Powder relaxes in the sun at Farmhouse Animal and Nature Sanctuary.
A few curious goats peered through a fence at Farmhouse Animal and Nature Sanctuary as Dave Burns tried to explain why it is so important to open the sanctuary to the public.
"We need to teach them about the animals that come in here," said Burns, who runs the Myakka City sanctuary with his wife, Lisa. "I feel sorry for the animals being dumped. Nobody is protecting them."
Dave Burns wants to open the sanctuary so he can educate people about why it is important to do some research before the owners find out they aren't able to care for their "pets."
"It's like a pot-bellied pig ... you can't have that in the house," Dave Burns said. "Those pigs want to use their nose and dig for bugs. They're not supposed to be sitting on the couch, watching SpongeBob SquarePants on TV."
Dave and Lisa Burns had worked for eight years as volunteers at the Majical Miniatures rescue in Parrish. The Majical Miniatures' owners retired, so in 2017, the couple applied for nonprofit status as an animal sanctuary on their six acres in Myakka City. Dave Burns used his handyman talents to begin building habitats on their property. Lisa Burns, along with doing various hands-on chores, handled the office work, such as the paperwork for necessary licensing and pursuing grants.
"I had dogs growing up, and a bird," said Lisa Burns, who moved from Lockport, New York, to Florida in 1976. "But for me, the inspiration for starting a rescue came from seeing all the effort those ladies (Ariyana Saint Jennings and Jan Doherty) put in at Majical Miniatures."
Although Lisa Burns was happy with her decision, she has been hesitant about opening the rescue to the public.
"I am not as in favor of opening to the public," she said. "We need more help so I can do the tours."
However, her husband has her almost convinced the time is now to teach the public about the proper treatment of animals and what happens to them if they don't receive proper care. They have three regular volunteers at the moment who work at two regular shifts (four hours) per week, and they have a list of 28 volunteers who volunteer when they have the time. They also receive help from student groups who need service hours, groups like the Boy Scouts and event businesses. Ten people from Keller Williams real estate came out in January to pull weeds, for example.
Dave Burns, a real life Dr. Doolittle, said they are ready.
If they get the proper certification from the United States Department of Agriculture, they could open their doors late this spring, although tours would be by appointment only. It would be another source of revenue to feed and care for their animals.
The rescue also received a boost late in January when it received a $25,000 award in the Tractor Supply "Rescue Your Rescue" contest. Farmhouse Animal and Nature Sanctuary was one of eight rescues chosen nationally in the contest sponsored by Tractor Supply and Canidae Pet Foods. The grant money is being used to replace the front gate and many sections of fence throughout the rescue.
It's a mom-and-pop operation, but their goal is to love and support all the animals who live at the sanctuary — about 110 of them at the present time— "to the best of their ability and to educate the public on animal care and nature."
Dave Burns, who lived in Batavia, New York, before moving to Florida in 1980, said telling the animals' stories is important to their mission.
"Every animal here has a story," he said.
The animals often fall into a dire situation because people find they can't afford them. So they are dumped.
Lisa Burns told the story of their 85-pound tortoise, George, who was found wandering the streets of Sarasota. The local residents who found George found he had "escaped" several other times from his owner, who had no particular interest in finding him. They called Farmhouse Animal and Nature Sanctuary for help.
Tortoises can burrow under fences. Owners get alarmed because, as Dave Burns said, some tortoises can build a hole as big as a car. Often they are bought when they are small and they balloon in size.
Abandonment becomes a big problem in this area because the animals are hit in the road.
Lisa Burns told another story about their donkey, Yeesaw. He was well cared for locally until his owner had to move. A neighbor said he would care for Yeesaw, but a year later the donkey was found by the previous owner unable to get up off the ground and covered with bugs. In tears, the previous owner called Lisa and Dave Burns.
"He is the sweetest donkey," Lisa Burns said. "A couple of weeks after he came here, he was walking great and jumping fences. Now he walks around like he owns the place."
The sanctuary took three Sugar Gliders (in the possum family but like a flying squirrel) that are native to Australia. The owners bought them at a reptile show and said "nobody said they would need vet care." They just took in a prairie dog that was abandoned.
"We call it the misfit farm," Lisa Burns said with a laugh.
Dave and Lisa Burns took in a miniature horse who was found by a farmer walking down State Road 64 in Myakka City. The farmer could see why the owner abandoned him.
"He wasn't walking right," Dave Burns said. "His feet had problems and he was covered in scars. I was told he wouldn't go to anyone, but I wanted to help. When I got there, he walked right up to me like he knew me and then walked on the horse trailer right behind me. We found out he had floating patellas. We named him after Bullseye in 'Toy Story.' We watch the animals for a while after they come here, and then we name them. We want to make sure the name fits them."
Caring for abandoned animals leads to expensive veterinarians' bills, but they both said they have received great support from the community. They have a goat named Colt who had been abandoned when he was a baby. No rescue would take him, but Dave and Lisa Burns raised $4,000 through the community's generosity to pay for a unique operation where Colt received a plate in his shoulder and four pins.
"Now he is head butting with the rest of the goats," Lisa Burns said. "They were thinking about amputating his leg."
Since they are limited in space, Dave and Lisa can't always take abandoned animals. They won't take anything they can't feed or that they don't have adequate space for a proper habitat. In that case, they start calling other rescues for help.
Volunteer Larry Hamilton was busy working at the rescue when he stopped his project to talk about the owners.
"I had heard they needed help and now I feel so awesome to be here," he said. "They are so understanding of animals, and I know they care."
They both keep regular jobs (they own the Backyard Getaway landscaping business in Myakka City and Dave Burns still does drywall work) and use the funds to keep the rescue running and to pay vet bills. It doesn't matter, though.
"I love this place," Dave Burns said.
They haven't taken a vacation in five years.
"If you make a life you enjoy, you don't need a vacation," Lisa Burns said.
Dave Burns laughed at the thought of taking a vacation. He said when they do get a day or two off, they always do the same thing.