Local News

Rescuing stray animals is natural for bighearted man

SEBRING- When there is a stray dog, cat or even chicken roaming the streets of Sun 'n Lake, residents know who to call. Mike Hurley, who heads Sun 'n Lake security and code enforcement operations, has become the unofficial pet savior of this community, helping to rescue more than 65 dogs, about 15 cats, as well as rabbits, a chicken and even a baby owl over the last 2 1/2 years. He not only rescues them, sometimes in the middle of the night when he gets a call or chances upon them while patrolling, he takes them home, bathes them, feeds them and helps them to be reunited with their owners. A couple of the critters he's helped - a cat and a dog - have even become part of the family brood.
"It's an amber alert for (lost) pets," laughed Sun 'n Lake supervisor Dave Halbig, about how residents now know to call the district office or security every time they see a loose dog or cat. "He's such a good guy," Halbig added. "He'll liberate any stray dog, any stray cat - any stray person. He's a wonderful guy. He'll go that extra mile." Halbig remembered the time Hurley encountered a jobless man he didn't know, took him in, got him cleaned up, helped him find a job and even got him moved into an apartment. Recently, Hurley and Sun 'n Lake Public Works Director Greg Griffin even managed to locate a resident who found himself stranded in a kayak in gator-infested Arbuckle Creek by the Avon Park Bombing Range and was lost for three hours. His wife called Hurley for help, and it took them about an hour to find the 70-year-old, but they did. v v Hurley, who is from Massachusetts, came to Sun 'n Lake to retire. Needless to say, that didn't last very long. He said his pet rescuing has received full support from the district officials and the community, many who chip in to help, and hopes their vigilance has helped to curb the number of abandoned animals in the 12 square-mile area they patrol. "All the security guards are like me," he said. "They don't want animals to be hurt." The Humane Society of Highlands County and Highlands County Animal Control has helped them in every way, he added. His rescue stories run the gamut. He found a dog whimpering on the golf course once; another time he saw an emaciated puppy that was so stricken he had to lift it in his arms and take it in his car. Many of his stories have had happy endings, too. "We've been very lucky," he said. They've managed to either find the owners or good homes for many of their rescued animals. "The longest an animal has been with me is two weeks," he added. v v Two of these rescue episodes ended on a happy note, right in the Hurley household. One day, Hurley chanced upon two kittens, who had been dumped in a box, duct-taped all the way, by the roadside. One of the residents ended up with one of the kittens; the other became one of three cats now living with Hurley and his wife, Lisa. Rescuing two other abandoned puppies, one of whom is now his beloved pet dog Richard Parker, was a little bit more involved, he remembered. He found them roaming somewhere in the back of Sun 'n Lake. Rescuing the female was not a problem, but it took three to four days for Hurley to nab the male. They found a home for the sister, Sophie, who became a surprise Christmas present for a high school girl who lives down the street from the Hurleys. The brother, Richard Parker - named after the tiger in "Life Of Pi" - gradually graduated from a cage in their garage to their home to sleeping with them, he smiled. Then his wife, who is more of a cat person, declared that Richard Parker was going nowhere, so he joined the family for good. Now, neighbors help to dog-sit him when they are away and his friends fight among themselves to take care of him, Hurley laughed. v v Perhaps the story that tickles him most is the time he found a baby horned owl on the ground during one of his calls. "One night I was called off to the community center," he said. "I saw something flapping up and down." The owl had fallen from its nest up a tree. He went home, got a cage and took the little bird home. His wife went online to figure out what to feed it. That was the easy part. The owl had to somehow get back up in the nest. Hurley then called one of his men, who is a tree climber, to see if he could help put the baby bird in the nest with the rest of the family. The owl went up, hoisted in a cloth bag. It was a windy day, however, and the baby owl fell back down on the ground. Gradually, a crowd of 30 to 40 gathered to watch, including the owl's mother, father and siblings. "Let's try one more time," they figured. They did. This time the owl stayed, taking a second trip in a cloth bag. "All the owls, as far as I know, are doing OK," he said.