Since 1972, the Humane Society of Polk County has served the community by carrying out a mission of creating humane and sustainable environments for all.
photography by Naomi LYNN Vacaro
The Humane Society of Polk County began when two strangers met over a uniquely shared passion: caring deeply for the well-being of abandoned and endangered animals. These two strangers met in 1972, after they both found strays around the Winter Haven community. They happened to take the animals to the same vet for check-ups and routine care. Noticing they both had a passion for a similar cause, the veterinarian at the clinic ended up connecting the two of them — and from there they decided to form Winter Haven’s own Humane Society. As the society’s current director, Lisa Baker, affirms, “This is the perfect example of the power of one person making a difference.”
The society’s original building from 1980 was situated atop an old landfill. So when hurricanes would come and go, it would put them out of the shelter for quite some time. After the hurricanes kept coming, the organization began looking for a more stable location to occupy as their own. After finding an old furniture warehouse store that was comprised of two vast, open rooms, they realized the structure would allow for adequate space with flexibility for renovations. This current home for the Humane Society is also right around the corner from their previous location, which made it easy for their regular visitors to find them during the transition.
When they found the new building, the organization decided to use this time of new beginnings to also kick-start other initiatives. In 2004, the board announced the organization’s conversion to a no-kill shelter; they would not euthanize animals to make space, as many other organizations unfortunately do. They have practiced no-kill ever since.
When they began moving in several years later, they decided to make the effort to go as green and environmentally friendly as possible. Today, you can observe the top of the Humane Society tucked under several solar panels. They also installed all LED lighting for the multipurpose use of heating areas and lessening energy consumption.
Layla has been at the Humane Society for over a year now, making her their longest resident. She is full of personality and looking for a home to welcome her. While Layla seems shy at first, she warms up to those who approach her slowly, letting her come to them. The staff suggests that she would thrive in a home where she could roam free and make her own way, coming to you on occasion but not always needing to be near you. Layla was unfortunately taken away from her mother too soon, so she needs a cat-savvy owner who will welcome her as part of the family.
Additionally, they have a wet-vac system instead of normal drains. This system cleans the entire facility while consuming only one-quarter of the water they were previously using in their previous, and smaller, building. Many of the landscapes and toys provided for the animals are also made out of reusable items, such as past food containers, to prolong their sustainability aspirations. Therefore, “When you contribute to the Humane Society, the majority of your contribution goes directly to the animals rather than to the upkeep of the facility and its water or electric bills,” says Baker.
Around the current facility you’ll find reused materials, makeshift trees, and welcoming faces. Cats are separated into groups –– kittens, teenagers, and older cats –– with a screened-in porch for them to roam. There’s also the occasional rabbit, guinea pig, bird, and hamster, all of which are available for adoption. Walking around the kennel, visitors can give the dogs treats or throw them balls. The Humane Society also has a trainer, Diann, who hosts “meet and greets” where dogs can comfortably warm up to each other; cultivating a positive experience for meeting new dogs.
Along with the intentionality put into the Humane Society’s space, the contributions of their volunteers, staff, and board of directors greatly contribute to the organization’s smooth operation. “We are so fortunate to have had so many amazing people on the board that have always helped elevate the Society into the place and position it is in today,” Baker says. Their board is run on a term-limit, which means they try not to stagnate members in order to have a constant flow of new, fresh ideas going through the board. This also allows for anyone interested in serving at the Humane Society the ability to serve on the board too, without the fear of a long-term commitment. “Like I said, we’re so fortunate to have such enthusiasm on the board, flowing in and out consistently,” Baker says.
Also, if you are interested in becoming a part of their team and eventually a board member yourself, it starts by becoming a member — where you can attend fund-raisers, volunteer for events, take care of the animals, make meals, assist with laundry duty, answer the phone, or even foster animals in your own home.
Fostering the Humane Society’s animals has always been an important need for their community as they pursue their no-kill aspirations. Maybe you can’t have an animal permanently, but you would be interested in fostering one, or several, temporarily. You can also help the society foster litters of kittens or puppies until they have all found homes of their own.
Recently, the organization has even begun the implementation of fostering on an hourly term, meaning if you want to come take a dog for the day to go hiking with you, or to walk around the city, you can! While such activities are fun for those who foster, they are also a huge stress-reliever for the animals, as these opportunities allow them to experience fresh scenery or new adventures. They are thinking of calling the hourly programs “Doggies Day Out” and “Cat Nap.”
“When you contribute to the Humane Society, the majority of your contribution goes directly to the animals rather than to the upkeep of the facility and its water or electric bills.”
– Lisa Baker
Another behavioral enrichment the Humane Society provides for their animals is the ability to play classical music in their rooms, diffuse essential oils for them, and even paint their kennels certain calming colors. These minor additions have been proven to have a positive effect on the mental health of the animals in the midst of the chaos that can often occur in a packed shelter. “I think that one of the most misunderstood concepts is how traumatic it can be for the animals in here, simply because of the constant barking that’s going on. They may have never been around other pets, so that can be very stressful for them. But this is another area volunteers can fit in, by coming in and taking our animals out to pet them and play with them,” says Baker.
The society has been one to admire in the community, and the closer we looked into its operation, the further that point was proven. As Baker says, it takes the power of just one person to make a difference, and the Humane Society tucked in our Winter Haven home has brought such philosophy to fruition.
Humane Society of Polk County
3195 Dundee Road