As many as two-thirds of American families include a pet, and area animal rescues have more than enough available adoptees—and love—to go around.
Blue-eyed female seeks companion for cuddling and long walks on the beach. Active male seeks outdoor adventure buddy for high-energy runs and swimming.
Their ads read like online dating profiles. Their glossy photos are designed to make you fall in love at first sight. But this isn’t Match or eHarmony. These are adoptable animals waiting for a forever home.
“The first step is always coming to the shelter and falling in love,” says Amanda Thurber, director of humane education and outreach coordinator for the Humane Society of Marion County. “We want to make sure that connection is there and that you’re open to adding them as your new family member, because that’s ultimately what the pets are to us—they are family members.”
Director Jim Sweet of Marion County Animal Services agrees that the online photos and descriptions of their more than 100 animals waiting for adoption are usually what inspires someone to come into the county shelter on Baseline Road.
“A lot of times, people come in with a particular animal in mind because they saw it on our website, and it reminds them of maybe a pet they had in the past or resembles a pet that somebody owned that they know,” he says. “It’s an emotion. They feel that emotion, they see that animal and they want to meet it.”
But, he says, just like online dating, the personality behind the photo doesn’t always spark a connection.
“The reality is a picture is one thing but meeting the pet is a whole separate experience,” he explains. “Sometimes it works out with that animal and sometimes we redirect them to a better fit. It’s kind of like a game of matchmaker. The one that brought them in may not be the one that’s actually going to be their furry friend forever.”
For cat lover Zac Prine, it was a true case of love at first sight when he met the gray tuxedo bobtail he named Stump at Marion County Animal Services around five years ago.
“I felt this little pat,” he remembers. “I turned around and Sarah McLachlan’s Angel starts playing and I see this beautiful little milk-mustached gray cat. I instantly fell in love with him.”
Prine would later save Nobuu, a soft, black-haired Manx found in a litter of strays, to be a friend for Stump. When he found the third member of what he calls his “No-Tail Kitty Crew” last year on the Humane Society website, he didn’t hesitate to adopt the one-eyed orange Manx believed to be 5 to 7 years old, who would later need to have one leg amputated.
“He was a little older, had a disability and needed a good home, and I knew I could provide for him, so I took him in,” Prine offers. “He was missing an eye, had a bum leg and was a Manx. I was like, ‘He’s perfect!’ I got lucky with three incredible cats.”
Rick Schmidt met his beautiful, fluffy-eared, sable-coated companion Abby at the Humane Society shelter.
“I wasn’t necessarily looking for a dog like her, but I immediately fell in love with her,” he remembers. He says the brown-eyed beauty “loves to go for rides and trips and really enjoys it” when Schmidt takes her to work with him at National Parts Depot. “She’s the most well-behaved dog I’ve ever had, and she’s a real sweetheart.”
Marion County Commissioner Jeff Gold also found his dog Puzzle at the Humane Society. Although he and wife Shawn somewhat reluctantly made the decision to adopt the severely abused German shepherd in early 2019, the gentle pup who likes to swim and chase squirrels instantly became a treasured member of the family and inseparable playmate for then 1-year-old granddaughter Skylar.
With more than 200 adoptable animals between them, Animal Services and the Humane Society are great places to meet a wide variety of cats, dogs and other critters. Both shelters are open to the public, so if you’re looking for a family pet you can stop in to see who’s around, and hopefully meet your new furry family member. Both are no-kill shelters, and they both make sure animals have veterinary examinations, vaccinations, spay or neuter surgeries and are evaluated for behavioral issues before they are ready for adoption.
“We want people who are willing to take a chance at times with some of our pets, and give that opportunity and just kind of be open minded about what’s at the shelter and the benefits they can provide them,” Sweet says. “We just want people to be open minded.”
Additional Local Cat and Dog Rescues
Voices of Change Animal League (VOCAL), a Marion County dog and cat rescue, and Sheltering Hands, an Ocala cat rescue, are always looking for permanent homes for adoptable animals, but they operate a little differently than the larger shelters.
“The way we handle our adoptions are more on a one-on-one, tailored basis,” explains VOCAL co-founder Lauren Carpenter. “A majority of our animals are in foster care. For us, it’s not necessarily about the quantity of animals that we’re adopting out but more so the quality of the adoptions. We feel like that’s super important to do from the perspective of the animal but also for the person, because they’re looking to adopt a lifelong pet so we want to be able to provide a service where we’re able to give them as much information as possible and make that really good match to get that pet into a home and also fulfill that family’s desire to have a great pet in their home.”
VOCAL advises potential adoptive families to start by filling out an adoption application on their website. Volunteers then learn as much as they can about the adoptive family to match them with a pet that will be a perfect fit with their lifestyle.
Sheltering Hands, a cat-only rescue, also encourages potential adopters to start by filling out an application, as many of their adoptable cats are living in foster homes. However, explains Chair Elena Goulet, they also take adoptable cats to meet the public seven days a week at the PetSmart in Lady Lake and on Saturdays at the PetSmart in Ocala. Goulet encourages adopters to think of bringing a feline into the family as a 12- to 20-year commitment.
“We believe that the animal, when it goes into your home, is meant to enhance the quality of your life. We believe it’s important for you to form a bond with the animal. We want you to understand what the cat needs from you to make sure it fits your lifestyle.”
Maybe you’ve decided you’re ready for a new canine companion—one who reminds you of the golden retriever who was your faithful childhood friend or your neighbor’s beloved wiener dog. Breed-specific rescues throughout Florida cater to people who already know and love a particular breed of dog and who are willing to wait until just the right pooch comes along.
“A breed specific rescue such as DARE is not a one size fits all,” explains Alicia Duval, president of the statewide Dachshund Adoption Rescue & Education (DARE), based in Tampa. “You’re going to know about the dog you’re interested in or you’re adopting from us because the dogs are in our homes, we are familiar with the breed.”
A lifelong dachshund lover and dog mom to five, as well as several foster dogs, she maintains the “quirky, funny little dogs” make great family pets, but she cautions adopters—many of whom request puppies—to carefully consider their lifestyle before choosing a dog.
“The perfect home is out there for every dog,” she says. “It’s our job to facilitate that match.” Duval recalls that over the last several years she’s seen a few people who quickly figured out the tiny puppy they thought they wanted was not, in fact, their ideal fur baby.
“If they’re adopting a puppy from me I make them get on the floor in their living room and see what they can see. And every cord they see, I show them if they can see it so can the puppy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve adopted dogs out and the owners will text me a couple days later a chewed-up iPhone cord or a chewed-up remote control. And I say: ‘Take a newspaper and roll it up like you’re going to smack somebody—and whack yourself on the head. It’s your fault for leaving it out!’ she says with a laugh. And they’re like, ‘You’re so right, you warned us.’”
Duval remembers one woman who was approved to adopt a puppy.
“After three days she called back and said, ‘I’m too old for a puppy. I can’t do this.’ And I went and got the puppy back from her. And so when the right adult dog came along, I placed that dog for her and it was a perfect match.”
Bob Levenson of The Villages found his ideal canine companions in rescued greyhounds. He came to Florida in 2003 with the beautiful, sleek Sophia, a full-size greyhound whose leg injury had forced an early retirement from the dog tracks of Southern California. In 2015, he applied to a Florida Italian greyhound rescue and adopted 5-year-old Siena and 9-year-old Sicily, who he describes as “excellent walking dogs, a lot of fun, and great company” for he and his wife Grace.
Debby Moyer, president of Senior Greyhound Adoption of Florida, says after Florida passed Amendment 13 in 2018, greyhound racing is nearly phased out. They specialize in placing older dogs in forever homes.
“Senior greyhounds are the best-kept secret in the greyhound adoption community,” she says. “They are friendly, intelligent, affectionate dogs who fit right into the family as if they’ve been there for years.”
After decades of rescuing Shetland sheepdogs, Barbara Davis founded Mid Florida Sheltie Rescue in 2004. With only a small number of adoptable dogs living in foster homes, her rescue focuses on finding “the best and last home” for each one, where they will be treated like a valued family member.
Suncoast Basset Rescue places the lovable, long-eared hounds in homes throughout Florida, and President Gail Wilson says the organization “gives bassets a second chance to live, as they were intended to be someone’s best animal friend.”
Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida started in the early 1990s with volunteers from the local breed club and help from the Golden Retriever Club of America. Since then they’ve rescued thousands of the beloved, intelligent pups made famous by Duke, the Bush Beans dog, and Shadow from the Homeward Bound movies. The group finds adoptive homes for both purebred and golden retriever blends they call “one-of-a-kind furry companions that can give you a lifetime of love and devotion.”
While many people picture a playful puppy or cute kitten as their first choice in a pet, more and more animal lovers are discovering the joys of adopting an older companion. Animal rescues say there are always many senior pets waiting for homes.
“I like older dogs because you kind of know what you’re getting, their personalities and their behaviors; you’re going to see pretty quickly what they’re like and what they like to do,” Sweet says.
Thurber agrees: “What you see is what you get with a senior animal.” She explains that the Humane Society’s Seniors for Seniors program matches older pets with senior citizens, which gives older folks health benefits that can include lowering blood pressure and reducing depression and loneliness while giving deserving dogs and cats loving homes.
“A lot of times people will say to us they don’t want an older pet because they can’t handle the heartache,” she says. “It’s hard to lose a pet as a family member.” But, she says, “They need love as much as any of the others.”
Sheltering Hands currently has more than 70 cats age 8 and older in their Senior for Senior program, who have been placed with some 55 senior citizens age 75 and older.
“There is a distinct advantage for senior citizens to have a pet in their life,” Goulet explains. “The responsibility of caring for another creature often is what gets seniors motivated to be more active.”
Both programs are supported by donations to minimize costs for seniors. Sheltering Hands covers the cats’ medical care and can sometimes, if needed, help with food and litter. They consider the placement a long-term foster situation, which means if at any time the person can no longer care for the cat it can be returned to the program. The Humane Society waives adoption fees for seniors, can help them find resources if they need assistance with pet care costs, and will also welcome the pet back if the person’s situation changes.
“We are firm believers that Seniors for Seniors is something that this community needs,” Thurber notes. “There are a lot of people out there that are on fixed incomes and we don’t want that to keep them from being able to make that emotional connection with a furry animal.”
Do you live on a farm? Did you know companion animals, including horses, pigs, goats, cows and chickens can be adopted?
Run for the Ribbons, based in Morrison, rescues, rehabilitates and re-homes retired thoroughbred horses. Founder and president Laurine Fuller-Vargas says their Cedar Lock Farm only takes in five rescue horses a year, and some need more rehab than others before they go to an adoptive home. Farm owners can apply on the website and must prove they have the ability to provide “the best possible home.”
At Marion County Animal Services’ Shocker Field, 40 acres of pastures and corrals provide temporary shelter for a variety of livestock animals.
“Right now we have horses for adoption and pigs for adoption,” Sweet says. “We tend to have a lot of potbellied pigs. We do get goats and chickens and cows every so often.”
He explains that many farm animals come in as strays or have been confiscated because of neglect.
“We really want them to go somewhere that’s going to be a permanent home and they’ll never have to live through what they lived through previously,” he notes. “That’s the end-of-the-day goal.”
Could your farm use a barn cat? While most rescue cats are placed in homes where they’ll live a strictly indoor life, Sheltering Hands and Animal Services have adoption programs that place less-social cats, who prefer to live outdoors, with farm owners.
“We have a barn cat program, Working Whiskers,” Sweet notes. “Some cats are not as outgoing as others and they would be happy to live at your place but they may not want you cradling them. But they still deserve an opportunity.”
Adopt Don’t Shop
No matter what kind of pet you’re looking for, rescues say the most important thing is to adopt rather than purchase an animal from an unknown breeder or pet shop. Be patient with the process, and let personality, rather than looks, guide your selection. Recognize that pet adoption is a lifelong commitment—but one that will provide lifelong love.
“In the end that pet is always going to love you,” Thurber says of rescue pets. “They know that you’ve given them that second chance and they always find a way to repay it.”
Meet adoptable pets:
Marion County Animal Services, 5701 SE 66th St., Ocala
Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm
Marion County Humane Society, 701 NW 14th Road, Ocala
Open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 10am-6pm; Sunday 10am-4pm.
Apply to Adopt:
Dachshund Adoption Rescue & Education (DARE),
Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida,
Mid Florida Sheltie Rescue,
Run for the Ribbons,
Senior Greyhound Adoption of Florida,
Suncoast Basset Rescue,
Voices of Change Animal League (VOCAL),