Polka Dogz Pet Rescue finds new home

After years of searching, the Winter Garden-based dog rescue has found a new home base in Howey-in-the-Hills.

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  • | 10:06 p.m. June 17, 2019
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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After years of searching for the right place, Winter Garden-based Polka Dogz Pet Rescue has found its new home.

The rescue will be expanding from an RV to an 1,800-square-foot home on 20 acres. The new property is located in Howey-in-the-Hills, north of Clermont and Minneola, but it retains its West Orange roots though co-founder Heidi Hardman, an Oakland resident.

Co-founder Aaron Stein said the old location officially closed on Sunday, June 16, and everyone involved hopes to have the new Polka Dogz location up and running by the end of the week.

Stein, also a Realtor, has been working in rescue for years now and has helped spearhead the search for a new home.

“Our goal was to get out of the RV and to a bigger property,” he said. “We didn't dream we would get 20 acres.”

Their new property also includes a wooded conservation area, horse barn and cottage, but Polka Dogz will operate out of the main home. Although the property is farther out from the original areas they searched for, it’s turning out to be a great fit. Stein said it seems like a good place for the long-term future.

“When we were looking at this property, the view was great, and it’s really pretty and very quiet,” he said. “Those were two of the things that jumped out at us. We didn't expect to even be able to get acreage or anything to this extent.”

But there were many renovations that needed to be done to transform the house into an environment suitable for a dog rescue. Polka Dogz staff and volunteers knew they wanted it to be a cozy home environment. 

"There’s so much to a rescue, there’s so many components with animals and so much more responsibility. We couldn't do it without our volunteers and community support.” - Aaron Stein

“I think we’re going to learn a lot more and as we build it and really develop it,” Hardman said. “I realized what we’re trying to do is raise the standard of rescue. Our goal is to prepare them to be in a home. I consider it like a simulator: This is not a ‘real’ home but it’s like a real home, with a home environment. We’re taking care of them and loving them and that’s our goal, to get them ready to be in a real home. 

“It looks more like a high-end boarding place,” she said. “The more comfortable they are, the more relaxed they are, the better pets they're going to be. Our primary reason (for expansion) is not to take more dogs but to do our job better and have the space and facilities and to be able to do what we do even better.”

The two bedrooms have been earmarked for the dogs, and there are 11 suites total. In the bathroom there is a grooming tub, and the sunroom space will become the office. 

It’s taken a lot of elbow grease and hard work to make the place rescue-friendly. The new flooring is waterproof, and the walls are lined at the baseboards with a couple of feet of splash-proof siding. And the backyard now has a fenced-off play area for the dogs to run around and exercise in.

“We needed everything to be pee proof, in a nutshell,” Stein said. “That has been everything we’ve done. We put down waterproof flooring, caulk, everything. There’s a lot of caulk and waterproof materials all over the place because we don't want any urine getting through. That’s been our No. 1 concern and it’s why this has taken weeks to do.”

The response from the community, volunteers and rescue supporters has been great, Stein said, and many of them have donated both time and resources to bring the Polka Dogz rescue home to life. It’s a testament to the heart of Polka Dogz, which is to provide both the best customer service to adopters and the best care for the dogs that come to the rescue.

“It’s fantastic, the kind of support we've gotten, because we had this plan and we stuck to it,” Stein said. “Our concern first and foremost is for the dogs, we do the best we can and most people see, respect and appreciate it. It really does take a village. There’s so much to a rescue, there’s so many components with animals and so much more responsibility. We couldn't do it without our volunteers and community support.”


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