Lake and Sumter Style Magazine
10:18 am EDT
Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Skin in the Game

Lori’s spent her life helping innocent animals, now she needs our help.

Photos: Nicole Hamel

There is no nice way to say it. 

Dogs die because most so-called animal lovers don’t lift a finger to help people like Lori Mastrantoni, president of A Forever Home Animal Rescue, a Tavares-based 501(c)(3) established “to give homeless dogs a place to be loved, cared for, trained and hope for a home.”

For 15 years, Lori’s been walking the walk, expending copious amounts of time and money on small dogs facing abandonment, or worse, death. 

“It’s a lot of work. I work, maybe 90 hours a week. I take phone calls all the time. I have a kennel manager who’s awesome, she’s probably working 60 hours a week,” Lori says. “Sometimes we have 50 dogs.”

Most dogs are in and out.

“If they’re cute and fuzzy they go immediately,” Lori says. “The average stay is three weeks.”

No dog, no matter how cute or fuzzy, leaves until it is healthy. 

“The dogs have to be up to date on everything, and they have to have a monthly heartworm prevention,” Lori said. “I work with vets. I even work with a specialist vet in Tampa who does orthopedics.”

Best scenario: Lori spends $200-$300 on a dog. Worst? “I’ve spent $6,000, but I’m not going to deny anyone care because of money… I take care of everything, whatever they need,” Lori says. “I use my own money. We get donations yeah, and adoption fees, but I have a huge credit card bill. It’s pretty much out of pocket.”

She must be independently wealthy, huh?

“Not anymore,” Lori says. “I was a Realtor, which is now dead. And I had a vacation rental, which is also dead now because of COVID. I have no money anymore. COVID hasn’t hurt adoptions, but it has hurt as far as our income.”

She receives something much more valuable than money – the joy of a matchmaker. Every week, Lori writes happy endings, rather, beginnings, for people like John Briggle.

“We recently adopted Dexter from this pet rescue. Everyone was awesome and we love our little pup! This dog is a blessing,” John says.

Dexter was Lori’s blessing first.

“These innocent babies depend on us. They’re so innocent, and they’ve been through hell and they need us. If we’re not going to do it, who’s going to do it? All these animals would have been killed for no reason,” Lori says.

You may be surprised where the innocents come from.

“The majority we’ve been getting now are from high-kill shelters because they are trying to keep their numbers low. So we get them out before they are about to be killed. We actually went up to north Florida and brought back 18 dogs,” Lori said. “And we get a lot of our dogs from hoarders. They have the best intentions in mind, they just get carried away, so the dogs aren’t cared for. The last bunch we took in was 17 dogs. Three have congestive heart failure, some have no teeth now.”

Now would be a good time to grab a box of tissues, dear reader. 

“We have some puppy mill dogs and we still have five we can’t socialize,” Lori says. “I have some that have been bred so much that they practically have no insides. And they lived in crates. We have some that their feet are deformed from living in a crate and peeing on themselves. It’s horrible… We take as many puppy mill dogs as we can, but we have to socialize them.”

What’s a puppy mill? A place that breeds and raises – in many cases as cheaply as possible – and sells the animals to your friendly neighborhood pet store.

“Pet stores are the worst. I’ve seen people spend $3,000 for a dog and they have to spend another $4,000 to get them fixed up. There are private breeders that are good, but the puppy mills are not. They don’t care. Four hundred fifty dogs were taken from one puppy mill and they were in horrible, horrible shape,” Lori says in a voice tinged with anger.

Thankfully, most dogs Lori and her staff place in forever homes are healthy and happy. And adoptive parents are happy as well. Sixty-nine reviewers on A Forever Home Animal Rescue Facebook page rate the organization 4.9 out of 5.

“We took Heidi home three months ago and it has been a most wonderful experience. All she wanted was to be loved. Heidi is a delight! She enjoys her walks, playing with a ball, and, of course, her lap time,” Terry Mara. “Please consider adopting from this rescue home.”

No dog leaves until a healthy relationship is assured through a thorough screening process. Everyone wishing to adopt must fill out an application, participate in a supervised meet-and-greet, and submit to a virtual or in-person home visit.

Obviously, placing the right dog with the right family is a priority.

“The staff was friendly and amazing. They were very helpful and patient. We adopted Oso. She is just so sweet!” Amy Lee says.

The screening process is time-consuming, but most people are pleased with the pet, and the process. 

“A Forever Home Animal Rescue in Tavares, Florida is just the best place. We have adopted two dogs from them and I have to say that they made the experience wonderful. Both our dogs couldn’t be happier. We found a welcoming, professional place that really cares about their dogs and places them very carefully with the right families.”

Dogs too sick to be adopted live out their lives at the A Forever Home Animal Rescue facility at 2950 County Road 561 in Tavares, where Lori and her staff of three paid employees and a handful of volunteers provide love and care in a 3,000 square foot, 14-room facility. Sick dogs like Beamer.

“Beamer has been here four years. He doesn’t want to go anywhere. He’s 14 years old, he’s blind, and any time people came to see him he’d bark at them. He came to us when he was 10. Beamer, he’s my little boy. He’s a lhasa apso, but he’s 40 pounds. I spoil him rotten. He’s a sweetheart,” Lori says.

Lori and pal Noah.

Beamer’s not her only sweetie. 

“Right now we have all the special needs dogs at my house. One that has three legs. She was thrown over a fence after her leg was broken six months ago. She’s about to be adopted. I have some dogs that are paralyzed. Some older, some blind,” Lori says. “My husband is very understanding.”

Lori’s always been a sucker for a sad story.

“I’ve always loved animals,” she says. “My parents were not really pet-friendly, so I used to sneak them in. I’d be like, ‘Mom, I’m going to my room. I want some milk’ or ‘I’m still hungry.’”

Today, she needs more than dinner leftovers. 

“We need donations. Of course, we need supplies. We need adoptions, we need volunteers. We need it all,” Lori says. 

A Forever Home Animal Rescue is open daily, noon-4 pm. Social distancing is being practiced. Only one family is admitted at a time.

Visit aforeverhomeanimalrescue.org to learn more, donate, or view dogs. 

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