After Irma, Big Dog Ranch struggles to meet medical needs

Big Dog Ranch Rescue founder and president Lauree Simmons wasn’t too worried about the approach of massive Hurricane Irma: The rescue’s new adoption facility in Loxahatchee Groves is rated for 185 mph winds, and she had 18 staff members to stay at the facility through the storm.

But her concern spiked as employees evacuated the rescue’s medical clinic, based out of a trailer toward the back of the property. The trailer would not be safe during what was forecast to be Category 4 winds, Simmons said, and while moving the veterinary equipment to the newer buildings, mold was found in the floors and air filters.

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“That trailer is unsafe to go back into,” Simmons said Wednesday as she walked through Big Dog Ranch’s makeshift medical quarters: two offices and a few quarantine cells in what usually is the intake building.

A veterinary clinic is partially constructed on the rescue’s 33-acre property in Loxahatchee Groves. The external walls are up, the roof is almost completed and plumbing is finished thanks to a $500,000 donation from supporter Lori Budin. But more needs to be done, and soon, Simmons said.

RELATED: Irma snaps massive trees, damages roofs in Wellington neighborhood

“This is really going to hold me up saving lives,” she said, then gestured to the medical equipment stacked in the two offices at the front of the intake building. “We’re packed in here.”

With another $500,000, Simmons said she can complete the clinic and begin providing care for high-risk dogs.

“We’re the last hope for last day dogs, the ones county shelters won’t take in because their cases are so complicated,” she said.

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That includes dozens of dogs currently at Big Dog Ranch who have heartworm, a dangerous condition that requires multiple treatments of medication and the dog equivalent of bed rest.

Those dogs are now resting in crates in hallways, where air conditioning is being kept running by two massive generators.

Irma’s winds knocked down “a massive amount of trees” at the rescue and brought down several new fences around recently completed play areas. But volunteers were quick to arrive after the storm to clean up what they could.

“We’ve gotten a lot of help,” she said.

Volunteers swarmed the property Wednesday, walking dogs, cleaning kennels and playing with pups eager for attention. Among them: nearly 60 dogs brought to the rescue from Texas after Hurricane Harvey. With just a few days left in quarantine, they will be ready for adoption — just in time for Simmons to hopefully accept another few dozen dogs from Texas, and possibly more from areas of the Caribbean hit hard by Irma.

“Unless we get 50 dogs adopted by Saturday, we can’t take those dogs,” Simmons said.

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