Tailes of Gainesville

By: Meghan Pryce and Carla Vianna



Kari Bagnall lives on 12 acres of land and has 157 neighbors. She knows every single one of their names.

The voices of capuchins, marmosets, tamarins, spider monkeys and squirrel monkeys echo throughout her property, transforming a piece of Gainesville into a scene from a rainforest.

Bagnall is the founder and executive director of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, an organization that provides permanent homes and specialized care for unwanted primates from across the U.S.

The monkeys at the sanctuary are mainly ex-pets or retired research subjects. Bagnall and the Jungle Friends team strive to give monkeys that have been exploited by research facilities or abandoned by owners the healthiest home possible.

Essentially, living in captivity has stripped the monkeys of their wild habits. At Jungle Friends, monkeys are taught to be wild animals once again.

“We try to give them that feeling of being free and living in the jungle,” Bagnall said.

The organization was originally established in Las Vegas, Nev. Bagnall was given a monkey, Samantha, and she soon became involved with groups dedicated to the plight of primates.

However, the Nevada climate was too dry, so in 1999 she brought her 13 monkeys to the wetter, rainforest-like climate of Florida.

Habitats are equipped with hammocks, heat lamps and blankets for their comfort.

Monkeys that come to the sanctuary are often not in the healthiest state, diabetes being a common illness among them.

Wendell, a diabetic capuchin monkey, struggled with the illness and went blind in February but regained his vision a few days later. Wendell was treated at the sanctuary clinic. He had his own cage padded with blankets, facing a TV playing movies, such as “Finding Nemo,” for his entertainment.

Volunteers and workers play nurse when monkeys are in the on-site clinic, managing the medications and providing proper care needed for their recuperation.

Unfortunately, despite their treatment and elaborate habitats, the monkeys are still caged animals.

Smith said one of the monkeys, Wanda, once got a hold of a worker’s keys, ran to a lock and tried to escape.

“That was so profound to me,” Smith said. “She knew she wanted out.”

The team at Jungle Friends hopes for a day when no monkeys are kept as pets, and no laboratories use them for research. Until then, the sanctuary will continue to provide them with the best home they possibly can.

“We’re still jailers,” Bagnall said. “But it’s a better jail than they were in.”

Visit http://www.junglefriends.org/




Service dogs can warn their owners of danger or an oncoming seizure. In many cases, these dogs save and restore lives.

Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs is a nonprofit organization that trains and donates service dogs to people with disabilities and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The dogs, which are mostly German shepherds and rescues, are trained to do various activities such as picking up dropped items, retrieving water from the refrigerator or getting help in an emergency.

Carol Borden, executive director and founder, said the organization is also well known for training dogs to help veterans and civilians with PTSD. The disorder causes people to have night terrors, and the service dogs are able to wake their owner from a bad dream.

Veterans who come home from combat are alert and easily startled. Borden said a service dog acts as an invisible shield and lets the owner know when someone is coming.

With PTSD, there is a high rate of suicide and chemical dependency. Borden said once the organization pairs the veterans with the dogs, there has not been one suicide attempt or case of chemical dependency.

The dogs are a huge help to those with the disorder. She said she has seen instances of people who haven’t left their homes in years, but with the help of the service dogs, they were able engage in normal activities.

“The things they were never able to do, they can do now,” she said.

Visit http://www.medicalservicedogs.com/




There’s Luke, the show-off, and Rajah, the grumpy one. Bunny is petrified of toads, and Roxy loves watermelon.

These elephants all call Two Tails Ranch, a 67-acre ranch in Williston, their home.

Two Tails Ranch is a privately owned elephant facility that strives to teach proper care for elephants in captivity, and it is currently home to four Asian elephants: Luke, Rajah, Bunny and Roxy. The facility also boards elephants and other animals needing permanent or temporary homes.

Since its establishment in 1984, more than 200 Asian and African elephants have passed through its gates. At one time, there were 62 elephants living on the ranch. The ranch used to be used as a boarding facility but because the number of elephants in the U.S. is at an all-time low, the ranch no longer boards elephants. Because of the shortage, zoos, circuses and the entertainment industry are instead holding on to their elephants.

Patricia Zerbini, founder and CEO of Two Tails Ranch, lives on the property and owns the four elephants.

Zerbini has taken a matriarchal role among her elephants. They respect her authority, and in turn she must provide for them like a mother.

“It’s like having a 12,000-pound child out here because you are at their mercy 24/7,” she said.

At the ranch, the elephants get two baths per day, and their life expectancy ranges from 70 to 75 years. They don’t like routine, Zerbini said, so she likes taking them out to the woods and engaging them in different activities. At the end of the day, they play cleanup with their different toys, just like children, and put everything away.

For those who share a love for animals and would like to join the efforts at the ranch, Zerbini holds interviews once a month for new volunteers.

Visit http://allaboutelephants.com/




Outdoor cats have become a staple of the Gainesville community. It seems there is always a whisker-flicking and paw-licking fur ball roaming around the street corner.

Every month, up to 250 of these cats leave a clinic with a cropped left ear, an indication that they have been freshly sterilized.

In 1998, Operation Catnip was founded to reduce the population of community cats, aiming to end the euthanasia of outdoor cats in animal shelters.

Dr. Julie Levy, professor at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, founded the nonprofit organization that utilizes the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program.

The TNR program traps outdoor cats, spays or neuters them, and then returns them to their wild homes. The cats are also vaccinated for rabies and treated for fleas.

When the number of cats at animal shelters exceeds the number of homes available, cats are euthanized for space. So as the population of outdoor cats decreases, the number of cats admitted to shelters, facing the risk of euthanasia, decreases as well.

Since its establishment, Operation Catnip has successfully sterilized approximately 37,000 cats.

Every month there is a neuter and spay day, where cats are brought in from all over the county by caregivers, members of the community who care for outdoor cats. Free humane traps are given to caregivers to bring the cats in.

A veterinary background is not necessary to volunteer with Operation Catnip but the skills of veterinarians and veterinary technicians are always needed.

Visit http://www.vetmed.ufl.edu/extension-outreach/operation-catnip/




Jurnee, Ryker and Kylee get paid in toys. Their job title: search and rescue dogs.

Jurnee, a 7-year-old German shepherd, is certified in the human remains section. Three-year-old Ryker is in training and will be certified this year. Kylee is a 1-year-old golden retriever, and she’s hoping to get her certification in the next 12 to 18 months.

“They have a drive and desire to work,” Judy Thigpin, their owner, said.

Thigpin became involved with search and rescue dogs in 1989 with her first pup, a German shepherd named Chance.

Whenever there is a missing-person case, law enforcement officials reach out to service dog owners like Thigpin for help.

The dogs are trained to do extensive searches for hours on end, and their hunting skills are honed until they’re at the top of their game.

Being able to adapt to different situations and searching environments is another skill taught in training.

Thigpin participates in about 15 to 20 searches a year. When the searches are too big for one handler, other rescue dog handlers throughout the state are called for help.

“There’s a certain amount of satisfaction being able to help a family resolve the missing-person case,” she said. “Sometimes we’re able to bring their loved ones home safe and sound, and that’s a feeling really hard to describe.”




Axe puts his life on the line for the residents of Gainesville, at least when he is not playing with his favorite ball. He is a 1-year-old German shepherd and a member of the Gainesville Police Department Canine Unit.

Tony Serro, K-9 police officer, got Axe a little under a year ago. The pair has been training together since the end of November. Serro said it took him about a month to create a bond with Axe. Now, Axe doesn’t leave his side.

Each K-9 team in the department is required to complete a minimum of 400 hours of training, which involves obedience and agility training. The dogs also learn searching and tracking skills. Once the training is complete, the team earns state certification.

Serro said Axe is a good, playful puppy, but he would bite someone if he had to. He said Axe’s personality is the same on and off duty.

“I probably enjoy it more off the job,” he said. “He’s my pet. He’s my partner.”

Rob Rodgers, a K-9 police officer, considers his dog family. Nero, a 2-year-old Dutch shepherd, is always eager to work and please.

Rodgers and Nero have completed their training. The team works the midnight shift, backing up other officers and making themselves available to any situations that would require a dog.

“The place he’s most comfortable is in the back of that patrol car,” he said.

Rodgers said he spends more time with Nero than anyone else. When Rodgers talks about Nero, it’s as if he’s talking about a person instead of a dog.

Rodgers said he tries not to dwell on the fact that Nero could die while on duty.

“We’ve had such a great experience so far,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine going to work without him.

Visit https://www.gainesvillepd.org/



Sigmund is a 2-year-old Havanese who is playful, bubbly and has a goofy smile. Gabriel “Gabe” is a 6-year-old Shih Tzu who is shy but confident and loves to be petted.

Gabe and Sigmund work as therapy dogs at the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center. The dogs don’t get paid, but they do receive lots of attention from the patients they see.

Both dogs received their certification from Therapy Dogs International, an organization dedicated to registering and testing therapy dogs and their handlers so that they can visit hospitals and other institutions where therapy dogs are needed.

Gabe and Sigmund piloted the canine therapy program at the Counseling and Wellness Center. Therapy dogs at the center are required to be hypoallergenic and certified.

Barbara Welsch, licensed psychologist at the UF Counseling and Wellness Center, said Sigmund spends two half days at the center and sees about nine clients every week.

Welsch said Sigmund helps the patients trust and open up to her.

“He gives them something to focus on if they need to focus away from the pain that brought them in here,” she said.

One day a veterinary student came to the center in a state of panic, and Sigmund went right over to the student. Together, Sigmund and Welsch soothed the student, she said.

Jennifer Stuart, licensed psychologist at the UF Counseling and Wellness Center, said Gabe is most outgoing when he is at the center.

Stuart said working as a therapy dog was an adjustment for Gabe.

“Now he’s super excited when I put his vest on,” she said. “He’s jumping over me trying to get out of the car.”

Gabe goes into the center one day every week and sees about three to four clients. Stuart said Gabe also attends her sexual assault survivor group in the afternoons.

“On a basic level, he just brightens people’s day,” she said. “Especially people who miss their pets at home or have a pet that died. I feel like he’s comforting in those situations.”

Visit http://www.counseling.ufl.edu/cwc/




Their personalities may be opposite, but together they make a great team.

Mulligan has a calm demeanor. Lilly, on the other hand, is as energetic as can be.

Together, these two Labradoodles bring smiles to those in nursing and rehabilitation homes.

“They’re smart like Poodles, sweet like Labs and don’t shed too much,” owner Jane Feldman said.

Every Tuesday, Feldman and her husband, Dennis Wyant, take their certified therapy dogs to visit people in various care facilities.

Feldman and Wyant, both retirees, do this as a family activity. It’s the boys and girls club: Feldman with Lilly and Wyant with Mulligan.

“We really believe that dogs need to have a purpose,” Feldman said. “Their purpose is to make these visits.”

They visit a senior care and assisted living community, HarborChase, and the retirement communities Oak Hammock at the University of Florida and The Village. By the end of the month, Mulligan and Lilly will be adding the Malcolm Randall VA Medical Center to their list.

Some people just want a hug, Feldman said. Others pet the pups gently and reminisce about the dogs they’ve had in the past. Some even talk to the dog as a friend.

“They’re always welcome creatures,” she said. “People react differently because they have different needs.”

Sometimes the dogs’ presence creates an open atmosphere for the person interacting with them. People will share slices of their life with a complete stranger, and somehow the dogs encourage that, Feldman said.

Depending on the person’s preference, either Lilly or Mulligan will keep them company. Older people and younger children are generally attracted to Mulligan, Feldman said. Lilly is more active and puts her head on people’s laps, licks them and wags her tail.

“Who wouldn’t want to do something that gets you a smile when you walk into the room,” Feldman said. “Everybody knows Mulligan and Lilly — very few know our names.”




After the pastel colors of Easter begin to brighten, the sweet gifted baby bunnies become full-fledged, often unwanted, rabbits.

Gainesville Rabbit Rescue provides refuge and homes for these former pets. At the nonprofit organization’s bunny farm, there are approximately 50 rabbits in the barn, but there are even more rabbits in one-on-one foster homes, said Kathy Finelli, the president and executive director of Gainesville Rabbit Rescue.

The bunny farm is a last resort. She said if the rabbits weren’t at the farm, they would likely be euthanized in animal shelters or killed by a predator.

Most of the rabbits at the rescue are sprayed or neutered. If spayed, rabbits can live up to 12 years. Finelli said taking care of a rabbit is a long-term commitment.

Finelli knows all of the rabbits’ names by heart as if they were her own children. Each rabbit has a story, Finelli said.

Cassidy is a three-legged male with dark brown and black fur. Blondie is a light brown female. Blondie is Cassidy’s companion bunny.

As they sat in the cage, Cassidy groomed Blondie, leaning gently on top of her while licking her ear.

Finelli said Blondie was really shy at first, so she hoped some of Cassidy’s outgoing personality would rub off on her.

“Once rabbits bond, they bond for life,” Finelli said. “If one dies, sometimes the survivor will grieve so badly that they die.

Cassidy and Blondie are a package deal for adoption.

But Finelli said she gets mixed feelings when a rabbit is adopted.

“It breaks your heart, but in another way you’re overjoyed,” she said. “It’s sad because we love them, but this isn’t where they belong.”

Visit http://www.gainesvillerabbitrescue.org/