LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Good can come from tragedy, and that was the case on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon at the Sarasota Polo Club in Lakewood Ranch.
Friends, volunteers, polo enthusiasts and a multitude of dog lovers of all breeds, shapes and sizes enjoyed an entertaining polo match and some strolling with their four-legged furry friends, all to raise money for Nate's Honor Animal Rescue, a Lakewood Ranch nonprofit staffed by mostly volunteers who tirelessly care for rescued dogs and cats in a no-kill, sheltered environment.
The Ponies for Pups fundraising event marked the rescue organization's fifth annual, but with an added significance this year. The rescue has graciously taken in 86 dogs and cats, including some new puppies that were born a few days after a raid last month by local law enforcement at Napier's Log Cabin Horse & Animal Sanctuary in East Manatee, where several hundred animals were confiscated and corpses were discovered. No charges have been filed against the owners, who are being investigated for animal cruelty and fraud.
Kristen Baldelli, a Nate's Honor Rescue volunteer since last October who was fondly caring for some of the Napier puppies at the polo match, says it's gratifying to see them saved.
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"It's wonderful to see them live. Some of our volunteers have been their foster caretakers since they were rescued," Baldelli said. "We have a great screening process to find them a home that's a good fit forever,"
Last year, the animal rescue saved over a thousand animals and raised well over $10,000 from the charity polo match alone. This year, due to the Napier situation and all the publicity it received, the organization is expecting to raise close to $20,000 from community donations raised at the match, along with creating awareness for the growing need to adopt neglected and abused animals.
Karen Slomba, associate director of Nate's Honor, says the organization really had to reach out to volunteers to care for the rescued animals and temporarily foster them since the Napier seizure tripled the sanctuary's capacity.
"We were overwhelmed with how the community showed their support for animal welfare by such an outpouring of donations, from food, to blankets, cleaning supplies, and money to pay for the animals' medical costs," Slomba said.
About 70 percent of Napier's rescued animals need dental work, and some need emergency surgery. One rescued dog had to be put down after a blood transfusion failed to save him.
"Coping is not an option in this situation, knowing these animals are waiting for you every day," added Dari Oglesby, Nate's Honor executive director. "We can always use more volunteers now that the news about Napier has died down. In addition to this, we are asking the public to adopt our regular animals to make room for the Napier dogs who still need a lot of medical care," Oglesby said.
Many of the Napier dogs have medical needs which require special care by those who adopt them. Nate's Honor Animal Rescue is intent on making sure they find the right homes for these circumstances.
Lakewood Ranch resident Peter Lipscomb said he has found a second life following retirement as a volunteer adoption counselor at the animal rescue, and he couldn't be happier.
"When I retired last June, I intended to only volunteer one day a week, but now, when I get up in the morning, all I want to do is come to work."
Those interested in donating to the sanctuary, volunteering or adopting a rescued animal can call 941-747-4900 or visit nateshonoranimalrescue.org
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.