The only home for these animals faces a dark future

Nonprofit sanctuary cares for creatures no one else will take 
Photo - Thomas Bender, Story By By Halle Stockton  Sarasota Herald Tribune Published: Saturday, July 24, 2010

Elise Matthes holds Lightning, left, and Soda at her sanctuary.

SARASOTA COUNTY - Elise Matthes has promised a lifelong home for hundreds of unwanted and injured cats, dogs and farm animals over the last 21 years.

More Information:PHOTO GALLERY: Sarasota in Defense of Animals
But financial troubles could make it hard for Matthes to keep that commitment to the 385 animals she currently cares for and may eliminate the service altogether.

Matthes' nonprofit organization, Sarasota in Defense of Animals, will have to shut its doors in two to three months barring an influx of contributions.

Since 1989, the nonprofit has offered a home on 10 acres in eastern Sarasota County to animals that would likely never be adopted because of health or behavioral issues. Many have been victims of abuse and neglect.

"Because it is doubtful that these animals could ever find new homes, I don't have to tell you how this might have to end," Matthes said. "It makes me shudder to think about it. This is their home. These animals deserve to live out their lives."

Such as Lightning, a German shepherd who has lived on the ranch for five years and is jittery and suspicious of men. He came to Matthes after recovering from wounds sustained when his owner tied his legs together and castrated him.

P.J. the goat came to the farm malnourished after being recovered in a Manatee County cruelty investigation. No one else would take him, Matthes said.

And then there is Doodle, a chow mix who got "kennel crazy" while everyone passed him over at the shelter and adoption drives.

"He just wasn't special to anybody," she said. Now, he curiously checks on all the animals and leans lovingly into any person willing to give him a scratch.

Matthes attributes the drained funds to the recession and the loss of key donors either through death or relocation to other areas.

"The large lifelines for the animals have diminished," she said. "I hoped it would never come to this."

SDA had built up an ample reserve fund that they began tapping into about four years ago.

Fundraisers helped keep the operation afloat. An August raffle and an October event at the Daiquiri Deck in Siesta Village are also planned.

Food, veterinary bills and other costs tally up to about $10,000 a month to care for the cats, rabbits, dogs, goats, sheep, ponies, ducks and more. No administrative salaries are paid, and there are three part-time workers.

The income for the last six months was $48,000 below what was needed.

Matthes has pored over financial statements and made deep cuts.

The cats no longer receive canned food or treats. The rabbits go without carrots. And the hooves of the goats, sheep and ponies are left untrimmed.

"When you have this many animals, you just have to consider the welfare of everybody," she said. "Sometimes that even means having to put the animal down."

Deborah Millman, executive director of the Humane Society of Sarasota County, said Sarasota in Defense of Animals is unique and valued in the animal services and rescue community.

Millman said she is aware of several struggling groups. An East Bradenton animal sanctuary is also pleading for donations of money and supplies.

Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary must move 10 horses and several other animals from the 20-acre Bowman Ranch, at State Road 70 and Verna Road, by Sept. 1 because of changing lease terms.

They have found land but they must fence it and build a well, which will cost $6,000.