From Foster to Best Friend


Local animal adoption centers see more animals than ever finding their furry homes

Southeast Guide Dog Puppy Sitter Amra Dillard Rickwa and Black Lab SE Gigi visiting Celery Fields. Photograph by Wyatt Kostygan

Southeast guide dogs supplies working dogs (guide dogs, assistance dogs, therapy dogs and companion dogs) to those who need them most. “These animals give people back their freedom and independence,” explains Muffy Lavens, the organization’s media relations manager. This metamorphic process begins the moment a client decides that a working dog will allow them to live their life to the fullest. Once their application is approved, they meet with the staff to discuss their ideal dog. The personality and abilities of the dog and the owner are considered to favor this perfect match. Clients are then invited to Palmetto for training, both on and off campus, so their dogs can learn clues alongside them in real settings before returning home. “When you see a dog and a client meet for the very first time on game day, it’s magic. The dog knows he is there for that person and a bond is formed instantly, ”she says. “This reinforces the importance of draft animals. The more we place qualified dogs with deserving people across the country, the more society becomes aware of their purpose. It is a learning process for everyone. Southeastern Guide Dogs also features on-campus experiences like Beyond the Dark, which give people a taste of what it’s like to be visually impaired or to be a veteran with PTSD.

4210 77th St. E, Palmetto, 941-729-5665,, seguidedogs.

Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue

Launched in 2008 as a hospitality organization, Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue has grown from finding homes for 60 to 2,000 animals per year; many of which have been abandoned or neglected. “The animals that pass through our shelter are lucky because people in our community can provide them with great homes,” says Dari Oglesby, who started volunteering 11 years ago with her daughter. She is now an executive director and her daughter is in vet school – a testament to how honoring Nate and places like it can profoundly change the lives of animals and humans. Every minor animal, pregnant animal or shy host enters a foster family while waiting to be adopted by their family forever. “We have host families who have saved hundreds of lives by opening their homes,” says Dari. For people who travel, work, or can’t afford a pet but love animals, fostering is the perfect process. Even before these animals are adopted, Honor works to find them the right home. “It’s all about animals, if someone wants to adopt an animal that is not suitable for them, we work with them, we redirect them and help them find their perfect pet,” she says. Everyone at Honor is there for one reason: to save the animals. And saving them is 7 days a week, 365 days a year. “There are rough days, but when you see an animal waiting to come out through that door, it’s worth it.” It’s no secret that those who love animals have big hearts and the number of people in our community helping shelters like Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue is inspiring.

8437 Cooper Creek Blvd., Bradenton, 941-747-4900,, @nateshonoranimalrescue.

Christopher and Loretta Mattie take a sunset walk outside their home with their newly adopted Kona German Shepherd puppy, found at HSSC. Photograph by Wyatt Kostygan

Sarasota County Humanitarian Society has been caring for animals and placing them in their homes forever since 1952. Originally they could only house six cats and 48 dogs, but since they’ve grown bigger and declared themselves safe havens without killing, they’ve up to 250 animals on site every day. Caring community members often find and bring underage puppies or kittens that cannot be adopted until they have been spayed or neutered and are 12 weeks old (this is where the foster program comes in) . “We want these animals to live in a family environment where they can receive the care they need to become someone’s new best friend,” said CEO Anna Gonce. After 20 years in animal welfare, Gonce, like many of us, can’t say no to kittens (who are most at risk in traditional shelters). Since the beginning of October, she has bred a dozen litters of her own, all of which have found wonderful homes. “Pets play an important role in our lives. It’s a form of unconditional love, a best friend, a therapy animal, a playmate, ”she says. “When a person and an animal choose each other, this is where the magic happens.” And The Humane Society wants to participate in its realization. The organization has built a new facility that will allow the team to care for 900 more animals each year (there will be a grand opening later this month). “This new facility is a great place for our animals, but it’s not just that,” she says. “This represents our renewed commitment to the animals of Sarasota.”

2331 15th St., Sarasota, 941-955-4131,, @humanesocietysrq.

Humane Society of Manatee County

With a second-chance adoption program and a veterinary clinic that served 13,500 animals last year, their CEO, Rick Yocum, has been rescuing animals – and people – since 2012. The average length of stay for an adult animal from another refuge, such as a surrender, or a stray is less than 40 days old. “It’s about being able to provide the best care for our animals, we are the Humane Society and we need to act on it,” says Rick. The Humane Society is in the business of twinning and their programs do just that. They match animals with adopters and help them learn more about the pets they are raising in their families. It’s a very personal process. They encourage potential adopters to bring pets home for a 4-day, 3-night sleepover. If it’s not a good fit, they can bring this animal back guilt-free and wait for a better match and if so, an adoption is in progress. “People often walk through our door expecting to leave with a pet and that’s not always the best way. It takes patience to find the right animal. Patience also applies when people bring an animal home, giving it time to get used to its new surroundings. They offer a senior program for seniors as well as an animal behaviorist to keep animals in homes and out of shelters. When they transfer animals, they do so locally. “There is a connection between people’s health and having a pet,” says Rick. “It lowers blood pressure and gives people with mental illness a reason to get up in the morning, take a walk, and talk to other people.” Animals are truly our saving grace.

2515 14th St. W., Bradenton, 941-747-8808,, @humanenatee.


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