WIMAUMA - After almost 10 years of serving the greater Sun City Center area, the Three Legged Poodle pet boutique has closed.
"It was a very difficult decision but one we simply had to face," said Linda Cardamone, who co-owned the shop with her husband, Steve Cooksey. "We were dealing with declining sales from some increased competition, the economy and my ongoing battle with cancer. There was too much stress, and I want to get well."
Customers are distraught.
"I'm honestly heartbroken," said Kings Point resident June Fishman, a customer of the store since it opened in 2003 at 715 Imar Drive in Sun City Center. When Cardamone moved the boutique to 16621 U.S. 301 S. two years ago, Fishman followed and remained a loyal customer to the end. "I'm in a real quandary," she said. "My animals eat special foods that only Linda carried."
But that's not the only reason she's sad.
"(Shopping at the Three Legged Poodle) was like when we were little, when business was actually done on a handshake," Fishman continued. "It wasn't only the special products, but the kindness and special service you don't find anymore in other stores."
Cardamone appreciates folks like Fishman.
"I'm going to miss the daily interaction with customers who became friends and adopted so many of the pets that came to us for rescue," she said. "I want to thank everyone for their business and support all these years."
"I'm sad but I understand there may be a sense of relief," said longtime customer Kathy Bizzano, who adopted four of Cardamone's rescues. "Linda is so kind-hearted. She is so, so special and so were both shops. I will always share a connection with her."
Cardamone may have closed the boutique, but she is definitely continuing her rescue efforts of more than 25 years, which now fall under the umbrella of L.L. Cool Pup's R.A.P.P., aka L.L. Cool Pup's Rescue Animals Placement Project. The organization is named after her rescued brindle chihuahua, L.L. Cool Pup, a celebrity-of-sorts in the community until he retired as official greeter a year or so ago.
Before opening the Three Legged Poodle, Cardamone worked for almost a decade as supervisor of an intervention program at The Spring, a women's shelter in Tampa.
She helped veterinarian Hal Ott start CARE, the no-kill animal shelter in Ruskin and works hand-in-hand to place animals for a number of organizations, including the Animal Coalition of Tampa, CARE, Brethren of St. Francis, Critter Mama Rescue and Feline Folks. After Hurricane Katrina, she aided lost or abandoned animals in Slidell, La., by personally delivering food and supplies there that were donated by the South Shore community and food distributors servicing her store.
"Many of my friends run the other way when they see me," Cardamone said, joking. "That's because I've introduced them to some of the newest members of their families. I've been a bit of matchmaker."
Debbie Wiley and Andrea Peterson know that firsthand. Both helped out at the shop in recent years and adopted pets from Cardamone.
"As a person and a shop owner, Linda has been a tremendous gift and friend to animals and people in this community for years," Wiley said. "Happy families have been created as countless animals and humans have found each other thanks to her constant rescue work.
"Many friendships have formed, both with her and because of her, and I know her presence and the items she offered will be missed," she added. "Keeping a small business going is a challenge in the best of times, and right now Linda's priority must be her own well-being so that she can continue to do what she is so good at and loves most: the care and rescue of animals."
"I absolutely agree," said Peterson. "It goes without saying that closing the Poodle is an immeasurable loss. We knew it was coming but it's still hard to accept. Anyone you ask will tell you the same thing."
Still, Cardamone knows it's time to move on.
"It's all so bittersweet," Cardamone said. "I'm happy to have more time now to devote to the rescue but I'll miss many facets of the business - mostly the customers and their pets."
To contact Cardamone about the rescue, email The3LeggedPoodle@aol.com.