Finding a 'forever home'
Judy Sarullo never imagined staying for long down a winding dirt road off of Colonial Drive, but as her van crawled toward the abandoned metal shop ahead, the tire tracks already overlapped hundreds of times. Just inside the brick building’s heavy sliding doors, dozens of tails started wagging. Maybe today it was time to go home.
For the first 20 years of Pet Rescue by Judy, “home” was always somewhere else. That abandoned brick building was just a stopover when Sarullo first moved in, just like the houses, office buildings and disused kennels that would follow. In her long struggle to find “forever homes” for abandoned pets, “temporary” had become an ironically permanent fixture of Sarullo’s search for her own place to stay.
Learn more about Pet Rescue by Judy at petrescuebyjudy.com. For more about the Save the Tails project and how to chip in, contact [email protected]
After moving 11 times, Pet Rescue by Judy is finally home — almost. Sarullo’s charity isn’t moving in quite yet, but on April 28 the spritely 64-year-old transplanted New Yorker invited reporters out to meet the crew, and the building, that’s making her dream come true.
Sarullo had already been rescuing orphaned animals for the better part of two decades before an anonymous donor gave two empty buildings to her in 2010. But the combined 9,000 square feet of space next to Sanford’s Paw Park Place dog park was nowhere near looking like the gleaming spay and neuter clinic and adoption center she’d hoped for. Two years of fundraising and renovation later, that vision is slowly materializing.
“It’s a dream come true,” she said. “I always knew it would happen, I just didn’t know it would take me 20 years, but here we are. I’m so grateful to everyone. I can’t stand it; I’m so excited.”
That excitement may be out of relief. While the current location on Iroquois Avenue has met the needs of thousands of animals — with more than 2,300 pets adopted out last year— the building comes with a monthly rent of $5,000, a price that the shelter often struggled to meet.
A location owned by the shelter also means less of a chance for legal battles, like in early 2006 when Pet Rescue by Judy was evicted from its Oviedo location because of code violations.
“It’s just a home for my animals,” Sarullo said. “We don’t have to worry about people complaining and people telling us we have to move. It’s just a phenomenal feeling to finally be permanent.”
To pay for the $1.1 million in construction for the new shelter, Pet Rescue by Judy started a project called Save the Tails, which accepts the donation of funds and construction services.
Save the Tails Project Manager Susan Elliott-Rink first met Sarullo after adopting two kittens from her a few months ago. Now she runs Judy’s donation engine, as the little lady with the New York spunkiness works to give thousands of orphaned animals permanent homes of their own.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more dedicated,” Elliott-Rink said. “I’m doing this for her, that her legacy will live on. She’s like the Mother Teresa of furry ones in Central Florida.”
A slew of local businesses and companies have already stepped up to donate their services, including general contractors EDC Group, Speedy Concrete Cutting Inc. and Hickey Electric Inc.
“We’re very happy to be here and be part of this for these pets and for Judy, because she’s a wonderful person,” said Alan Cohn, managing partner for EDC Group. “We’re looking forward to finishing this and having all of these pets taken care of.”
Speedy Concrete Cutting Vice President John Gunther wanted to help the woman who has spent her life saving pets.
“At the end of the day, she stands up for those who have no options and can’t stand up for themselves,” Gunther said. “She does that on behalf of the rest of us. I was anxious to get involved with this and help any way I can.”
All of that effort is going to giving animals a good home, Sarullo said. With roughly 385 pets still under the watch of the shelter, and more coming in daily, it’s a struggle that will continue long after her dream comes true. That’s what Sarullo signed up for two decades ago, when a chance adoption turned into a mission to save lives.
“It’s not a charity thing and it’s not for me, it’s for the animals,” Sarullo said. “The more animals that get adopted and find happy homes, the happier I am.”
Sarullo said that the renovations and construction are set for completion in late October at her Laurel Avenue location.
Tens of thousands of adoptions later, it’ll be Sarullo’s turn to come home, Elliott-Rink said. “Finally, Judy will have a forever home.”