Every dog that he rescued — the scared ones, the scarred ones, the ones that stunk from neglect or were spotty with mange — heard the same thing from Jack Novoselski.
He’d hold them close and whisper into their ear that everything was going to be okay. No one would hurt them again.
“That’s the promise,” said Lynn Keeney, a volunteer with SouthEast Beagle Rescue. “He always did that.”
Novoselski, who lived in Carrollwood, founded the rescue in 2011. He worked 60- to 100-hour weeks and drove 40,000 miles a year to pick up dogs at kill shelters in Alabama, Louisiana and around Florida in his SUV, dubbed The Beagle Bus. He brought them back to be cleaned up and cared for before heading to a foster home.
The organization estimates that since it opened, he has saved 1,600 beagles.
Novoselski, who was fully vaccinated, died Sept. 28 of the coronavirus. He was 76.
These are a few of the dogs and people he brought together.
Penny, Mina, Jack and Dee
Novoselski’s first beagle found him.
He’d worked in transportation and shipping, traveled and lived around the world, ran an aircraft painting business and retired from the Department of Homeland Security.
Around 2002, while working on the tarmac, a flea-covered beagle approached.
“And we just bonded,” Novoselski said in a video about his work, “and he became my first dog.”
In 2004, Novoselski and his wife, Dee, started volunteering with Tampa Bay Beagle Rescue. A year later, after Hurricane Katrina hit, Novoselski headed that way to save lost dogs.
Former Tampa Bay Times reporter Alexandra Zayas wrote about what happened next.
The landlady of a flooded New Orleans apartment complex had a Yorkie that belonged to an elderly woman (Mina Rest) evacuated to Tampa. Nurses at the hospital said the woman wouldn’t eat, only cried and talked and talked about the dog she had to leave.
Jack promised to take the dog with him to Tampa. He drove three hours through debris to arrive at an abandoned apartment complex, but an armed guard with a pump action shotgun just stared when Jack told him why he was there.
“There ain’t no dog here, pal.”
Eventually, Jack connected with the landlady, now staying across the river. Holding Penny in his arms, he made a call.
“Miss Rest? This is Jack ...”
The Novoselskis visited Rest regularly, eventually helping her move to an assisted living facility in Lutz.
“You’re my best friend,” she always told him.
He always replied, “Any friend of Penny’s is a friend of mine.”
After Rest’s death, Penny joined the Novoselski family.
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Artie, Abby and Lynn
Lynn Keeney rescued her first beagle years ago when she saw an animal so covered in mange she wasn’t sure it was even a dog.
Dogs that have been abused and neglected often have the same countenance about them.
“Their whole body language and bearing is saying ‘I apologize for my existence,’” she said. “And then sometimes, even in a matter of hours, a bath, a good meal, a little gentle touch and soft speaking, and they can change so dramatically.”
Keeney met Novoselski in 2007 when they both volunteered with Tampa Bay Beagle Rescue. After he started SouthEast Beagle Rescue, she joined him. Pups Abby and Artie came to Keeney’s home from the group.
With his organization, Novoselski added a step in the adoption process he called “the sleepover.”
Once dogs were cared for and matched with an approved family, the rescue planned a sleepover at the adopter’s home. It could be one night, it could be a week. Novoselski wanted to give both parties time to get to know each other.
Some people get into rescuing animals because they don’t like people, Keeney said, but Novoselski was good with both.
Harvey, Buddy, Daisy and Deb
Deb Wolf is a beagle person. The hound dogs, known for their mournful howls, trust easily.
“I think you have to have a special place in your heart for beagles,” she said. “They can be difficult.”
Because they’re good hunters, beagles are often abandoned after hunting season in rural places, which led Novoselski to make frequent trips out of state.
The week before Christmas in 2019, Wolf met Buddy. He was 8 weeks old and joined her family and another rescue, 16-year-old Bear. Wolf became a volunteer with the organization. One day last summer, before she left to help out, Wolf’s husband had one request.
“Do not bring back another dog.”
But then she met Daisy.
After Novoselski got Daisy fixed and treated for heartworms, he brought her to Wolf’s house. In the backseat of the Beagle Bus sat other puppies that he’d recently rescued.
“So now I have four dogs.”
When Novoselski came back with Harvey, the youngest adoptee, Daisy, laid right down at his feet. It looked to Wolf like she remembered the tall man with the deep voice who’d saved her.
Louise and … you?
Louise is one of the last dogs Novoselski rescued before he caught the coronavirus. She had mammary tumors, mange and was 9 years old and pregnant. She’s now healthy and will soon be put up for adoption.
Novoselski wasn’t just the beagle rescue’s heart, he was also its brain and muscle. He kept track of pickups, vet appointments and medications.
His volunteers are working now to regroup without him. Last week, they took in another six dogs: Shannon, Keera, Fiona, Liam, Shiloh and Merlot.
Volunteers plan to hold each of them and whisper a promise into their ears.
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified the dog Artie for the dog Louise. The correct photo of Louise has been added.
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