By Anna-Marie Menhenott
ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- When Jay Apicella goes to work every day, she is surrounded by love.
Her faithful friend who sits on the desk in front of her isn't too fond of anyone else, but for Ms. Apicella, she makes an exception. While Jasmine swats at anyone who gets within close proximity of her, the gorgeous black cat knows that she's safe and has a friend in Ms. Apicella... as do the rest of the animals who make their home at Dogs and Cats Forever.
The no-kill facility presently provides food, love and shelter to more than 200 animals and Ms. Apicella is hoping to soon break ground on an expansion to house more.
Dogs and Cats Forever has been around for nearly 25 years and during that time, countless animals have found refuge at the facility. Each one of the dogs and cats that come through the doors are given a place to call home until they find a forever home. Some of them, like Jasmine, will be there forever.
"I have a rescue dog at home," Ms. Apicella said. "I only have one there because I've got so many here. The one at home came in with a hurt leg and walks with a limp. People usually don't go for animals that are hurt or aren't 'flashy.' The vet couldn't fix her leg, so she walks with a permanent wobble. But, I tell you what; when she runs, you'd never know. She can run like the wind."
There are quite a few special needs animals that have a home at the shelter.
"Sometimes, owners don't want to take care of a sick animal and they end up here," Ms. Apicella said. "They don't want to see a cat die of feline leukemia or watch a dog die of old age... that's not always the reason animals end up here, but that happens more often than not. Sometimes families just can't afford their pet anymore or they didn't realize that the amount of time that goes into raising a dog. Whatever the reason, we'll take the animal and do our best to find it a home."
The special needs animals at the sanctuary require extra TLC and some members of the community have made sure that during the holidays, they aren't forgotten.
Rachel Schwinghamer, a 17-year old junior at Harbor Branch Marine and Oceanography Academy, visited with some of the animals at the facility and took them some treats that were collected by local residents... something she's done each Christmas for the past four years.
"I love coming here and giving extra love and toys to the animals," she said while petting a rather rambunctious puppy. "I take treats around and give them to the animals and if there's a sick animal I might give them two," she said with a mischievous smile.
In the New Year, Ms. Apicella is hoping to break ground on the expansion to the facility.
"We need more room for our cats," she said pointing to one of the glass-enclosed rooms where felines relaxed on kitty condos. "They need to spread out and we want to provide them the extra space."
The sanctuary has three fulltime employees and depends on faithful volunteers to help maintain the facility, feed the animals, walk the dogs and make sure all of the animals get some attention.
"It's hard with so many animals, but there's a great group of people who spend quality time with them," Ms. Apicella said. "Of course, there's nothing like having a place to call home or a family of their own, and it makes us so happy when an animal finds a forever family."
Because of the continuously growing population of animals at the facility, Dogs and Cats Forever is in need of cleaning supplies such as bleach and paper towels, blankets, old towels, toys, dog and cat food, cat litter and monetary donations.
To make a donation or to find the perfect pet, visit them at 4600 Selvitz Road in Fort Pierce. They are open Tuesday - Friday, from noon- 5 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from noon- 4 p.m. They are closed on Mondays.
To look at pictures of some of the animals who need a home, visit their website at www.dogsandcatsforever.com.