Okeechobee Humane Society founder retiring after nine years

OKEECHOBEE — Belinda Forlifer, founder and CEO of the Okeechobee Humane Society & Pet Rescue, has decided to retire after nine years of saving and sheltering pets in the Okeechobee area.

Okeechobee Humane Society founder Belinda Forlifer comforts a puppy at the Humane Society facility located on U.S. 98.

Mrs. Forlifer will donate the facility and all remaining assets to a new rescue called Trail of Hope Animal Rescue, operated by Deedee and John Morris. Trail of Hope will operate at the same location and plans to continue Mrs. Forlifer’s mission of a no-kill rescue.

“I’m getting old,” Mrs. Forlifer said with a laugh. “I need a break, and I feel like it’s my time to try to help someone else younger take over the rescue. I want to thank all of those people who have supported the Humane Society Pet Rescue. Without their support I could not have accomplished all the great rescues we’ve done over the years.”

For four years prior to opening the Okeechobee Humane Society, Mrs. Forlifer had volunteered at the Humane Society of Highlands County. But when Highlands board members voted to stop helping animals in Okeechobee County, Mrs. Forlifer stepped up to the plate and opened the Okeechobee Humane Society in October 2008.

Over the years many pets have been rescued and adopted into homes by the Humane Society. Mrs. Forlifer has many stories, both happy and sad, from her time serving the community.

“I think the saddest things I would experience,” said Mrs. Forlifer, “would be the elderly people who are being placed in nursing homes and have to give their pets up. That is what crushed me the most through all these years because I couldn’t imagine having to give up my own dogs if I was in that situation.”

The silver lining in stories like that is that the Humane society was there to take the pets in and adopt them into good, happy homes, which is something that wouldn’t have been possible without Mrs. Forlifer’s dedication to animals in Okeechobee County. She estimates that on a normal week she would volunteer anywhere from 40-60 hours at the Humane Society.

“My belief was that it isn’t good enough only to rescue an animal,” Mrs. Forlifer explained.

“A lot of the animals that come though here have issues and need behavior training before adoption. It was also crucial to educate the adopter in preventive medications, spay and neuter, keeping up with training, diet, etc. I never felt that the number of pets adopted was a big deal. It is all about making sure the animals were happy and in a safe home.”

Mrs. Forlifer is now helping in the transition of the facility to Trail of Hope Animal Rescue. Mr. Forlifer and Trail of Hope president Dee Dee Morris met through a Facebook post about a dog.

Trail of Hope founder and president DeeDee Morris is prepared to continue the Humane Society of Okeechobee’s mission of sheltering, training and adopting out animals in Okeechobee County. The non-profit 501c is in need of donations and volunteers to kickstart the new rescue.

“My husband and I started Trail of Hope back in July,” said Mrs. Morris. “We’re slowly building it up. I posted on Facebook about someone who was looking for a small dog, and I started communicating with Belinda then. At the time I didn’t know she was in the process of retiring, and she didn’t know I was in the process of kick starting a rescue. So it all just took off there, from a chance comment on Facebook.”

Mrs. Morris and Trail of Hope plan to continue Forlifer’s dedication to animals in Okeechobee, continuing the no-kill policy, training, and rehabilitation of pets that come though the facility. During the transition Trail of Hope desperately needs monetary donations to help with operation of the shelter. The Trail of Hope website, www.trailofhopeanimalrescue.org, has a link for paypal donations, a mailing address for donations, and also information for volunteers to contact them.

“We need monetary donations badly,” said Mrs. Morris. “We need volunteers. If anyone had items they wanted to donate that would be helpful too. Anything to help us prepare for our eventual grand opening.”

Trail of Hope also plans to keep the same phone number and location that the Okeechobee Humane Society Pet Rescue has had throughout the past nine years.

“I’m hoping that moving forward people will help Dee Dee and Trail of Hope,” said Mrs. Forlifer. “Help her make this rescue bigger. Maybe even get a new facility at some point.

For myself I would like to work on getting affordable spay and neuter in Okeechobee County, even if I end up having to get people to help me start a clinic of my own.”

And how will those plans of working on affordable spay and neuter in Okeechobee affect her retirement?

“Oh, I’m not done yet,” said Mrs. Forlifer with a grin. “I’m just retiring from taking care of the humane society. There’s always work to be done.”

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