- November 7, 2012
Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue has never looked like a run-of-the-mill animal shelter.
Rather than keep its dogs and cats in one cold industrial building, it separates them into smaller groups and houses them in cute cottages painted bright blue and cheerful yellow on a bucolic 8-acre property off Lorraine Road.
To help offset its costs, it operates a small boutique in the Shoppes at University Center, organizes charity polo matches at the Sarasota Polo Club and rounds up families for 5K fun runs at Nathan Benderson Park. It offers training for kids who might not know how to interact with a rescue pet and hosts carnivals on its property.
And despite having outgrown its 960-square-foot adoption center — home to a rotating crew of more than two dozen volunteers — it still takes in a staggering 2,000 animals a year. But it’s time for a change.
In January, the no-kill shelter will break ground on a 20,000-square-foot expansion to its Lorraine Road campus.
The new Nate’s will offer veterinary care for the first time, a summer camp for kids, a cat cafe and a community room dedicated to birthday parties, yoga classes and, yes, weddings.
The organization has already raised $3.5 million toward its $8 million goal.
“We think outside of the box,” says Rob Oglesby, Nate’s director of development. “And we run Nate’s the same way we used to run our business.”
Oglesby and his wife, Dari, who serves as Nate’s executive director, got involved with the organization 10 years ago when their daughter, then a student at Ringling College of Art and Design, started photographing animals for the rescue’s Facebook page.
Ready to offload a 25-year real estate evaluation company, the couple agreed to help steer the nonprofit after being approached by late developer Nathan Benderson, who had taken a shine to the rescue during the build-out of his Cooper Creek shopping plaza.
“I told him I didn’t want to run it, and he said, ‘You’re not keeping the property unless you do,’” recalls Oglesby of Benderson. “He loved those animals.”
The rescue’s original leadership had fragmented, and Benderson wanted someone to step in and oversee the nuts and bolts of the operation. Oglesby admits he was at first “suckered into it,” but since then he hasn’t looked back.
Seven years ago, when the shelter — renamed in 2012 in tribute to Benderson — moved out to Lorraine Road people told the Oglesbys no one would drive that far east.
They were wrong. In 10 years, Nate’s has placed more than 10,000 animals in homes around the area. Its cottage concept, most of which was funded by Benderson, has been a huge success. And Lorraine Road no longer feels like the middle of nowhere.
“When it comes to animal rescue out here, people think of Nate’s,” says Mary Dietterle, executive director of Animal Rescue Coalition, which spays and neuters about 30 to 40 of Nate’s cats and dogs a week. “It’s excellently branded and well-run. They have a great team of volunteers, great donor support, and Dari and Rob are completely into the mission. If anyone can succeed at it, Nate’s will.”
Most of the bells and whistles planned for the new facility were inspired by things the couple saw at other shelters, including their cat cafe, which was modeled after a similar cafe in Orlando.
“It’s called plagiarism,” jokes Oglesby. “We’ve been planning this expansion for two years. Throughout the process we traveled across the country and checked out other rescues and basically walked away with an idea from each one. We always asked them, ‘What’s the best thing you’re doing, and what’s the one thing you wish you could change?’”
Oglesby has always wanted Nate’s to feel more like an attraction than an animal shelter.
“We want to be the Disneyland of animal rescue,” he says. “The point is to make it fun for kids. We’re trying to change the way they think of going to a shelter, one generation at a time.”