PLANT CITY – With microphone in hand, veterinarian Christy Layton spread the word that fuels her lifelong passion, that every abused animal deserves a second chance in a loving home, as a parade of such animals, in good shape and manners, flaunted their struts at the Keel & Curley Winery in Plant City this month.
“When I was a kid, I was the girl who brought home all the animals off the street,” Layton said, after her presenting remarks at the “Fashion, Feathers & Fur” charity fashion show Oct. 17. “I wanted to save them all.”
That calling led to her post-college decision to open a veterinary practice in her hometown, now the Timberlane Pet Hospital & Resort in Plant City, at 1704 Walden Village Court. A 1992 graduate of Plant City High School, Layton works in partnership with other veterinarians and animal welfare organizations to help improve the plight of unwanted animals in sight of euthanasia.
Toward that end, the annual model-and-pet fashion show debuted three years ago, with some 100 people in attendance and about $10,000 in receipts, Layton said. This year’s event, she added, drew about 175 attendees and — even before the silent auction tally — more than $30,000 in receipts.
Benefiting from the fundraiser this year are Dogma - A Pet Rescue, Florida Parrot Rescue, Second Chance Boxer Rescue and the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation (HAHF).
“The coolest thing to me about this event is that it is another thing local vets do to get the job done,” said Don Thompson, executive director of HAHF, who with his wife, Katie, a veterinarian, owns the Veterinary Center at FishHawk in Lithia. “The only way you’re going to save a lot of animals is mostly by the community coming together to adopt. That’s the key.”
Animal rescuers are counting on it.
Many of them have become foster pet owners many times over, nursing and nurturing their temporary charges back to health and emotional stability in readiness for new home placements.
“It is the coolest thing because I didn’t even like birds,” said Cora Cashman, who added that she “got into bird rescue by accident.”
“I saw someone abusing his bird and I demanded they give it to me,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do so I found someone who knew about birds and they helped me with his rehabilitation. The bird used to bite like crazy but after a couple weeks, just by being with someone who was nice to him, he’d sit on my lap and watch television with me.”
Loretta Williams said she’s raised and bred boxers for “40 to 50 years, but I’ve never done rescue before.” At her feet, she said, was Gabby, a boxer “picked up in the Panhandle with a wound the size of a basketball.”
“She was shot full of buckshots four months ago,” Williams said. “Animal control picked her up and walking back to the car she stopped and refused to move. There was a snake in front of them that the worker didn’t see. Gabby was protecting already.”
Shelter workers looked for a rescue group to take her in, which is how Second Chance Boxer Rescue came into play. President Bill Gray “is a glutton for the last-ditch dog who needs the help the most,” Williams said. “I told Bill I’d foster her and he said, ‘Give her a name.’ ”
When Dana Gandolfo bought the Bloomingdale Pet Supply retail pet store on Lithia Pinecrest Road, the not-for-profit Cat Call animal rescue group was in residence, on site in Valrico.
“We’re all working together to try to save” unwanted pets, she said, noting the efforts of veterinarians, shelters, rescue groups, volunteers and businesses. Cat Call, she said, has permanent adoption cages at PetSmart locations on Lumsden Road and State Road 60.
“We’re pulling animals from the shelter, Hillsborough County Animal Services, and working with local veterinary offices and foundations to help find them homes,” Gandolfo said.
That’s the mission that unites Ann-Marie Pearson and Amy Howland, co-directors and founders of Dogma - A Pet Rescue, which celebrates its fourth anniversary in January.
“We wanted to expand on what we saw in dog rescue,” Howland said. “We wanted to make it more community based, reach out to other dog rescuers and partner with shelters.”
So, too, the Veterinary Center at FishHawk, where Karla Sirvio, Emmy Robinson and Karissa Flowers, at the charity fashion show, said they love their jobs as vet techs.
“I have the best job ever,” Sirvio said. “I get to play with cats and dogs every day of my life.”
Flowers, a 2010 graduate of Plant City High, said she took veterinary assistant classes as a high school student. “Faculty members would bring their pets in to our clinic setting and we’d give them baths and trim their nails,” she said. “We learned, too, how to properly train and retrain animals.”
The center each month holds an Adopt-a-Thon for foster animals. The next such event is Nov. 16, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Veterinary Center at FishHawk, 5484 Lithia Pinecrest Road.
As for her part, volunteer Jackie Beiro, at the Dogma table, said she turned to dog rescue after a career of many jobs, including as a deejay for WTMP and as a floor director for a television station.
She founded Saving Shelter Dogs “because I want a legacy, I want something to leave behind,” Beiro said. “This is something that makes me happy and this is something I want to do until I can’t breathe anymore.”
As noted, shelters are not sanctuaries and they cannot offer unlimited lengths of stay.
“A lot of people in the community don’t know how the shelter works,” Beiro said. “People drop off their pets and say, ‘Please find him a good home.’ But that’s not what happens and people need to know that’s not what happens.”
The odds are against many placements, which is where animal rescue attempts to fill a void.
“You can get overwhelmed looking at the numbers,” Layton said. “But if you can focus on the individual animal, that’s where you can make a difference.”