Trail of Hope Animal Rescue finding success in Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE — In October 2017 when Humane Society Pet Rescue FL founder Belinda Forlifer retired, she passed the torch to a new rescue called Trail of Hope Animal Rescue.

The new rescue had been founded in July of that year by Dee Dee Morris and her husband John. The pair were slowly building up the rescue when they met Belinda through a chance Facebook post about a dog. With Belinda retiring and Trail of Hope just getting started, the timing was perfect for a passing of the torch.

Now, over a year later, Mrs. Morris says the rescue has been more successful than she could’ve ever imagined. Trail of Hope has helped over 370 dogs find new homes in the short time they’ve been open.

“This has been beyond our wildest expectations,” said Mrs. Morris. “We really had no clue.

Trail of Hope has helped over 370 dogs find new homes in the year that they’ve been open. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

When we started there was only one volunteer and now we have a rotating crew of 24. It’s been great to see this community come together for the dogs. I think once people realized this is a pure volunteer-based organization and that we’re solely doing this for the dogs, the circle of support just continued to grow and grow.”

Dee Dee still holds her full-time job as a supervisor at the post office while John is retired from the Navy, and neither draw a salary from their work at Trail of Hope. Everyone involved with the rescue is there solely because they have a desire to help pets in Okeechobee. Trail of Hope currently pays $1,200 monthly rent on the facility. Their long term goal is to acquire land or have property donated or leased at a minimal amount, which would allow them to upgrade and expand.

Seymour (right) decided to help Trail of Hope owner Dee Dee Morris (left) write Christmas cards before the holidays. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Support from the Okeechobee community has been a huge part of Trail of Hope’s success.

Raye Deusinger, the Business Women’s Referral Network and Osceola Middle School have held donation drives for the rescue, the Big Lake Interact Club donated a John Deere lawn mower, and businesses around Okeechobee display donation boxes for Trail of Hope on their counters.

“There’s not one single aspect of the community that hasn’t come through for us one way or another,” said Mrs. Morris. “It’s been amazing.”

Immediately after taking over the Humane Society Pet Rescue facility John and Dee Dee had to put up some of their own money to upgrade the building and buy the supplies that would be needed to operate the rescue. But it only took a matter of weeks for Trail of Hope to become self-sufficient. Adoption fees and donations have been able to pay for all of the vet bills the rescue has needed since they’ve opened.

“It’s not what I expected,” Mrs. Morris said. “ I expected to have to support it for awhile, but after that first month we haven’t had to put a dime into it. I think it helps that people have been able to come and see the changes we’ve made, how clean it is, how well the dogs are taken care of and how it looks like you’re walking into the dog’s own little home.”

Even though Trail of hope has had great success in its first year, there’s always the need for more volunteers.

“We always need more volunteers,” explained Mrs. Morris. “We have people who take time off, or something happens, so we are always trying to build our volunteer base.”

Trail of Hope has a wide variety of jobs for volunteers to help out with. From walking dogs, cleaning the kennels, taking photos of the dogs to put online, collecting donation boxes, doing laundry and dishes to even just playing with the dogs.

“We have a dog named Sadie who is a huge fan of playing with the tennis ball,” Mrs. Morris said of one volunteer opportunity. “As long as you can keep throwing that tennis ball she will keep chasing. Just to have someone come by and spend a few minutes walking and playing with the dogs helps with their socialization and helps them get used to different people.”

If you’d like to reach out to volunteer or to donate some much needed supplies, you can contact Dee Dee or John at Trail of Hope’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TrailofHope/.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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