When Monroe County requests bids on a new contract to supply animal control services and operate shelters in Marathon and Big Pine Key, a newly formed non-profit organization of animal loving, community all-stars will be ready to go. Known as Safe Harbor Animal Rescue of the Keys (S.H.A.R.K), the new organization has pledged that every animal in its care will be given the utmost chance to have a safe, secure, cruelty-free life and that every effort will be made to place each animal in an appropriate, loving, caring home. S.H.A.R.K. has further embraced a “no-kill” philosophy in which euthanization is considered only as an extreme last resort when an animal is so ill or injured that it cannot be healed, or if all attempts to rehabilitate a severely aggressive animal have proved unsuccessful. 

The Board of Directors are all local residents and include: humanitarian Sheila Cook as President; attorney James J. Dorl as Vice President; Big Pine resident, Pastor Steve Lawes; real estate broker Brian Schmitt; and accountant Chris Zuelch as Secretary/Treasurer. Serving in an ex-Officio status are local veterinarians Drs. Geraldine Diethelm and Mike Dunn. Dr. Doug Mader and Cora Baggs sit on the Steering/Advisory Committee. Katie Bentley, currently of Florida Keys S.P.C.A. has been tapped to serve as Executive Director should the County award SHARK the contract.

The group formed in September out of concern for the future of animals in the Middle Keys after a previous organization canceled its contract with Monroe County. The principals are determined that high standards and quality service will be maintained and will put in place a team of professional, experienced animal welfare workers. All animals in its care will be neutered or spayed, treated for worms and inoculated against diseases, as well as receive a microchip for identification. Programs for socialization and basic training to increase their adoptability are considered a priority. Additionally, the organization hopes to work in cooperation with other programs working to control feral cat populations, as well as other tough animal control issues.

Other major goals include volunteer involvement and increased community education to reduce issues of cruelty, neglect, abandonment and overpopulation. S.H.A.R.K. intends that the shelter facilities will operate with an “open door” policy to encourage local residents to meet and socialize with the dogs and cats, all of which should lead to more animals finding loving homes.

“We formed Safe Harbor because we shared the community’s concern about the future of local animals,” said Board President Sheila Cook. “We decided to put our energy into concrete action and are committed to doing whatever is necessary to provide these services and shelter in the Middle Keys. We believe we can satisfy the needs of the community and deliver the quality of care that every animal deserves.”

At last report, the County intends to open up the bidding before the end of December. When it does, S.H.A.R.K. will be ready to submit its bid and supplemental paperwork in hopes of being awarded the contract. If the organization is successful, it plans to work closely with Florida Keys S.P.C.A., the interim shelter managers, for a smooth, efficient transition. According to Cook, “The board is confident that Safe Harbor will become a source of pride to the county commissioners and a valuable resource for the people and pets of the Florida Keys.”

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