Helping Pets in Need – Creating Hope for a Loving Home

There are angels among us

Here in Mount Dora we love our dogs. Just ask the official Canine Vice-Mayor.  He will definitely wag his tail and bark in affirmation. We’ve had dog parades, a Dogs of Mount Dora calendar, there is a popular and frequently visited dog park on East 11th Avenue, and we have an annual Halloween costume contest for dogs. It seems like everywhere you look in Mount Dora you see man’s best friend.

A downtown anchor store and community staple at the corner of 4th and Donnelly for 18 years,  Piglet’s Pantry, specializes in pet supplies-especially dog supplies. Hobscot Pet Supply on 5th Avenue welcomes your four-footed friends with an array of foods, treats and dog necessities.  Pet Supermarket on Highway 441 has a large selection choices for all things dog, as well.  The Green K9 offers grooming services, as well as pet supplies and a doggie daycare service.

You can hang out with PAWS therapy dogs at the W.T.Bland Library every third Wednesday and have your child read a dog a story if you’d like.  After all of that, if you still don’t have enough dog in your life,  during cooler months the Village Market offers a SwiftPaws lure course where your dog can run as you watch. That event can draw dozens of pooches into Evans Park at the one time. But, there is no doubt that even during the dog days of summer, Mount Dora is puppy central.

FullSizeRender(15)The Rescue

So, it’s no surprise that two extremely dedicated advocates for dogs live right here in Mount Dora – Steve and Debbie Shank. Steve first got involved transporting rescue animals in late 2012 while working part-time in New Jersey.  During that same time, his wife Debbie-who was still back home in Mount Dora began her work to save dogs at Lake County Animal Services. She transported rescues to and from Tampa, St. Augustine, New Smyrna and various other locations.

Debbie Shanks with Dog

Steve noticed the impact other animal advocates were having as a part of a human chain that transports “last chance” animals to their forever homes. He wanted to be part of that, to experience the emotion and connection of saving a life by moving a dog from its potential place of death to a place of comfort in a loving home.

The Transport


During his free time and on weekends, Steve started by searching Facebook. He quickly found a transport route that was in need of a driver to take animals from Newark, Delaware to Woodbridge, New Jersey.  Each leg of an animal transport network is typically broken down into 60-90 minute segments.  Before the transport begins, a mutually agreed upon place is decided between a drop-off and a pick-up driver.  Like passing a baton in a relay race, the participants meet and the endangered animal is passed on to the next driver, until the animal arrives at its home destination. Steve completed the driver questionnaire that was provided, signed up, and a few days later was helping by giving a ride to an abused and abandoned pit bull.  The dog was only 48 hours away from being euthanized at a Selma, Alabama animal control facility.  His new destination:  a loving home with a family in Maine.

Neuter and release 

Being involved in animal transport was the first step of animal advocacy for Steve.  The next step was working toward shelter reform. Debbie, on the other hand, started concentrating on cross-posting and sharing animals on social media pages. She works in hopes of finding dogs an adoptive family or rescue situation before their time was up at an animal shelter.  Debbie eventually connected with Brenda and Kent Weber, proprietors and co-founders of Misfit Animal Rescue, based in Groveland. The organization was founded in September, 2012 when the Webers decided to become involved in answering the needs of Lake County’s homeless animals. They wanted to help the dogs that ended up at Lake County Animal Services (LCAS).  The facility is perpetually at, or overcapacity, resulting in the deaths of countless dogs and cats.

Misfit’s Animal Rescue’s name is a reflection of their mission, which is to save the “last chance” or “misfit” pets at LCAS nobody wants. Specifically, they try to help the dogs that have special medical needs and most certainly, pit bulls and pit mixes.  Since their inception, Misfit has saved and placed over 2,000 dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens from Lake, Sumter, and Hernando Counties kill shelters.

Despite the best efforts of local animal advocates to reduce the number of animals that die in Lake County shelters, as of June 30th 348 dogs and 691 cats were euthanized here in our own county.  It is Steve and Debbie Shank’s mission to reduce this number.  Their goal – a zero kill rate.

One of the most critical elements needed to reduce shelter deaths is access to a low cost/high volume spay and neutering clinic.  Misfit Animal Rescue, through their research, have shown that unless such spay and neutering services are made available, dogs and cats will continue to die at the rate of over 180 per month at Lake County Animal Services.

Because they could not accept those grim statistics, Misfit Animal Rescue opened Lake County’s first non-profit, low cost spay and neuter clinic – Misfit Spay/Neuter –  at 220 N. Rockingham Avenue in downtown Tavares.

The Shank’s commitment to reducing animal euthanasia numbers through sterilization and the friendships they have built through volunteering with Misfit and the Weber family has begun to show dividends.


As of early July, over 800 animals in central Florida will not be reproducing litters of more unwanted dogs or cats.  That’s a substantial, positive impact on our homeless companion animals.  And that wonderful impact continues to grow each week.

If you, or any of your pet-loving friends would like to contribute to Misfit Animal Rescue, please contact them at 352-429-4077 or

You can also like them on Facebook HERE!

Joe Runnels, Staff Writer (