The ARC Advocate
April 2011 - Vol 1, Issue 4 

 2011 Gold Star Award 

Dr. Laurie

ARC's Medical Director,

Dr. Laurie Walmsley

Dr. Laurie Walmsley, ARC's medical director, is the recipient of the 2011 Gold Star Award, an honor bestowed by the Florida Veterinary Medical Association.    

The award recognizes veterinarians who contribute time toward the advancement of veterinary medicine and the profession of veterinarians. It is given annually to less than two percent of the Association's membership to veterinarians who are recognized by their peers.

Credits & Contact 

Editor and Writer: Chris Hawes

Contributing Editors: Caroline Resnick and Brenda Terris

Contact: 941-780-3046 or


The ARC Advocate is sponsored by Animal Rescue Coalition, 47 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota; website is

Animal Rescue Coalition. 

Broadway Actress Takes the Love of Ferals on the Road

Vanessa Russo
Broadway actress Vanessa Russo 

Vanesso Russo not only volunteers at ARC's feral cat clinic, she fosters feral cats and helps her mom care for ferals that pop up around their Sarasota home. The Broadway actress also travels with a pair of former ferals as she traverses the country while performing in the Broadway musical "Billy Elliott."


"Dean and Harlow love to travel and are always waiting to greet me when I return from the show," says Russo of the two white cats she's raised from infancy. "They are so entertaining and relaxing, and they enjoy when company comes to visit (especially if you give them a back or belly rub). Sometimes, they even try to monopolize the conversation."



Dean and Harlow, two former ferals that now travel the country

Vanessa and her mom Tereza first began caring for feral cats in 2007, when they found several living in their yard. With the help of Caroline Resnick, ARC's feral cat director, the Russos captured, spayed and neutered the ferals they found and began volunteering at ARC's monthly clinic in 2008. That's when the Russos began fostering feral kittens who came into the clinic but were too young or weak to return to the wild. Dean and Harlow, who showed up at the ARC clinic in September 2010, were two of those kittens. 


In addition to raising Dean and Harlow, the Russos have found homes as far away as West Virginia for other cats they've fostered. Vanessa wishes more families looking to adopt a cat would see the promise of ferals. "It's amazing how these little cats have so much love to share. It's as if they know they've been given a new lease on life. If you're planning on looking for a new kitten, please consider adopting a feral kitten. They have so much love to give in return!"  

ARC's Vet Technicians Bring Patience, Love of Animals to Community

Caring for the pets that come into ARC's mobile spay/neuter clinic isn't always easy. Because ARC's services are intended for the low-income, who may be struggling to meet life's basic needs, pets treated by the clinic sometimes show signs of flea infestation and other uncomfortable conditions.
vet techs

Left to right: ARC vet techs Stephanie Velazquez, Sue Waxman & Sam Hershberger


But the three veterinary technicians who staff ARC's clinic have a formidable tool that helps them meet every challenge they encounter: a deep and enduring love and understanding of animals and their needs.


Stephanie Velazquez grew up around animals of all kinds from the age of five. Sue Waxman grew up on a farm and worked for the town veterinarian throughout most of her upbringing. And Sam Hershberger describes herself as "the kid that brought all the cats home from the neighborhood."


Together, the three staff ARC's mobile spay/neuter clinic as it travels throughout Sarasota and Manatee Counties, helping low-income residents learn how to provide their pets with the best possible care under a limited budget. Each is driven by a desire to relieve the suffering of animals, and to pass on their own "sixth sense" about what animals need.


"Animals can't speak for themselves," Velazquez says. "So someone needs to speak for them.
And that person needs to truly love animals, be able to speak out when they're in pain, and know when they're distressed and frightened."


Hershberger and Waxman have something else in common: both left other careers to become vet techs. Hershberger worked in condo and home management for several years before joining ARC, and Waxman worked as both a nurse and a real estate agent before pursuing her lifelong dream to become a vet tech.


The three agree that staffing ARC's mobile spay/neuter clinic brings with it some frustrations. Velazquez says the hardest experience for her is when an animal doesn't make it through surgery because of some untreated condition, and she needs to share the bad news with the child who owned the pet.


Hershberger grows frustrated when she sees people who aren't actually "low-income" partaking of ARC's services, which are subsidized by the county because they are intended for those with little money. "Just like with any government funding, people tend to use the system," she says, "and that's kind of hard." 


Waxman emphasizes that all three of ARC's vet techs try to be as empathetic as possible and do everything possible to help people make the most of difficult circumstances. "The people that use this service love their pets as much as someone who has a million dollars. They're just down on their luck. But we all try to educate them on what they can do if they don't have much money. In that way, this job is so rewarding."


To support ARC's mobile spay/neuter clinic with your donation, please click the button below.

Make a Donation    

Charles Hunter Memorial Fund: Honoring a Late-Blooming Feral Cat Advocate

Dara, Chuck and Carly Hunter

When Charles Hunter first encountered the grizzled old gray and white cat at his Palmer Boulevard business, his first instinct was to ignore him. "Don't feed him; he'll just keep coming back," Hunter instructed his employees at Hunter Electric.

But within a week, Hunter had started buying bags of food. A few weeks later, he'd grown close enough to the old feral to pet him and name him "Papa John." Soon, Papa John was making himself at home in Hunter's office, snuggling up on his computer keyboard. Eventually, Hunter took on the responsibility of feeding Papa John's five babies and their mother, and ensured the entire colony was spayed and neutered.

Hunter passed away from a massive heart attack on Valentine's Day, but the love he developed for feral cats continues to impact the Sarasota community today. Dara Hunter started the Charles Hunter Memorial Fund in her husband's honor, asking the community to make donations to the Animal Rescue Coalition.

"ARC's feral cat program is such a great program. We believe in it, and we think it's very important," Dara Hunter said. "You feel bad because you want to take in all these cats and let them have a home, but you can't. But you can help them."

Papa John, leader of the feral cat colony that Chuck Hunter loved and even relocated, carefully, before his passing.

Hunter loved his feral cat colony so much he relocated the entire group when he moved his business from Palmer Boulevard to downtown Sarasota. Dara Hunter recalls how she and her husband spent hours combing the internet and talking with ARC's feral cat volunteers to learn the responsible, effective way to relocate ferals.

At the new location, they built a cage large enough to comfortably house the whole clan to ensure the cats grew attached to their new location and didn't try to return to their old location. The Hunters gradually trapped all seven cats, and had to keep trying for weeks to lure the wary mother cat into a humane trap.  Scraps of a rotisserie chicken from Publix finally did the trick.

Relocation of feral cats is typically not recommended, says ARC's feral cat director Caroline Resnick. "But this is clearly an exception to the rule," she said. "Charles cared enough to take responsibility for these cats, he wanted to do right by them, and he did extensive research before relocating them."
Dara Hunter hopes others will be inspired by how her husband converted from a "dog man" who thought cats were stand-offish, to a feral cat advocate. "It's funny, this big 300-something-pound guy taking care of these itty-bitty cats. But in the end, he was a cat man. He couldn't stand for any animal to suffer."

To make your donation to the Charles Hunter Memorial Fund, click the button below.

Make a Donation   

Guest Column: Early-Age Spay-Neuter the Way to Go

This article is reprinted with permission from the National Humane Education Society. You can learn more about the NHES at

Early-Age spay/neuter is being performed more and more frequently, and the range of benefits provided for both animals and people is great. Research has shown that it is safe to spay and neuter kittens and puppies at a much younger age than veterinarians once thought.


Many veterinarians are now safely and routinely performing spay and neuter surgery on kittens and puppies at eight weeks of age. The low body fat makes these surgeries easier to accomplish, and puppies and kittens tolerate the procedures very well and recover more quickly than do older animals. Some veterinarians use the two-pound guideline. As long as a puppy or kitten is healthy and weighs at least two pounds, they may be spayed or neutered safely.


Reasons to opt for Early-Age spay/neuter:

  • Helps to control pet overpopulation - less homeless offspring
  • Decreases the rate of animals returned to shelter
  • Decreased euthanized animals
  • Improves animal's adoptability
  • Improved health care of pets
  • Surgery less stressful/quick recovery for younger animals
  • Early spay/neuter can be done in conjunction with other surgeries
  • Spayed and neutered pets are less aggressive, less likely to roam, less likely to fight and therefore less likely to contract contagious diseases

Many animals adopted from shelters are young in age. Studies have shown that if these animals are not spayed/neutered before going into their new homes, many will never be done and these animals then produce more unwanted pets. When these procedures of spaying/neutering are performed early, the chance for unwanted litters is eliminated. These animals are not going to contribute to the surplus pet population of tomorrow.


Today, we recognize the safety and many benefits of early-age spay/neuter. The National Humane Education Society supports the concept and implementation of early-age spaying/neutering (at least eight weeks of age/or two pounds in weight) in healthy, vaccinated kittens and puppies. Although there is concern regarding limited research available on the physical, behavioral and long-term effects of early-age spaying/neutering, The Society believes that these procedures have a positive and immediate effect on reducing the serious pet overpopulation problem and therefore should be implemented nationwide.


But remember, it is never too late to spay or neuter your pet! 

ARC is a charitable, (501)c(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to end the killing of adoptable dogs and cats by means of a proactive spay/neuter program, comprehensive adoption effort, feral cat program and various other initiatives designed to recognize the profound benefits to people of animal companionship.