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Wrigley chewing gum heir puts rescued animals up in style

ODESSA — Helen Rosburg glides her golf cart over the meadows and under the moss-draped oaks of her bucolic 127-acre estate off Gunn Highway. ¶ The romance author, media company owner and heir to the Wrigley chewing gum fortune calls out to some of her charges, all housed in their own pens and compounds. ¶ Pigs snort, goats bleat and the horses trot to the fence. She carries apple-flavored oat treats. ¶ "Schroeder, baby,'' she says, greeting a miniature donkey. ¶ "Peanut Butter,'' she calls to a little horse. "What are you doing?'' ¶ They, along with the cows, chickens, exotic birds, turkey, 22 feral cats and 35 dogs — nearly 200 animals in all — have landed in animal rescue paradise.

Saved from being put down, they've been put up in resort style, all beneficiaries of the Wrigley chewing gum fortune. Nearly two dozen animal enclosures and pens dot the property.

Rosburg has a builder working almost full time, she says, creating homes for her ever-expanding menagerie. Though most of the animals will live out their lives in this private animal shelter, Rosburg tries to find homes for the dogs she saves through her organization On the Wings of Angels Rescue.

"As soon as I could walk, I was rescuing,'' says Rosburg, great-granddaughter of gum company founder William Wrigley Jr.

A diminutive woman in her early 60s, Rosburg loves to drive her Ferrari, two Porsches and two Harleys. She wears a large cross around her neck and has the word "endure'' tattooed alongside a hand holding a rope on her left arm. The tattoo symbolizes a successful bout with breast cancer, she says, and means, "When you're at the end of your rope, hang on.''

Her animals seem to keep her spirits high. She accepts furry and feathered refugees from a network of rescue groups and shelters in the eastern United States after they've exhausted efforts to place the animals. But she doesn't accept animals from individuals.

Rosburg said recent news stories about the county's Animal Services Department have been encouraging. Last week, Hillsborough County commissioners told an administrator to come up with a strategy for killing fewer dogs and cats at the county's shelter.

"I'm ecstatic, and it's about freaking time,'' she says.

Rosburg, mother of three grown children, lives in a 12,000-square-foot mansion with her husband, James — not to mention 12 cats, six dogs, a roomful of exotic birds and Matilda, a 50-pound pot-bellied pig mix, who spends the day in her playpen outside. "She likes to root; she's a pig,'' Rosburg explains.

"Tillie the Tyrant" snorts for attention as her surrogate mother rides up in a golf cart.

"I'm not playing with you now. I'm busy, okay, honey?'' Rosburg coos.

"She's talking to me. She's saying, 'Mom, Mom, Mom, come here!'''

She greets the residents of the abandoned domestic cat compound, adjacent to the feral cat compound. "This is Tinker and Joey,'' she says, introducing a white and gray fur ball and a little orange kitty. "Hi, Joey. Hi, Joey, darling.''

She discovers that the cat caregivers have left a huge bowl of food for them — too much. "This is a giant,'' she says, hoisting the dish and showing it to her assistant, Michelle Chappell.

"I've told them,'' Chappell says.

"This is going to lead to medical problems. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon. That's it.''

Over at the kennel, the dogs bark and jump to greet visitors. To make the dogs lovable, Rosburg has three trainers — on her staff of 19 — putting them through obedience training. Some dogs are donated as companion animals to vets through the Wounded Warrior Project.

"We're about to break ground on a second kennel,'' she says.

Head trainer John Jones says the animals they get are basically last chance dogs with no hope left.

"We rehabilitate them through training and kindness, making things clear and black and white and working on the problems that led them to our door.''

Rosburg and her family moved to Odessa seven years ago from Palm Beach. They show horses with a trainer who lives here, so they had been making trips across the state just about every weekend, she says.

And she wasn't that fond of Palm Beach anyway.

"I didn't have as high opinion of myself as others have of themselves in Palm Beach; therefore, I didn't socialize much,'' she says with a devilish laugh.

Here, she has plenty of room for rescues. That wasn't the case when she lived in Palm Beach. She would hide rabbit hutches in the bushes.

"I broke every pet ordinance on the books,'' she jokes. "I had to get out of town before I went to prison.''

Philip Morgan can be reached at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.

On the Wings of Angels Rescue

For information about the animal rescue, visit onthewingsofangelsrescue.com.
To see a video interview with Helen Rosburg, go to links.tampabay.com.

Wrigley chewing gum heir puts rescued animals up in style 05/05/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 5, 2012 7:11pm]
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