For the Animals

Guests arriving for this year’s Voices of Change Animal League (VOCAL) Furball fundraising event, dubbed “The Pawscars,” walked a red carpet into the elegant banquet room at the Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club.

They first were treated to the musical stylings of VOCAL Youth Council members Abby and Emily Lombard. The twin violinists are students at West Port High School and play with the Gainesville Symphony.

Also welcoming attendees was a very dapper Baxter, a senior VOCAL canine, who was attired in his own “black tie,” to match his tuxedo-like black and white markings.

The featured film of the evening was a highlight reel of the accomplishments of this incredible organization. It opened on their Doggie Diplomat program. Through this program, dogs awaiting adoption, those who have been successfully adopted through VOCAL, and volunteers and their own pets, visit local assisted living facilities to provide joy and companionship to the residents. The smiles on the faces of the residents demonstrate the immeasurable impact of these visits have—“for a brief times, ailments are forgotten, memories are restored, and an understanding is exchanged.” It also allows the shelter dogs, many of whom were neglected and lonely before coming to VOCAL, to provide a valuable service for our community.

One title card explained that VOCAL’s Food Program feeds 7,459 local animals on a daily basis and distributes food to low-income residents and more than 100 area shelters and rescues, as well as to volunteer managed feral cat colonies. Annually, VOCAL provides 5 million animal meals throughout our community.

The video illustrated real cases of devastating animal abuse and neglect in our community and how the VOCAL team rushes in to intervene and saves the lives of so many unfortunate animals. It also acknowledged those that they cannot save, despite their best efforts.

The Trap Neuter and Return Program (TNR) is one in which community caregivers work with VOCAL to help address the feral cat overpopulation issue. TNR fixes the cats and also provides care for the colonies and has a major role in what the organization does to aid the community. While the number of ferals in Marion County is staggering, VOCAL was able to fix 600 cats in the past year, helping to address the issue of overpopulation and alleviate unnecessary suffering.

The stars of the story, however, were the many homeless pets that came to VOCAL clinging to life, and after receiving life-saving care and treatment through the Tammy Green Daniels Fix the Future Fund, were able to recover and flourish. These heart-wrenching stories demonstrate both the incredible care that VOCAL provides and the possibility of a true happy ending for some of our community’s neediest creatures and their heroic desire to survive against all odds.

The film acknowledged that VOCAL would not be able to accomplish all it does without the support of Chewy.com, R&L Carriers, their 94 partners and their network of volunteers. Every week, R&L Carriers delivers truckloads of donated food from CHEWY to their warehouse, where waiting volunteers unload and sort the donations. VOCAL is the only organization in the entire country that Chewy entrusts to operate a donation distribution center run entirely by volunteers.

Some of the shining moments from the event included Youth Council member Alyssa Basbano creating an original work of art, on the spot, for the live auction. The winning bid came in at $300.

Bringing in a bid of $5,000—the highest ever raised for a silent auction item in Furball history—was a signed, framed print on canvas, The Tundra, donated by the wonderfully caring artist Bobby Goldboro and his wife Dianne, who were in attendance.

The presenting sponsors were Dr. Maggie Bell and Mr. Darcy Bird. The total raised by the event was a whopping $135,000.

The delicious food, including a decadent dessert bar, was provided by Golden Ocala. Olivia Mercado Ortiz and Left on Broadway kept the audience rapt with their lively and lush performances.

According to VOCAL co-founder Linda Norman, who along with Kate Rengel and Lauren Carpenter brought VOCAL to life, the animal welfare organization is focused on “solving the homeless pet problem in our community.”

“We are a community of animal lovers and we like to say that we help animals with people problems,” Norman offers. “We are celebrating our five-year anniversary this month. Our approach is prevention first and we opened our clinic in November 2019. We are spaying and neutering community and feral cats and dogs and cats for other rescues to begin with because this is where the greatest need is right now.”

The biggest take away and call to action from the evening was that VOCAL needs the support of the community to continue to grow these wonderful programs, but also find homes for the many deserving homeless pets in their care.

To learn more, including details about adoptions, visit www.vocalforpets.org

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