Teen becomes powerful lobbyist for thousands of ‘misfit’ cats, dogs

02/23/2013 7:16 AM

02/23/2013 7:17 AM

It began last summer when Halie Weber went to adopt a dog. Halie, then 16, and her mother were trying to choose from a pair of pooches at Lake County, Fla., Animal Services when they learned that the one left behind would be euthanized the next day — along with at least a dozen more.

“We ended up taking both, but we were just shocked that so many animals were being killed,” Brenda Weber said. “As soon as we stepped out of the building, I turned to Halie and said, ‘Somebody needs to do something.’ ”

Halie didn’t hesitate. “Mom,” she said, “we are somebody.”

The next thing Weber knew, her daughter had a meeting scheduled with their local state senator.

It turned out to be the start of a campaign that, in just six months, has lobbied seven local cities and the Lake County Board of Commissioners; delved into millage rates and budgetary issues; formed a certified nonprofit organization; and helped rescue, rehabilitate and find new homes for about 60 dogs and dozens of cats.

Halie Weber’s Misfit Animal Rescue now consumes much of the family’s time, including that of her parents, both full-time firefighters, and her 14-year-old sister, Mattie. In addition, Halie, now 17, is a dual-enrollment student who is home-schooled and attends Lake-Sumter State College, hoping to be a veterinarian. She also manages her own business breeding Nigerian Dwarf goats and making soap from their milk.

“Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day,” she admits.

In the still-rural stretches of Lake County, Halie’s passion for animals isn’t unusual. But her headlong dive into public policy is.

“To hear her delivery, you wouldn’t know her age except by how she looks,” said Leesburg, Fla., City Manager Jay Evans. “She’s a very effective speaker, and the City Commission agreed with several of her points and actually passed a resolution supporting her proposal. … I expect we’ll be seeing more of Miss Halie, whether it be on this issue or perhaps in elected office.”

Halie’s primary goal is to prevent the need for the ongoing euthanasia of pets.

On the family’s “Someday Came Ranch” outside Groveland, Halie currently has seven dogs of her own, 16 “last chance” dogs she rescued before they were euthanized at the county shelter and 25 cats. For all but the initial seven, Halie will feed and nurture them to health only to try to find loving homes elsewhere.

Her father, Kent Weber, has built a series of kennels for the animals, and the whole family will spend weekends outside, say, Tractor Supply Co. in Eustis, Fla., to recruit prospective pet parents.

“It’s actually nice to see someone her age get so involved,” said Michelle Turner, Tractor Supply’s assistant manager. “Mom, Dad, the little sister, Halie — they’ll all sit out there in the cold this time of year, and they’re usually here for a good part of the day. She seems to have had quite a bit of success.”

But adoption is the easy part. What tears at Halie’s heart is the rescue — and all the ones she must leave behind. She targets the large dogs, the ones least likely to be chosen by others, and sometimes those with the cruelest histories.

Like Dozer. A pit-bull mix estimated to be 4 or 5 years old — it’s hard to tell because so many of his teeth had to be pulled — Dozer was rescued when Halie spotted him at the shelter in September. Part of his lip had been bitten off, scars crisscrossed his body — probably from being used as a “bait” dog in fights — and his feet were deformed from inadequate nutrition.

When he saw Halie, he wagged his tail so vigorously it slapped the side of his head. When she sat down to pet him, he curled up in her lap and licked her face.

“Sometimes we just ask ourselves, ‘OK, this one has teeth missing, he’s on antibiotics, he’s heartworm-positive, he’s a mess — and meanwhile there are puppies being put to sleep. Why do we have this dog?’ ” Halie admits. “But, you know, there must be some reason. Something has to be about him because his heart is so sweet.”

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