Together, Carol Pearce and her husband, Julian, look after hundreds of animals at their home in Mayo, Florida.
“People bring the mother and her puppies and throw them right over the fence because they know we’ll take care of them,” Carol Pearce, the sanctuary owner said.
Many small, rural counties lack funding for animal services, which makes it difficult for residents who need to surrender livestock or pets. In Lafayette County, the Pearce’s ad-hoc animal sanctuary — known as Where Every Animal Has A Home — has spread through word of mouth.
“The amount of animals that we get is absurd,” Carol said. “We are fine when it comes to the horses and the cows, but the number of dogs and pigs we get is unbelievable.”
The sanctuary owners believe one reason for the increase of surrendered pigs is the glamorization of the animal on social media.
“People post pictures of cute little ‘mini pigs’ wearing raincoats on Facebook,” Carol said. “In a few years, that pig will be 200 pounds. They don’t know what they are signing up for.”
Like the Pearces, the staff at the veterinary hospital in the area, Mayo Town and Country Animal Hospital, are anxious to see the impact that the new movie “Dog,” which aired on Feb. 18 and stars Channing Tatum and a Belgian Malinois named Lulu, will have on the number of dogs surrendered.
“These movies make these animals seem like something they aren’t,” Caroline Balistrieri, employee at Mayo Town and Country Animal Hospital said. “Malinois are highly demanding and very high energy dogs. When people realize that they aren’t as easy to handle as what the media makes them out to be, it’ll be a mess.”
According to the veterinary hospital, a similar situation arose when the movie “100 and One Dalmatians” was released.
Pearce goes through at least 50 pounds of dog food a day to feed the dogs currently living at the sanctuary.
Before the emergence of COVID-19, the Pearces worked with Tractor Supply to host a dog adoption event.
“It was wonderful,” Carol said. “We have such amazing dogs in our sanctuary, but they never get an opportunity to be seen.”
She has not been able to host another event since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After hearing a radio advertisement Carol placed through the local Mayo radio station about having dogs for adoption, Alachua County residents Andres and Sally Saldivar went to see the sanctuary. The couple adopted two puppies, Bonnie and Clyde.
“We went to go look and see what kind of animals they had,” Sally said. “We came looking for a horse, but after seeing all those dogs living on top of each other, it was hard not to leave with a couple.”
Because of the lack of animal services in Lafayette County, the cat and dog intake number is unknown because no one is recording the information. Cat and dog intake and outcome data are self-reported by brick-and-mortar animal shelters, according to the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.
Lafayette is one of only five counties in Florida that did not report these statistics in 2020.
According to Dr. Julie Levy, the Fran Marino professor of Shelter Medicine Education and lead researcher, the issue spans beyond a lack of shelter resources. Rural communities with low populations also lack enough households to adopt the animals that are present in the area.
“A trend is developing for well-resourced urban shelters to assist struggling rural shelters by transferring their animals into the areas where there is more demand for pet adoptions,” Levy said.
Although this might be the case in other areas in Florida, Mayo has not been able to give up the surrendered animals in the area to surrounding counties because the other counties that are nearby, like Alachua, Suwannee and Gilchrist, are already at full capacity, according to Alachua County Animal Shelter.
Although the financial hardship and responsibility of caring for all of the surrendered animals in Lafayette County is difficult for the Pearces, they plan to continue their efforts.
“Nobody has room for ‘em,” Carol Pearce said. “We’re all they got.”