Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.''
This week, Floridians have a terrific opportunity to prove Gandhi was right and to show the rest of the United States just how great and progressive our state has become.
The Humane Society of the Nature Coast is a top 10 finalist in a contest sponsored by the pet-networking Web site ZooToo.com. More than 2,800 animal shelters from all over the nation entered the contest, and Brooksville's facility is the only shelter in Florida that remains in competition for the grand prize of a $1 million makeover.
In the first phase of the contest, 20 shelters were selected based on points accumulated by supporters of those shelters. In the second phase, ZooToo officials visited each of the sites and chose the 10 finalists based on need and community support. Apparently, the ZooToo representatives were moved by both the conspicuous need to expand our no-kill, no-time-limit shelter, and with the enthusiasm of Nature Coast residents who turned out to greet them at the annual Pet Expo on March 21-22.
Now the third and final phase has begun, and the outcome will be based solely on how many votes are cast for each of the 10 finalists. The Humane Society of the Nature Coast is competing with shelters from California, New York, Missouri, Georgia and Wisconsin, to name a few. To be sure, the competition is stiff and each shelter is deserving.
Some of the finalists are in areas much more populous than ours, which makes it imperative that we draw support from pet lovers everywhere in Florida, and even from other states. That's why we need you and everyone you know who loves animals, to help us realize our dream. We desperately need to modernize and expand our safe haven to accommodate the increased numbers of abandoned, abused animals, and to broaden our pet welfare programs. In addition to adoption and sterilization services, programs at our shelter include:
• providing foster homes for pets of women and children who are victims of domestic violence while they are seeking protection at abuse shelters;
• running a pet food bank that provides donated food for people who have fallen on hard times and cannot afford to feed their pets; and
• a foster program for military personnel who are called to active duty and need someone to care for their pets while they are away.
Besides becoming better protectors of animals, there are other reasons for Floridians to get behind our shelter's effort. In addition to calling favorable national attention to Florida, there will be a tangible economic stimulus to the Nature Coast's economy, providing work for those in the building industry.
And pet owners should be relieved to know the Humane Society intends to build its new facility to withstand a Category 3 hurricane, making it the only bona fide animal evacuation shelter in this area.
But we need you to make this happen. More to the point, the animals need you. Not just the ones that we're caring for now, but the ones that will find their way to our door for many years to come. You can give our rescue pets the biggest treat they've ever had by setting aside just a few minutes of your time for each of the next seven days. Here's how it works:
Go to www.HumaneRescue.org and click on the ZooToo logo. (While you're on our Web site, take a minute to look at our pets and learn more about our nonprofit organization.) There are detailed instructions about how to register and cast your vote.
Once you have created your free profile, which requires a picture of you, your pet or the Humane Society facility, you will be eligible to cast 10 votes per day until voting ends at midnight Sunday.
We are hopeful that everyone who cares enough to register and cast votes for "Florida's shelter'' also will tell everyone they know to add the link to ZooToo.com to their social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. It's all about spreading the word. Votes for the Humane Society of the Nature Coast can be cast by anyone from anywhere in the United States.
The staff and volunteers at our shelter thank our supporters for bringing us this far; now we call on you again. At the same time, we ask every Floridian and animal lover everywhere to join us as we try to be heroes to the thousands of pets who are depending on us to rescue them.
With your help, we promise to find 1 million ways to say thank you for making Florida a state that, as Gandhi imagined, knows how to treat its animals.
Joanne Schoch is executive director of the Humane Society of the Nature Coast. She can be reached at www.HumaneRescue.org or (352) 796-2711.