Mary Barrett has fostered homeless and orphaned dogs for the past 10 years at her Gulfport home.
She decided to create the non-profit organization Limbo Chihuahuas-Chihuahua Rescue when a rescue she fostered for left the state last year.
But now her organization is being fined and ordered to remove foster dogs, because she was found to be in violation of city ordinance for operating a kennel in a residential district.
Many of the animals she takes in are seniors from high-kill shelters that have a death sentence. They are not only old but they also have medical problems, making adoptions a challenge. Ailments include blindness, enlarged hearts, hernias and crippled legs.
Barrett takes in the dogs that are hardest to adopt out and may work for months to find them homes. She says that at any one time she can have five dogs or 25 dogs, but she knows when to refuse accepting animals.
"I know when I have enough on my plate. I know when I have enough dogs," Barrett said. "I've never had a problem with any neighbors."
Barrett says she's turned down seven dogs from Pasco County and another six from Lake County just this past week. She accepts animals only after dogs are adopted out and disputes any claims that she's hoarding animals or breeding dogs.
However, Pinellas County Animal Control Officer Jason Anderson believes Barrett has too many animals under her care. “There’s too many animals, there’s not enough ventilation, we need to get some better treatment for the animals,” he stated at the Thursday hearing.
Barrett says that she is determined to fight the Special Master's ruling.
"The rescue still goes on, but I have to be able to foster for my own organization. We’re gonna fight it," Barrett said.
While her attorney files an appeal, Barrett said she's going to look into applying for a conditional use permit and possibly pay the city fee of $70 to operate a kennel, even though she maintains her services are not-for-profit and operates just to find good homes for dogs that would otherwise be euthanized.
The fees that are accepted help pay for vet services, and in some cases, senior dogs have been adopted out for free.
In the past two weeks, the organization has adopted out eight dogs.
She's concerned that Special Master James Thaler's ruling will affect other rescues in Gulfport.
“They can put every rescue under a microscope if they want to . . . this magistrate said it’s OK to do that,” she said.
In the meantime, Barrett said she's always looking for foster homes. Learn more about the organization on the group's Facebook page.