It all began 13 years ago with a yellow Labrador mix named “Frankenstein.”
“While looking for a pet dog with my daughter, Cindy, I saw this terribly wounded puppy at the animal helter,” recalled Dorothy “Dee” Chess. “He’d been slashed across his head and down his chest with a machete. They’d given him that name because of how horrible he looked. I just couldn’t get him out of my mind, so I went back and brought him home.”
Dee placed rehabilitated pup renamed “Frankie” with a friend at Baptist Hospital, leading to 10 happy years of life until his death just a year ago.
It was that jarring emotional moment, however, that led her to wonder how many other mistreated dogs were eventually bound for euthanasia at the Miami-Dade Animal Services Shelter, overrun with an estimated 30,000 homeless every year.
Then she began taking mistreated and homeless animals into her home along with others who also provided temporary care.
In April 2001, the group formed “Friends Forever Humane Society” to attract others to provide foster homes and loving care for abandoned dogs that constantly roam throughout Miami Dade County.
Over a dozen adults are now part of the network, assisted by 60 volunteer teenagers, many learning how to care and nurse strays back to health at Felix Varela High School in West Kendall. Of three magnet programs, its unique Veterinary Science course yearly turns away more than 600 applicants.
“We’re been able to house some of the strays at the school,” Chess said. “Now, we also have a shelter of our own near The Falls that helps us take any mixed breed or homeless dog needing a home.”
She explained that other groups assisting strays normally help a particular breed.
Before approving its dogs for adoption, Friends “does everything that a shelter or vet hospital will do,” she said.
“We clean and house them, spay or neuter each one, whether they’ve been papered or not, see that any sickness or injury is treated, provide all of their shots including rabies and heartworm, and implant micro-chip identifications.”
Every weekend, prospective owners meet a healthy Friends Forever dog in need of a home at PetSmart at 13621 S. Dixie Hwy. (Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.) and at Petco, 12014 SW 88 St. (Sunday, noon-4 p.m.).
A basic fee of $250 takes care of all medical services and, in some cases, weeks of rehabilitation care and housing before adoption. Always in need of dedicated volunteers, Friends Forever accepts donations of food or supplies at its shelter or at Varela High School.
Just over a year ago, Kendall’s Michael Rosenberg began his mission to establish Pets Trust, designed to help wayward animals, rather than have them put to death by Miami-Dade’s Animal Services that faces housing thousands of both healthy and homeless pets the year-around.
Chess was one of the first to help support that mission, even finding a tiny hairless pooch the Pets Trust named “Pepe Sal” to honor Commissioner Sally Heyman, sponsor of the legislation. “The roaming population of animals in the county is so great, the capacity to keep up with the stray population is necessarily limited by the number of foster homes willing to accept a dog in need,” Chess explained.
In her Palmetto Bay home today, she cares for Lucky, 12, a golden retriever; Yogi, 5, a ‘Labradoodle’ (part Labrador, part poodle); Bugs, 4, a yellow Labrador, and Peanut, a Maltese breed.
“I’ve loved dogs, ever since I was a little girl,” laughed the businesswoman, owner of four beauty salons and two nail technician schools at one time. Mother of two grown daughters, she now happily mothers mutts of all shapes and sizes.
To help Friends Forever’s mission or volunteer as a foster home, Chess can be reached at 786-229-9002 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org Details also are available at friendsforeverrescue.com