A Permanent Home For Animals With No Place To Go
By Lorie Jewell
Corner - Jayla takes regal strides from one end of her living
space to another while next door, Rudy pounces playfully on a
long stick. Nearby, Bosco leaps effortlessly between tree branches
and Rat gnaws on a raw corn cob, twirling it slowly while making
the rows disappear. Piglee sleeps soundly, oblivious to her neighbors
including a newly arrived pack of six wolf dogs occupying a 3,500
squre foot holding pen across the way.
It's a rather ordinary day for the residents of Judy Watson's
Survival Outreach Sanctuary. Watson left a job last year as education
director at Wildlife on Easy Street, an exotic cat sanctuary in
northwest Hillsborough County, to launch her own facility for
homeless creatures. I'll take anything that needs a home."
says Watson who finances her operation through grants and donations.
On 10 acres in north/central Pasco, Watson and a cadre of volunteers
began cleaning up and building fenced compounds in June 2000.
She incorporated the sanctuary in September. It wasn't long before
an abandoned mutt wandered onto the property, putting Watson's
promise to the test. "He was absolutely starving to death;
every bone in his body showed," Watson recalls of her first
"rescue." She named the pooch Starvin' Marvin and moved
him into the double wide mobile home she also shares with Bosco,
a white-faced, brown lemur from Madagascar. A rear door to the
home is surrounded by 14 foot high fencing that also encompasses
a large tree with plenty of branches, giving the little primate
easy access to indoor and outdoor living space. Bosco came from
a breeder. At five months, he had never lived with a lemur family,
or troop. So marvin has become a surrogate mother, while Watson's
wild cats - Jayla and Rudy - round out Bosco's animal family.
"It's an absolute riot, "Watson chuckles. "But
that's all he knows."
Jayla at 4 is Watson's ambassador for the Florida panther education
programs she has been teaching students for several years. Rudy
is a 1 year old African serval. A South American nutria, a Florida-muskrat
look-a-like, also has a home with Watson. She calls the critter
Rat and delights in watching him eat corn on the cob much like
a human does. "Nutrias are considered an enemy of the environment."
she notes, explaining their drive to tear up anything in their
way of finding food. "But he's so adorable. Isn't that the
cutest thing you've ever seen?" Then there's Piglee.
Watson took in the piglet when it was small enough to fit in the
palm of her hand. That was eight years and a few hundred pounds
ago. Since she established the sanctuary, most of the calls for
help have involved taking in horses, Watson says. She's not set
up for that yet but plans to get a barn up as soon as possible.
Plans For Future: Watson has a head full of other plans, too. She
envisons two building being added to the property, one to be used
as a hospital for animals in need of medical care and the other
as an education center, where students can learn about all aspects
of nature and the environment. She wants to see classes from area
schools come for daylong visits, to see the animals and take nature
hikes through the property. She's already discovered at least six
varieties of butterflies, lightning bugs, and wild blueberries and
blackberries. She hopes to get someone from the Native Plant Society
out soon to help identify more vegetation. At last count, there
were 40 gopher holes scattered around the property.
Working Together Her most pressing need is to build a fenced compound
for a pack of six wolf dogs she took in recently from upstate New
York. The rescue illustrates another of Watson's goals -- to work
cooperatively with other area agencies. Dawn Bednar, of the Largo
based Federal Wolf Dog Rescue, got the call about the dogs a couple
of weeks ago. Watson agreed to house them, and PAWS of west Pasco
loaned Bednar a van she drove to New York and brought the wolf dogs
back in. Watson has also forged a close working relationship with
Jackie Farmer of the Hernando County Humane Society. "I think
we can do more together than as single groups." Watson says,
stressing another tenet of her operation -- no breeding of any animals,
period. "My goal is to find solutions to the problem, not be
a part of it." The wolf dogs, four males and two females who
were spayed and neutered within days of arrival, are living in a
fenced area Watson has designated as an emergency shelter for new
arrival. They belonged to an elderly breeder whose health problems
made it impossible for him to keep them. "These guys would
have had a guaranteed death sentence if Judy hadn't taken them."
Bednar said. Watson has an area with plenty of trees and foliage
picked out to build a compound for the wolf dogs.
Getting it done will take some time, though. Time is friend and
foe alike for Watson's dreams. "There's so much I want to do,
and it seems like it's slow going," she laments. "But
on the other hand, I don't want to do anything in a hurry. It's
taken me 17 years to reach this point, to do what's in my heart,
I want to do it right."