Veterinarian Michael Claudio delicately picked up a mewling ginger kitten, who had been nestled against her mama on a pile of blankets. A few weeks prior, her pregnant mother — given the name “Magic” by staff — had found her way to Key Largo’s Upper Keys Humane Society at MM 101 a few weeks ago, guided as if by an inner radar.
Claudio gently held the kitten to his chest. “This is why we do what we do,” he said, looking down and making soft clicking noises at the tiny creature.
By “what we do,” he means giving stray animals TLC, but also TNR, which stands for “Trap, Neuter and Release.” In this way, Claudio explains, the Humane Society will cut down on overpopulation and repopulation of the feral cat populations in the Upper Keys.
Claudio is the medical director for the Upper Keys Humane Society and also runs his own practice, so he devotes many hours of his week to taking care of animals. He considers it his calling. UKHS President Angela Boehm is also passionate about their nonprofit’s cause.
“We are the only no-kill shelter in Monroe County, and we take in every animal,” she said. “We have dogs who are not adoptable — they went to a couple of homes but it didn’t work out. But we give them a beautiful life here.”
“The love and care of the staffing here is like no other,” said Claudio. For example, shelter supervisor Karla Perrine is the “mom” of the on-site animals and bottle-feeds the kittens.
Boehm explained that though their name is Upper Keys Humane Society — so christened by its founder in 1972 — the nonprofit is not in any way affiliated with the organizations American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or American Humane.
“We get no funding from humane societies or the county,” she said.
“We’re completely funded by the community,” Claudio said, pointing out that the nonprofit recently received a generous donation from UKHS clients in Ocean Reef and Key Largo for $400,000. “We’ve got a lovely community.”
This donation, Boehm and Claudio announced, will be used to break ground on a new UKHS building just next door to the old one at MM101. The new facility will have a surgical salon and more dog runs, as well a quarantine unit for new arrivals — a space that they didn’t have room for before.
The pair speaks highly of MarrVelous Pet Rescue, another animal rescue nonprofit nearby. The main difference between UKHS and MarrVelous is that UKHS is licensed by the county to provide overnight shelter to animals.
“I want to make clear this is a beautiful melding of two organizations with the same goal,” said Boehm, explaining that both nonprofits want to provide food, care and treatment for abandoned or stray animals. “The need is great.”
The need is so great, in fact, that Claudio and Boehm hope to meet with the county to talk about new endeavors and get its support. In particular, Claudio would like to pair up foster animals with the elderly and terminally ill residents of the Upper Keys community, forming a mutually beneficial relationship between human and animal.
“We would pay for the basic care of the animals, but I’m hoping the county can point us in the right direction to get this program started. I firmly believe in the human-animal bond,” he said.
Meanwhile, UKHS is throwing a fundraiser on Friday, Jan 21. All proceeds will go toward buying the “innards” to the new building, such as equipment that locals can have named in their honor with a plaque. The party will have a dinner, two drink tickets, a DJ and live and silent auctions with prizes such as restaurant dinners and hotel stays.
“We’re known for putting the ‘fun’ in ‘fundraisers,’” said Boehm with a laugh.
The Raise the Roof Gala fundraiser is on Friday, Jan 21, 2022, from 6 to 10 p.m., at Key Largo’s Baker’s Cay Resort Cayview South Ballroom Party attire is Keys formal. Tickets are $100 a person and can be purchased at the shelter — which is located at 101617 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, oceanside — or through Boehm at 305-522-0260.