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Pet Rescue by Judy erects new million-dollar animal shelter in Sanford

Nonprofit rescue group says the project was built almost entirely on community donations



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The firefighters feared it was a baby. Responding to an emergency call, they heard persistent crying, but when they tracked the sound into an abandoned house, it led them to a box. Inside was not a baby but a puppy. They were relieved, but obligated to deal with it. What to do with an orphaned puppy in the middle of the night? There was only one person in Central Florida they could think to call at 1 a.m.: Judy Sarullo, founder of Pet Rescue by Judy, who keeps her phone beside her bed at night in case just such a call comes in. She’d rather lose sleep now, she says, than lose sleep later knowing that an animal didn’t get help when it needed it.

And so it was that Sarullo, who at 65 has a hard time navigating her hometown Sanford in daylight, much less a trek to Ocoee by streetlight, headed out to pick up the newest addition to her rescue fold, which includes more than 200 cats and 140 dogs.

“The police department thinks I’m their personal rescue,” Sarullo says. “I had one officer called me at 3 o’clock in the morning. … He used to come to my house when I lived in Orlando, and I’d go, ‘Where are you, officer?’ ‘I’m in front of the house, bring some cat carriers.’”

Sarullo’s demeanor is reminiscent of Lucille Ball – she’s always laughing, peculiar but driven, with a warm but brash charm and a New York accent. And though she has yet to be considered (as Ball was) for the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Girl Scouts of America recently nominated her for their Women of Distinction award for her volunteer work with Dream Acres for Autism, where she successfully partnered two shelter dogs with autistic children in need of service dogs, as well as her day-to-day animal-welfare-driven work. “It’s such an honor,” she says of the recognition.

Another honor: that Sarullo has managed to build such immense community support for her rescue efforts that she’s gathered enough resources – including donated buildings, materials and monetary contributions – to construct the shelter of her dreams, which she hopes will be operable by October.

The $1.2 million facility, which will eventually include an animal shelter and spay/neuter clinic, is under construction now at 409 S. Laurel Ave. in Sanford. It will be the 11th space Pet Rescue by Judy has inhabited in the 21 years the organization has been rescuing animals in the Orlando area. Over the course of its lifetime, Pet Rescue by Judy – and, by extension, Sarullo herself – has been evicted, taken to court and pushed into run-down buildings without running water. Though built as a temporary care station for animals before adoption, the facility will be the first permanent residence of Pet Rescue by Judy –a place where Sarullo can, at last, truly own her cause.

Pet Rescue by Judy was founded in 1992 and made its first public appearance under a tent at an Orlando farmers market. As the small nonprofit rescue blossomed, it kept outgrowing its facilities – first Sarullo’s home, then its original location on Church Street, and next, a storefront adoption center, where Sarullo still does meet-and-greets, in the Oviedo Mall. Finally, the shelter found its way to Sanford, where she plans to stay for good.

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