Excerpted and edited from a story in the Holiday/Winter 2008/2009 edition of The New Barker.
It was late night/early morning on April 7, 2007, when Leona Sheddan, former Executive Director of the Jacksonville Humane Society received a startling phone call: The Humane Society had burned to the ground and all the animals were dead. With thoughts of death and destruction fresh in her mind, she rushed there not knowing what she would find.
To her disbelief as she approached the shelter, fire trucks had blocked off the roadways and dogs were running in the streets. At that moment, Sheddan said, “I felt things would be okay, because we could rebuild buildings, but we couldn’t bring back life.” Unfortunately, this would turn out not to be the case.
Animals were still trapped inside the burning structure. Firefighters began to open crates and toss animals out of the burning building, hoping they would run to safety. Dogs quickly exited, but cats burrowed themselves in corners and underneath crates making them more difficult to rescue. Dogs also proved to have their own difficulties as the very same ones brought out by firefighters were following them right back into the fire, forcing firefighters to put the dogs inside their trucks. Firefighters helped saved 80 animals that night, but another 86 lost their lives to a fire of unknown origin.
After the fire was extinguished, firefighters began to search what was left of the once lively building. They made a startling discovery: Belly deep in a pool of standing water, was a 10-month-old puppy. Luck struck this young pup twice that night as not only did he survive the fire, he found a home with the loving firefighters of Ladder 28. Fittingly, they dubbed him Lucky.
Lucky, a Labrador mix, was not the only miracle to come from the fire. A couple of days later, Sheddan and a few members of the staff were making another pass over the rubble, when a board member heard a noise. Silence quickly fell over the area, as everyone was intent on discovering the source of the sound, when a cat poked its head out of the debris. Sheddan remembered the face well, saying, “this cat gave us a look that said, where the heck have you people been? I’ve been here for two days. I’m hungry, tired, and dirty.” Like his canine counterpart, the pretentious feline was dubbed Lucky as well. Later that day T.J., Lucky the Cat’s brother, was also found alive. Of all the animals in that area, Lucky and his brother were the only survivors.
After the fire, the Jacksonville Humane Society was closed for five days. More than a year later, the shelter was still working out of close quarters. Two temporary modulars were moved onto the property, one housing adoptions and admissions, the second serving as a vet tech center for examinations of animals entering and leaving the shelter. Despite the cramped conditions, donations poured in from 27 states and two foreign countries. The community of Jacksonville was also quick to come to the aid of its Humane Society. The Boyd Family, long-time Jacksonville philanthropists, donated six acres of land worth $3.5 million. Artist Ron Burns, The U.S. Humane Society’s Artist-In-Residence, donated a percentage of his earnings from artwork sold at a local gallery. His donated paintings of Lucky the Dog and Lucky the Cat were on display at the temporary Humane Society offices as a constant reminder of hope. Donations were earmarked for a planned 45,000 square foot structure.
Priced at $12 million, construction of the new facility was estimated to take at least two years. The goal was to turn the Humane Society into more than just an animal shelter, by making it a destination point for families in the community, with expanded programs to benefit people as well as dogs and cats. One proposed program would allow senior citizens to leave assisted living homes for visits to the Humane Society, where they could interact with shelter animals. Another proposed program would allow for children’s parties and sleep overs.
Built along a creek, the Jacksonville Humane Society’s plans at the time, also called for construction of a promenade along the waterfront, where people could sip coffee and relax with their dog. Additional plans called for a Pooch Park, where people would bring their own dogs for interaction with the shelter’s dogs.
All surviving animals from the fire were adopted, many into the homes of emergency personnel who helped fight the fire that night. Lucky Dog spent most of his time at home, while his owner, Rod Zinick, continued to work at the fire department. For awhile, Zinick would take Lucky to the fire station with him during every shift. Lucky would play at a neighboring park or hang out at the station, but he never wandered far. “We would go out on a call,” Zinick says, “and when we came back, he was waiting in the bay.”
On November 10 and 11, 2017 the Jacksonville Humane Society will be hosting Grand Opening celebrations of their new Adoption, Education and Community Resource Center. Bacon Group Architects, out of Clearwater, Florida, was the Architect of Record and Project Manager. The shelter, led by current Executive Director Denise Deisler, is located at 8464 Beach Boulevard, Jacksonville, Florida. JaxHumane.org