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GCHS marks a banner year

By Staff | Dec 31, 2015

The year 2015 will go down as one of the most productive years in Gulf Coast Humane Society’s long history, and ironically, it started with a near tragedy.

But it was that tragic and sad story which turned into one of the area’s best feel-good endings of 2015 and it came in the package of a beat-up pitbull named Sunset.

The female pitbull was near death after being dumped off on the street like a bag of garbage after she was used to breed puppies and eventually as a bait dog. But a good Samaritan named Paul Livesay, who was a former employee at GCHS, picked her up on Sunset Avenue in Fort Myers, where she received her name.

It was a story which captured the hearts of the Fort Myers/Cape Coral area and one in which sparked outrage, but eventually turned into awareness and national exposure for GCHS, which nurtured Sunset back to health.

“Sunset’s story really opened the eyes of the authorities of what was going on in the area,” said GCHS Executive Director Jennifer Galloway. “It opened the eyes of the community, as well. But it was the best ending I could have ever thought of, she is just an incredible dog.”

Sunset became one of 2,000 happy endings which came out of GCHS, which is the number the shelter has had in adoptions of pets.

Currently, the shelter has adopted out 2,041 pets, including dogs and cats, which easily eclipsed the 2014 mark of 1,505.

Sunset’s amazing story led her to the home of Anke and Rulf Sturm of Cape Coral, as she now lives the life in safety, comfort and being spoiled, which was a far cry from her first two years of her life.

The national exposure for GCHS through Sunset’s ordeal was nothing but positive for the non-profit shelter, which also aided the Second Chance Fund.

The Second Chance Fund basically pays for the care and surgeries abused animals need, which is vital to caring for animals which have no where else to turn to.

“We have had other bait dogs, but there was something about Sunset which touched people,” Galloway said. “We received phone calls and handwritten cards from all over the world of how much it touched them.

“Many people told me it was that defeated look in her eyes which struck a chord with them. Now, she is such a sweetheart of a dog. (Anke and Rulf) take her to events and she has become the face of dogfighting.”

Programs such as the Second Chance Pals, which works in conjunction with the Florida Department of Corrections, helps train dogs and makes them more adoptable, also has been a positive.

GCHS also made headlines after accepting the dogs rescued from a puppy mill in Clewiston, thus raising awareness of the abusive industry. Those dogs also have all been adopted out.

“We are really hoping to get the message out there to adopt, not shop,” Galloway said.

With the adoptions of the counties’ most needy pets on the rise, GCHS received some bigger news and help from Dr. John Bruno, who donated his plastic surgery clinic to the shelter for use as a veterinary clinic.

The new clinic, which is at 2685 Swamp Cabbage Court in Fort Myers, will directly help the shelter at 2010 Arcadia Street. Not only does GCHS now have a state-of-the-art clinic, the space it provides patients and the ability to not have a backed up schedule is crucial.

“It’s going to be awesome,” Galloway said. “Getting a newer and bigger clinic was our big push, because we were booked out three to four weeks, which is not a good thing. We want to provide care for peoples’ pets right away and not make them wait and now we have the opportunity to keep up with the appointments.”

The spay and neuter surgeries will still be done at the Arcadia site, but with the opportunity to have two vets on site four days a week. GCHS has surpassed the 1,000 spay/neuter mark, as well, which only means good things for the community.

“It’s exciting,” Galloway said. “This has opened up opportunities to get grants for some possible renovations to handle the high volume of spay and neuter surgeries. Our goal is to not just handle Lee County cases, but surrounding counties, as well.”

Currently, GCHS vets can spay or neuter up to 25-30 pets a day, but with the expansion and the opportunity to have another vet on site, that number could double to 50 a day.

“We are also applying for grants so we can start offering free or reduced cost for spay or neuters for people on a limited income,” Galloway added. “We are constantly out there educating on why it is so important to spay or neuter your pet.”

One target is to start a spay/neuter program for feral cats, which has become a problem in the area, as well.

But the aggressive planning for GCHS’ future wasn’t done with a new clinic. The initiative to build a new GCHS shelter in Cape Coral is well under way, with the land acquisition currently under way with the city, which is located near Sun Splash Family Waterpark.

The estimated cost of the new shelter is $3 million, which will take up to 3-5 years to complete on the five acres of city land. Since GCHS is not funded by any government or public monies, all the funds will need to be raised through fundraisers and donations.

“We’ll have half of that in the bank when the shovel hits the ground, but once we are done with the legalities of obtaining the land, we will be starting our fundraising campaign,” Galloway said. “We have our executive committee in Cape Coral formed and they are getting their ducks in a row, then we are off and running.”

Although the legalities of the land acquisition from the City of Cape Coral to GCHS isn’t done, it is approaching.

“We continue to meet with the Gulf Coast Society and I think we are closing in on an agreement,” said City of Cape Coral City Manager John Szerlag. “I believe the Gulf Coast Society and the City of Cape Coral, as well as the community, have the same interest.

“No. 1, we all love puppies and it’s a no-kill shelter, which is a bonus. Secondly, we all feel there is a need for an animal shelter in Cape Coral, which is growing. Third, we want to be sure the (facility) is in an area conducive to this type of institution.”

For the 2016 year, GCHS will also be adding another big focus of heart worm prevention.

“It’s the silent killer for pets,” Galloway said. “We have seen increased cases and it’s extremely painful for the dog once they are infected. It’s easy and cheap to prevent, but is very expensive to treat. We want to educate owners and not let it get to that point.”

With the whirlwind of 2015 behind GCHS and big tasks still ahead of them, an army of volunteers and dedicated employees are ready to take 2016 on, all for a better future for needy pets.

“I kind of look back and say, ‘Wow! Did that really happen?'” Galloway laughed. “But it’s been an amazing year. We just have been fortunate with all the help we’ve received, it’s been just amazing.”

To donate or volunteer for GCHS, visit their website at www.gulfcoasthumanesociety.org/ or call at 239-332-0364.