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Horse, cat sanctuary in Carrollwood needs rescue of its own

CARROLLWOOD

For years, human neglect has brought countless sick, starving and simply forgotten animals to 10 acres of woods at the end of Timberlan Street.

There, the Equestrian Club Country horse rescue has nursed abandoned or neglected equines back to health.

And in one corner of the farm, a second animal rescue, Fix & Feed Feline Feral, shelters formerly stray cats that have been treated for disease, vaccinated and spayed or neutered.

Now both organizations are appealing to the community for help with a bill due at the end of this month. If they pay, they stay. If they don't, they might have to move.

"God knows where," said Glenda Smith, who founded the horse rescue.

"It would be a hardship," agrees Billie Dickover, who runs the feline rescue. "We would have to find a place that wants to take on 25 to 30 cats."

So both organizations are trying to raise the $12,000 they need to stay. Neither organization owns the 10 acres. Smith, 55, said her ex-boyfriend's family did, but he sold it a few years ago. Now the owner lets the two animal rescue groups stay as long as they pay the property taxes. Beyond that, they don't pay any rent.

Jay Patel of Surya Investments LLC, the company that owns the land, said he has talked with Smith for a couple of years about the need to come up with the money for the tax bill in the spring. If it goes unpaid until later in the year, as it has in the past, he said his company has to pay more.

"That's a fair demand by our side to her," he said. "You need to prepare for the year ahead."

The farm sits north of Gunn Highway, just south of Hillsborough County's Timberlan Park. It is currently home to nearly two dozen rescued horses, which graze, roll in the dust, wander the woods and swim in the 11/2-acre spring-fed pond.

"It's kind of like Sun City Center for horses," Smith said. It also is home to half a dozen dogs, about three dozen rescued cats, a couple of chickens and a crippled duck named Waddles that came with a broken leg and a broken wing.

The farm boards some horses to help pay the day-to-day bills, runs summer camps and rents itself out for kids' birthday parties. High school students come by to work on community service projects, and volunteers provide much of the animal care.

Smith has run the place for 23 years. She grew up in South Tampa, went to the University of South Florida on a tennis scholarship and has taught tennis for a living. She used to breed Arabian horses, but stopped breeding them and started the rescue operation after seeing an influx of horses that were not properly cared for in the mid 1980s.

"She has exceptional empathy for horses," said trainer and farrier Donald Smeltzer of Tampa. "She's really dedicated to taking care of them, and that's been her life ever since I've known her."

Her efforts once got her in trouble. In 1989, after Smith agreed to take in more than two dozen horses abandoned in Ocala, she was cited in Pasco County for keeping underfed horses on several pieces of property. Court records show she later was fined $75 on an improper-confinement charge. She said the 1989 charges were dropped and doesn't recall a fine.

In Hillsborough, neither animal services nor the Sheriff's Office, which investigates cases involving livestock, has any record of complaints at the Timberlan Street property.

So far in this fundraising drive, the groups have raised about $6,700 toward the tax bill, nearly $1,000 of it from a spaghetti dinner last weekend. A garage sale on the property is scheduled for April 11.

While the two operations share the farm, there are key differences between them.

Equestrian Club Country has been there longer but is more informally organized. It is not registered as a nonprofit organization with the Florida Division of Corporations nor as a charity with the state Division of Consumer Services.

Fix & Feed is registered with both state agencies. It has been on the property since early 1998.

Smith said either organization is accepting donations for the tax bill. Donors to Fix & Feed should write "Save the Farm" on the memo portion of the checks so that the money is applied as they intend, she said.

But Equestrian Club Country must register with the state as a nonprofit organization if it wants to function as one and solicit contributions, according to Liz Compton, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Consumer Services.

That's coming, Smith said. She said she also has talked with the property owner about trying to reduce the tax bill by applying for an agricultural "greenbelt" property tax exemption. He's open to it, though she will have to take care of the paperwork.

"I'm trying to help her any way I can," Patel said. Eventually, he said, residential development may come to the farm.

Until then, Dickover said she and Smith share a vision for what they hope to maintain there.

"We both want it to be a sanctuary," she said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.

Equestrian Club

Country

4902 Timberlan St., Tampa, FL 33624; (813) 407-6805;

equestrianclubcountry.org

Fix & Feed Feline Feral

P.O. Box 270035, Tampa,

FL 33688-0035;

(813) 264-7571

Horse, cat sanctuary in Carrollwood needs rescue of its own 04/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 4:30am]

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