Meet The Sarasota 23

Rescued retrievers romp at reunionThe Sarasota 23 lived sad lives until animal services confiscated them and a nonprofit group found them homes where dogs can party.
By Terri S. Reeves, St. Petersburg Times, photos by Kathleen Flynn, July 19, 2004

PALM HARBOR - It's her birthday and she can swim if she wants to, run if she wants to and bark if she wants to.

Two golden retrievers play with Cary Cash of St. Petersburg on Saturday during the reunion party for the Sarasota 23. The dogs were confiscated by Sarasota County Animal Services from a breeder.

Lucy, a 2-year-old golden retriever, seemed to be all smiles as she romped with 24 other dogs - 20 goldens and four border collies - at the home of Sue Keiser and Bob Anderson on Saturday. The party animals dove in the pool for balls, caught Frisbees and got along swimmingly at the second annual reunion of the Sarasota 23. Party favors included peanut butter-flavored tennis balls, tug toys and squeakers shaped like birthday presents and cupcakes.

For many of these pampered pooches, life was not always kind. Two summers ago, Sarasota County Animal Services confiscated seven adult golden retrievers and 19 puppies from a home-based breeding operation where female dogs were forced into pregnancy at almost every heat.

The dogs and their pups were found living under horrendous conditions in a flea- and tick-infested home. Many were covered in waste; all required treatment for worms, skin and ear infections. They showed signs of depression and stress. Many of the puppies, which normally should have been very active, were found curled up in balls.

The dogs were taken to a shelter, where three puppies were placed in the homes of shelter workers. The remaining dogs - seven adults and 16 pups, between 4 and 8 weeks old - were released to Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida, a group of volunteers who transport, foster and place dogs for adoption. They became affectionately known as the "Sarasota 23."

The nonprofit rescue agency placed them all with "forever families," people who will love them and give them appropriate shelter and care for the rest of their lives. The agency prides itself on its strict adoption guidelines, which include home inspections, lengthy applications, veterinarian references and high expectations for a good home.

Saturday afternoon, seven of the 2-year-old pups and one of the mothers showed up for the pool party. They were accompanied by their adoptive mothers and fathers, as well as other dogs in the household, many of which were also rescued from less than ideal conditions. It was a golden opportunity for the owners of the dogs to catch up on old friendships, compare notes and take photos.

Lucy, the runt of the three litters, used to walk with a limp. Today she is still the smallest of the gang, but she can run, play and swim just like the rest of them. "She is doing quite well," said her owner, Anne Porcaro, 46, of Largo. "She's energetic, fun and loveable."

The dogs were placed in homes throughout Tampa Bay and Central Florida.

John McFadden of Bonita Springs divvies out treats during the party. McFadden adopted two of the rescued retrievers, Logan and Kira. "They're just the sweetest dogs," he said.

Logan and Kira were chauffeured to the party by their Bonita Springs owners, John McFadden, 39, and Rick Anderson, 57. The dogs made their fashionably late entrance sporting Minnie and Mickey ears. "It was a 21/2-hour drive but worth it," McFadden said. "We wanted them to be reunited with the family."

Haley, 8, mothered some of the pups, but it is not known who belongs to whom, said Donna Dossing, 52, her Port Richey owner. "That would require a DNA test to find out," said Dossing, an administrative support supervisor for Pinellas County's risk management department.

Haley's elbows are blemished with calluses from lying on concrete floors; her stomach is riddled with scars from tick bites and past infections. Her reproductive system "was in such bad condition" a veterinarian thought it would put the dog at severe risk "if she had had any more litters," Dossing said. "Haley is now healthy, happy and a valid member of the family," Dossing said. She lives with two other goldens, Tara, 2, and Wyatt, which Dossing adopted with her fiance, Chuck Graves.

Lisa Beck, 48, of Palm Harbor, brought photo computer mouse pads - make that, dog pads - for some of the dog owners. She plans to make more once she gets everyone's picture. She owns four goldens, including Deuce, a Sarasota 23 member with hip dysplasia.

Deuce, originally named Solo, seemed content to sit on the pool steps while some of the more active dogs splashed around. "His hips are out of their sockets," Beck said. "Just the muscles are holding them into place. He's kind of a loner. He plays some, but mostly watches the world go by." Almost all of the dogs suffer from some degree of hip dysplasia, which can often be attributed to bad breeding practices.

Ace was another 2-year-old birthday boy who has taken obedience classes and received a canine good citizen award distinguishing him as a model pet. "It's a 10-item test that says he can meet a stranger, be polite, doesn't have separation anxiety, and is basically a well-behaved pet," said Barbara White, 53, a registered nurse from Bradenton.

Linda Barninger of Dunedin nuzzles with 4-month-old Rocco, a foster dog belonging to Emily Rowe of St. Petersburg. "He's tired," Rowe said. "He's a baby. They play for a while, then they need to sleep." The rescue volunteers transport, foster and place dogs for adoption.


Keiser, 49, said she was happy to host the party for such a well-behaved gang.

"This is fun," said Keiser, a dental hygienist who adopted Saxon, one of the male puppies now certified as a canine good citizen. "I think I will have enough dog hair (in the pool filter) to donate to Locks of Love," a nonprofit organization that collects human hair to make wigs for cancer patients and others.

Andrea Davis, 30, intake coordinator for the rescue group, said she was thrilled to see all the dogs and their new owners, who have become friends, together again. "It's great to see smiles on everyone's faces, the dogs and the people," said the St. Petersburg resident, who is public relations coordinator for the Florida Aquarium. "It's a new chapter in their lives. The first chapter is, thankfully, closed.

"Rescue dogs," she said. "You gotta love 'em."

Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida has rescued 102 dogs this year and 1,474 golden retrievers since the organization was formed in 1991. For information, check e-mail or call 407 332-2840.