in the office or on the grounds, provide enrichment activities, do outreach, plan events and more. There are opportunities for students seeking Bright Futures scholarships and adults of all ages.
“We’re a no-kill shelter that receives no government funding,” said Julie Thome, a C.A.R.E. board member and shelter volunteer. “We’re always in need of cash donations and supplies like bath towels, bleach, laundry detergent and paper towels.
“I volunteer to give something back to the community,” she said. “It’s very rewarding work. We’re always sad but thrilled to see one of our animals going to a new, forever home.”
To learn more about C.A.R.E., visit www.careshelter.org. Donations of any amount can be sent to 1528 27th St. S.E., Ruskin, FL 33570.
Here’s a fun way to provide support
C.A.R.E. has a major fundraiser, a St. Patrick’s Day Tea, coming up Sunday, March 18, at the Firehouse Cultural Center, 101 First St. N.E., Ruskin.
Tickets are $35 per person for tables of four.
The menu will include lemon-blueberry scones with lemon curd; three different tea sandwiches and two desserts prepared by Lynn Kessel and tea provided by Shawn Geitner, of Beleave Teas.
The event will also include a silent auction, 50/50 drawing and Best Hat Contest.
“Come have a fun day with your girlfriends and help us raise money for the care of our critters,” said Penny Smith, C.A.R.E board member and tea organizer. “Seating is limited to 72, so reserve now by calling 813-645-2273.”