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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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After the first phase of the shelter is complete, Sarullo plans to construct a 4,000-square-foot native Pet Rescue by Judy vet clinic, which will likely cost an additional $500,000 to complete. Sarullo and Elliott-Rink expect the clinic to be functioning by January 2014, staffed with vet techs and at least one veterinarian, whose salaries will also need to be paid. Finances for this are still uncertain. Elliott-Rink points out that Sarullo’s work helps diminish the costs of government-funded animal shelters and doesn’t benefit from state taxes, providing a valuable community service that doesn’t just manage the problem of animal overpopulation but seeks actively to prevent it.

According to the American Humane Society, nearly half the animals brought to shelters are euthanized – that’s 3.7 million abandoned animals eventually put down each year. That’s why part of Pet Rescue by Judy’s mission is to educate the public about the importance of spaying and neutering their pets, to prevent more unwanted animals from winding up on the doorsteps of rescues and shelters around the region.

Which is exactly what happened when construction first started on the new shelter: A car pulled up outside, and in full view of all the dog owners at Sanford’s Paw Park, an undernourished, diseased dog was pushed out of the vehicle, which then sped off. In Sarullo’s office, monitors provide surveillance of all sides of the building, and she saw the dog, the car and the outraged response of dog-park-goers.

“How could they do that?” people in the crowd demanded, as Sarullo took the dog into the office. Their indignation, she says, is misallocated. The dog’s owners may not have known how to care for the dog. They may not have been able to afford to feed it. But they did know where to take the dog to fix the damage. And she’s really proud of that.

“They didn’t have to bring the dog here,” Sarullo says, noting that the poor economy has led to home foreclosures and unexpected debt that pushes people to extremes, and animals are all too often discovered by police nearly starved in vacant homes.

“Now with the economy – in 20 years, I’ve never had it this bad,” Sarullo says. “People are losing their jobs, their homes, then the animal goes to the shelter or, worse, some animals get left in the house, abandoned.”

When Pet Rescue by Judy first made the move from Orlando to Sanford in 2008, Sarullo was nervous to meet her new neighbors. She advertised her grand opening at her current location on Iroquois Avenue, and hoped, as she hopes every day, that people would take notice.

“That night we had our opening night, and I was petrified, because nobody in Sanford knew who the hell I was ’cause I was over in Oviedo and Orlando,” Sarullo says. “I was so scared. I was like, ‘Oh my god, we’re gonna be sitting here, and nobody will ever come.’ That night, the grand opening had 150 people come. I was in tears.”

By now, Sanford is well aware who Sarullo is. Elliott-Rink calls her a celebrity. The support she’s had a knack for generating in each community she nestles into has given unexpected permanency to her organization, which started as a simple out-of-house endeavor eventually run via a niche pet-adoption website.

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