Orlando, FL

Animal lover uses Reddit to prevent Orange County Animal Services dogs from being euthanized

Alexis Gebhardt

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(Alexis Gebhardt/NewsBreak)

(ORLANDO, Fla.) Apollo, a black pit bull mix, was set to be euthanized the next morning when Steve Sabatino visited the puppy at Orange County Animal Services on June 25.

What was described as an "aggressive dog" by the notes given to him was just a puppy that wanted to play, Sabatino said.

After dozens of calls to rescues, posts on Nextdoor and Reddit to receive pledges for funding and a call to Mari C., an animal networker who works to get soon-to-be euthanized dogs adopted and who asked to not publish her full name, Sabatino rescued Apollo.

"This dog just wants to be loved, just thinking about him getting the needle the next morning for no reason," Sabatino said about what made him rescue Apollo.

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Apollo.(Steve Sabatino)

Sabatino first learned of the pit bull mix when he casually scrolled through the r/Orlando Reddit and landed on one of many of Mari's posts of dogs on the OCAS Last Chance euthanasia list, which is a list of dogs that will be euthanized within three to four days.

"I saw the pictures on Reddit. I was like, oh, s***. Like, I can't. I can't just let this dog die like I at least got to go check him out, right," Sabatino said.

Mari has worked as a networker for the OCAS dogs for the past few years. She began posting the Last Chance dogs after following people who already were advertising soon-to-be euthanized dogs.

In these posts, pictures of the dogs are featured with their stories on how each ended up in the shelter. Mari in these posts also comments a snippet of each dog’s personality and ways that people can contact the government to help get a dog off the list.

Recently, due to conflict on the Orlando Reddit, Mari forcefully moved to a subreddit called r/petsforadoptioninFL. Because of this, she is worried that the exposure won’t be as much because this page doesn’t have as many followers.

"It's very important to me as an animal lover, because, this is just heartbreaking to see animals that otherwise could be helped being euthanized every week or almost every week," Mari said.

In 2020, OCAS euthanized 98 dogs due to temperamental, or behavioral, problems and 60 due to medical conditions, according to their website.

According to the University of Florida’s Annual Florida Shelter Animal Census, Florida, along with the South, has a long history of having higher animal intake per capita and higher euthanasia rates than other parts of the country. Warm climate, high poverty rates, large rural communities and veterinary care deserts cause the pet overpopulation issue.

The report found that Florida has 150 shelters, of which 147 euthanized 15,017 dogs in 2020. This number, however, is less than the 24,766 dogs euthanized in 2019. Data from 2020 also shows a 78% decrease from 2013, when 67,160 dogs were euthanized.

Karin Snitz, an animal rights activist and volunteer at OCAS, believes many of the OCAS practices and the facility are horrendous.

"At its core, it's still a pound. The old-fashioned dog catcher pound mentality," Snitz said, mentioning that while they have tweaked things here and there, they never focus on the real issues at hand.

Mari said that because OCAS has to accept all animals that are brought in, multiple dogs have to be stored in each kennel, which can be an issue if a dog does not get along with others.

The facility also has no air conditioning, and kennels are the size of a twin bed, Sabatino added. Apollo, before adoption, was only taken out of his kennel a couple of times in the two months that he was there.

"It's not pretty. It's really bad right now. No air conditioning. You know how hot it is. It's very sad and there are three dogs in a kennel right now," Snitz said. "Put [the dog] in the shelter for two weeks. You're not going to have the same dog we saw in the video when they were living at home and had happiness. You're going to have a dog with some behavior issues."

Because of this, both Mari and Snitz advocate for OCAS to hire a full-time behaviorist or trainer. But Snitz believes that even without a behaviorist no dog should be euthanized unless it has irreparable terminal physical damage.

"I think that the Orange County community as a whole believes in a no-kill shelter and they don't believe in just euthanizing healthy, treatable dogs," Snitz said. "We usually can save most of these dogs. I mean, [we save] probably 96% of them that get to [the last chance list]. We figure out ways of getting enough people to donate money to the rescue or whatever it is, the needs, whether it be behavior and or medical. And the community always rallies."

Orange Animal County Services did not respond with a statement at this time.

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Apollo outside.(Steve Sabatino)

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As a journalism student at the University of Southern California and an Executive Producer at Annenberg TV News, I have much experience in reporting about not only my hometown Orlando, Florida but also the diverse stories of Los Angelenos. I have a passion for reporting on underrepresented communities and investigative journalism, however I also have written for politics, criminal justice, and more. My mission in each and every story is to find the closest thing to the truth.

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