There was a constellation of stars at Sunday afternoon’s 40th anniversary celebration of the Flagler Humane Society at the Florida Agricultural Museum in Palm Coast, not least among the Paul Renner, the soon-to-be Speaker of the Florida House and Palm Coast resident.
He has this in common with the founder of the society: he’s the sort of guy who’ll stop on the highway to rescue a stray, as he apparently did on I-95 a few years ago. As the ASPCA’s Jen Hobgood described it, it’s how he met Amy Carotenuto, the executive director of the Flagler Humane Society, when he brought in the dog. Carotenuto introduced Renner to the hundred-off people gathered at the museum’s barn.
“I am an animal lover but my wife blows me away in that category,” Renner said, “but as Amy said, in addition to our dog. We have two other young animals that she’s taking care of this evening, both in diapers and so I will not be here much longer after I speak so I can go home and help her maintain her sanity.”
Renner, who is running for re-election to his final two-year term as a House member, left the overt electioneering and any hint of partisanship at the door and delivered what County Commissioner Dave Sullivan said was “the longest speech I’ve ever heard him give.” But it was all about animals, land preservation and legislative achievements that have made a difference in strengthening animal rights and protections, whether it’s giving veterinarians protection for reporting animal abuse or the bipartisan passage of Ponce’s law, which increased the likelihood of prison time for severe animal abusers. The law had its genesis in a horrific animal abuse case in Volusia County.
“I think that’s a great testament to your team’s efforts,” Renner said, “to Amy and Jen and Corinne and others that were bringing those issues to us as well and keeping the members who weren’t from this area who hadn’t heard the story informed to get it across the finish line.” Renner is now pushing for a law that won House approval last session but failed in the Senate: to extend telemedicine allowances between vets and animals and their owners, the way telemedicine is now spreading for humans. So far, the Senate is resisting. Senators want the vet to have hands on the animal.
For those who appreciate the nuts and bolts of policy, Renner’s 20-minute speech sparkled with his earthy intelligence and sheer delight in the pragmatism of governance as he veered off to a broader description of the ongoing Florida Wildlife Corridor initiative. It’s an ambitious effort to create a vast wildlife corridor from south to north of the Peninsula, crossing Flagler, to preserve as much of what remains of its natural environment as possible.
Renner, who, echoing Gov. Ron DeSantis, has recently and shrilly criticized “corporate pushes toward what are known as environmental, social, and governance principles,” on Sunday sounded the very woke notes he’d blistered as he addressed the Humane Society crowd: he’d read the crowd as closely as he’d read A Land Remembered.
“Just think how amazing that would be,” he said of the wildlife corridor, with a reference to the Patrick Smith novel of old Florida. “I think that’s the direction we want to go in. If we pave over the entire state, we don’t get there when we hit 30 million people, and the same is true for water quality. We have to be mindful of that. And so that wildlife corridor was named I think two sessions ago. We’ve put I believe it’s 500 million toward it, which is a big number, half a billion dollars, but we’re probably talking in the tens of billions of dollars to do it in total.” He could have been mistaken for Joe Biden’s Secretary of the Interior.
Another star shined especially brightly at the gala, even though she hasn’t been on the planet since 2007: Hanneke Frederick, the renaissance woman–musician, wartime nurse, travel executive, poodle breeder, tennis captain, concert impresario for the Palm Coast Civics Association–who in the late 1970s realized there were no caring options for stray or abandoned animals in Flagler.
Netherlands-born Johanna “Hanneke” Frederick was a World War II survivor whose day job was to give blood transfusions in a hospital, and who secretly freelanced in the underground resistance to the Nazis, hiding Jewish refugees or helping downed allied pilots back to their side. She endured all five years of war in the Netherlands. The doctor she married in 1945 was invited to join the faculty of Harvard University’s School of Public health, enabling Frederick to pick up her previous vocation as a musician and singer by attending the New England Conservatory of Music, though she then became the vice president of a travel agency.
After a few more biographical chapters and her husband Willem’s failing health, the couple moved to Palm Coast’s C-Section in what was then the ITT subdivision’s early days. After her husband’s death in 1977, she discovered that injured animals had to be cared for in Daytona Bach. There were no local options for injured strays, or for animals whose owners could no longer keep them, or who’d died. There were no low-cost options to spay and neuter animals.
“There was no pet food bank, no humane education, no punishment for animal abusers, and no rescue from the abuse,” says Amy Carotenuto, the executive director of the Flagler Humane Society. “But Hanneke had a vision. And luckily, she also had the tenacity to make it happen. And she had that community support.”
Frederick convinced ITT to donate the 19 acres off U.S. 1 that became the 1 Shelter Drive address of the society’s 15,000 square foot facility, and she was the society’s first president. “Community support has been constant throughout the 40 years,” Carotenuto said. As if to make the point, just as she spoke, the Tax Collector’s office’s Shelley Edmundson presented a $347 check contribution, the sum total of a month’s worth of tip-jar collections at Suzanne Johnston’s offices around town. Johnston dedicates each month’s tipping to a particular charity.
Carotenuto, of course, was one of the afternoon’s stars in her own right. “Amy has been involved as the leader of the Flagler Humane Society off and on for 25 years,” Humane Society Vice President and Secretary Cathy Vogel said. “She has led us through natural disasters, animal emergencies, and through every conceivable matter when it comes to animal welfare and animal advocacy. And this week, not only did she have to weather the ravages of hurricane Ian like all of us, but she also underwent a second surgery on her arm, God bless her.”
Carotenuto’s is not a small operation. According to its 2020 tax filing–the last year before the disruptions of Covid–the society reported net expenses of $1.5 million, up from $1 million in 2014. Contributions and grants accounted for $436,000 in 2020, fees for services brought in $747,000, government contracts with Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, Bunnell and the county brought in additional dollars.
In the expense column, the society had salaries and expenses of $768,000. The society currently has a staff of 42, some full-time, some part-time, with starting pay only a few dimes above the $11-an-hour Florida minimum wage. So keeping staff is a challenge when Target offers a starting pay at $15 an hour.
In the past year, the society cared for some 6,000 animals, half of them coming through the clinic for veterinary needs, the other half getting sheltered and, in about 94 percent of cases, according to the society’s Kyndra Mott, getting adopted or re-adopted. Some animals don;t find homes for various reasons, among them their sicknesses. The staff often gets attached to animals, and mourns at their loss.
Mott recalls the case of a dog “a few years ago where we found out she had cancer. Sarah.” The staff organized a final outing for her. “We took her out for burgers and ice cream,” Mott said. “We gave her the best day that we could give her. Everyone was there when the procedure happened. It was tough. It was tough. But normally the reason is because they have a medical condition we can’t treat.”
On the other hand there was Michelle, who was turned in for the second time to the society. The dog “had chronic eye, ear, skin issues. We thought she was never going to get adopted,” Mott said. “We treated her heartworms, she actually got adopted by this wonderful guy, and it inspired him now to be one of our volunteers, and now he’s a maintenance volunteer, fixing up all the shades in the back. We see him like three or four times a week, and get to visit with her.”
It’s not just cats and dogs. Two pigs just got fostered before the storm. There’s also rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and lizards.
The society has challenges. Its building was built in 2004. “We beat up that building,” Carotenuto said. “Every day is bleach and scrubbing and lots of customers come in, so the building is starting to show its age.” An estimate for a new roof came in at $90,000. The facility runs laundry machines all day–those doggie blankets and towels don’t clean themselves–and will need new industrial-strength machines. There’s a need for vehicle-replacement. The facility’s nine air conditioners often see one or another unit fail.
But the society has always had challenges. Its 40 years suggest it isn’t new to overcoming them. “From the bottom of my heart and from her heart,” Hanneke Jevons, Frederick’s daughter, told the assembly at the gala. “I thank all of you for your support and everything that you have done. And I share with you an unbelievable love for animals. I have pet towels, I have cats, I’ve had horses, I’ve got dogs, and my mom started it all.”