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Haven for animals

By Staff | Dec 10, 2008

To the editor,

Knowing of my love of animals, friends of mine, Doug and Barrie Fisher invited me to accompany them on Barrie’s weekly Saturday volunteer trip to an animal rehabilitation facility located in Okeechobee, about a two-hour drive from Fort Myers. It is a place for the unwanted, abused, neglected, injured and illegally purchased exotic animals of all species, large and small. This place I speak of is run by a middle aged couple by the name of Sue and Clarance Arnold, a place which I can only describe as God’s gift to animals.

This sometimes last-ditch stop for the animals is funded mostly by meager donations, and maintained by a few volunteers, including some youngsters from after school. Even though it is a Florida state recognized facility, and the Fish and Wildlife Service drop off many injured or abandoned animals, large and small, they do not provide any funding for this service.

We on Sanibel and Captiva are fortunate to have a place called C.R.O.W. And because it is on Sanibel, which — like it or not — is considered an “upscale” community, which of course means C.R.O.W. has no real worry about funding since Sanibel and Captiva is without a doubt a community of monetarily generous animal lovers. But unfortunately for Sue and Clarance, Okeechobee is not what you would call upscale in the sense of Sanibel-Captiva. So their local contributors are at a minimum. And this haven for animals is a larger facility than C.R.O.W., with many larger animals to feed, which of course means feeding costs alone are hard to come by, and that means no paid employees. Even then, they walk a tightrope to keep the place running.

Sue Arnold travels to schools around the state educating school children about the animals she travels with in her SUV. As she puts it, “To educate the nature deficient children who are more interested in video games than the life and animals around them.” The money she receives for the these visits just about pays for gas. And children’s organizations from around the state visit for the informative tours and lectures she provides.

Everyone that visits this animal haven also gets to see one of the larger outdoor butterfly gardens in the state — it’s even shaped like a giant butterfly from the air. And there are over 689 varieties of professionally recognized butterflies. Believe me, it’s a sight you won’t soon forget. I never saw so many butterflies in one place in my life. Sue told me that are even more in the summer months, which I found hard to believe.

One of the things I like about the Arnolds is the fact the Arnolds have a common sense approach as animal advocates, not the extreme “tree hugger” mentality. They want to teach kids to love life and animals as much as they do, so they feel it’s worth the sacrifice of giving up a normal life for the animals they love, and believe it or not, I watched in awe how animals I would not go near, reciprocate that love to Sue Arnold. It’s as if they know what she has done for them.

I’m positive if animal lovers of Sanibel-Captiva took one look at this facility and saw for themselves the love and affection these people have for these poor animals, you would leave with a tear in your eye, and thank God people like this are on this earth to salvage the remnants of the human indifference to the welfare of wild animals, and so-called pets. If you could afford to donate one-fourth of what you donate to C.R.O.W., it would probably triple the donations they have been accustomed to receiving. I’m sure C.R.O.W. wouldn’t mind, since it would go to a like cause — you could say, a “sister cause.”

If I were the Pope, I would consider Sue the Mother Teresa of Animals, and make her a Saint. But blasphemy aside, all I have left to say is I wish some islanders make the two-hour drive to Okeechobee, or visit their Web site at www.arnoldswildlife.org or call 1-863-763-4630.

Bob Sabatino