Volusia County Animal Services officials are investigating complaints about a long-standing home for disabled and near-end-of-life animals near DeLand.
Staff and supporters of Journey’s End Animal Sanctuary, however, said the facility is being unfairly targeted, and defended the work the group does for animals who might otherwise face euthanasia.
In a terse statement, county spokesman Kevin Captain said officials had responded to unspecified complaints from individuals “on and near the site” of Journey’s End, on Mercers Fernery Road north of DeLand.
“The reported concerns were substantiated by animal control officers, initiating a review of the situation in an effort to resolve any potential issues or concerns,” he said. “The county is working collaboratively with Journey’s End’s counsel, within state statutes and county ordinances, to bring about a positive outcome. Animal control officers are concerned for the animals and property owner and want to achieve a positive outcome for all involved.”
Adam Leath, director of Volusia County Animal Services, said he could not elaborate on the complaints regarding Journey’s End, or what actions the county was seeking to take.
“We are not able to comment at this time regarding the specifics,” he said.
Florence Thuot, a former animal-cruelty investigator, who founded Journey’s End in 1974, said the problem stems from complaints made by “disgruntled ex-employees.”
She said Leath and a veterinarian came and walked through the property recently, and told staff that each animal needs to be licensed and to have up-to-date, documented rabies vaccinations.
“Years ago, we were grandfathered in [regarding licenses],” she said.
As for rabies vaccinations, Thuot said veterinarians sometimes don’t recommend them for older animals.
Animals arrive at Journey’s End for a variety of reasons, including if their owner dies or has to move into a nursing home. At times, the group has gotten calls from veterinarians regarding partially paralyzed animals.
Other times, animals are simply dumped near the sanctuary’s gate.
The group gets more than 80 calls each week about animals, and is forced to turn down nearly all of them.
Currently, there are just over 100 cats, 29 dogs, a few pigs, a goat and a horse on the sanctuary’s grounds.
“I’m not a hoarder,” Thuot said. “We don’t bring [animals] in and make them suffer.”
She said county officials also encouraged Journey’s End to do adoption events, something the sanctuary doesn’t normally do. As animals on-site are largely older and/or disabled, many could be hard to place in suitable homes.
For some animals, it’s more personal. In some cases, Journey’s End has promised an animal’s former owners — or in the case of some left behind after a death, their families — that the animal could live out the rest of its life in peace at the sanctuary.
Additionally, Thuot, who is 91, said improvements to the facility are in the works.
The group is currently in the process of getting permits for a $131,000 renovation of its cat house, where most of the 107-or-so cats at the sanctuary live and play.
Another donor has offered the group $20,000 to construct a new outdoor play area, she said.
As for conditions currently at Journey’s End, Thuot said a corps of volunteers clean the facility and wash the animals’ bedding daily.
Other volunteers do nothing but brush and play with the animals, to keep them happy and comfortable.
In the meantime, in response to the investigation, Thuot said Journey’s End has retained an attorney.
“The public is really supporting us,” as well, she added.