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Wrigley gum heir calls Odessa home

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Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 10:21 PM
ODESSA -

Helen Rosburg long ago traded Palm Beach glitz for rural Odessa. The northwest Hillsborough County community could provide it all – proximity to the family’s show horses, ample acreage for her menagerie of rescue animals and room for an estate befitting the heir to the Wrigley chewing-gum fortune.

“I have 20 house pets, and that includes a pig” named Yum-Yum, she says before doing a quick recalculation. “I rescued another cat just 20 minutes ago, make it 21.”

Most of her animals, including goats, horses, rabbits, exotic birds and others, live outdoors -- quite comfortably in custom-designed quarters on the 127-acre gated homestead she calls a farm. The pigs’ outdoor accommodations include pools and water misters to cool them. There are two “cat condos,” three kennels and a staff of 15 to care for the animals.

“My life is devoted to the service of God, and the core of my mission is animal rescue,” declares Rosburg, founder of On the Wings of Angels Rescue. “That’s the most important thing about me, my faith.”

Her love of animals dates to childhood.

“I’m the one who brought home the birds with broken wings. I’m the one who got the box and picked up the baby squirrels that fell out of the nest,” she says.

As an adult, she quickly found her posh South Florida lifestyle unsuitable, moving to Villa Rosa about eight years ago and, in 2006, moving into the three-story home she built off Gunn Highway, just south of Pasco County, for her and husband, James. Daughter Ali lives in a separate house on the property.

“We lived in Palm Beach, but I stuck out like a sore thumb,” Rosburg says. “High society is for the birds. I broke every animal ordinance on the books, times 10. I had to leave before I was discovered. I had animals hidden everywhere,” she says.

“My landscapers loved me; they were in on it,” she says. “They created beautiful hedges and hollowed out the inside of them for my rabbit cages.”

The great-granddaughter of William J. Wrigley Jr., founder of the famous chewing-gum company in 1891, has a reputation as an animal savior and doesn’t have to seek out the needy pets she rehabilitates and places in permanent homes.

“They come to me in miraculous ways; that’s how I know it’s meant to be.” she says, stroking Jill, a fox terrier sitting at her feet in a high-ceilinged sitting room overlooking her well-landscaped property.

The society asked Rosburg to accept a Labrador retriever among a group of dogs being trailered to Florida. When Rosburg declined, citing insufficient room for another large- breed senior dog, the caller recommended Jill.

The 64-year-old animal lover relented: “Oh heck, I’ll take the Lab, too.”

Acceptance, however, is limited. “I only rescue from other rescues, and it’s by referral only,” she says. “And I only take dead-end cases,” including black-listed breeds like pit bulls, Rottweilers and German shepherds, the latter a breed she shows.

“I take the ones who’ve been so abused and neglected that their minds are blown,” she says of dogs she accepts, many of them aged. “We rehabilitate them and put a ton of training on them. Every dog is totally obedience trained, crate trained,” she says.

Adopting a dog from Rosburg requires a honeymoon period. “You can’t just go, ‘I’ll take that one home with me,’” she says. Prospective owners are required to make hour-long daily visits for one week. “Work with the dog, socialize with it. We show you how to do obedience training with it,” she says.

After that, a would-be owner takes the dog home for an afternoon visit, then for a weekend. “If everything is perfect and we can tell the dog loves you and you love the dog, then you can take it home.”

Sixty rescued dogs await adoption, each with “a lifetime guarantee: If you have any issues, we’ll straighten it out,” she says. People learn of available dogs through Rosburg’s Facebook page and website: http:onthewingsofangesrescue.com.

“I have over 300 animals on this farm,” even an African tortoise, says Rosburg. “You name it, I’ve rescued it.”

Rosburg herself has twice been rescued, surviving two battles with breast cancer.

Her left-arm tattoos, elbow to shoulder, celebrate her medical victories, like the one on her forearm depicting a hand clenching a rope with the word “ENDURE.”

Her philanthropy is not limited to rescuing animals.

“I’m Momma Helen to a lot of kids,” says Rosburg, a sponsor of Triple Threat Mentoring of Aurora, Ill., 35 miles west of Chicago. The nonprofit strives to help children stay out of gangs while teaching them life skills. “If they successfully complete the programs, their reward is to come here for three days: Camp Rosburg.”

gwilkens@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7124

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