From Pets to Protected

The C.A.R.E. Foundation | Apopka, Florida

Given our tropical landscape and mild winters, Florida is home to hundreds of animal and wildlife sanctuaries, with good reason. The C.A.R.E. Foundation in Apopka is one such place, but has a special focus on former pets that, quite frankly, had no business being pets.

C.A.R.E. was founded in 1996 by Christin Burford with a mission to create animal respect and education for neglected, unwanted or unmanageable creatures of all shapes and sizes, and to help them find their way to a new home. Whether surrendered by their previous owners after they have realized they’re in over their heads or seized by authorities, all the animals that come to C.A.R.E. have a new lease on life. Part of Christin’s mission is to educate the public on wildlife conservation and struggles facing these critters in the wild, as well as prevent further non-domestic animals from becoming pets when they shouldn’t be.

She does that by offering tours of her sprawling. facility in Apopka and traveling Florida to educate the public, which is how we first met when she visited the Port Orange Library. At C.A.R.E., over 200 animals of various species have found a loving home after finding themselves in a uniquely vulnerable position. Some have been so poorly neglected they are unable to be handled by anyone but Christin. Others are incredibly affectionate and love to greet guests. No matter the case, none of them are able to be released back into the wild.

We started our tour with an adorable, albeit noisy, mishmash of fun farm animals who uproariously greeted us as we came around the corner. The aptly named Barnyard Bunch consists of the likes of Pigourney Weaver, a cluster of chickens named The Spice Girls and a precious family of goats, plus so much more. Hands down, Avery’s absolute favorite to meet were the skunks. Skunks get a bad reputation, but I’ve never met a softer and more snuggly creature in my life!

And don’t worry, as former pets they had their scent glands removed, so you won’t be heading home with a new perfume.

She’s also a sucker for any reptile she can lay eyes on, so a chance to hold a snake and gator was a big thrill! Scott is petrified of snakes so he took a few steps back while we got to know the scaly residents. The funniest part of our day was our interaction with the monkeys. Dolly, a tufted capuchin, was particularly playful and she had Avery in a fit of giggles as they traded funny faces and mimicked each other.

If you’re lucky, you can spot some of the resident big cats. Despite their cuddly personas, we got to witness first-hand exactly why these species should never be kept domestically. We arrived at feeding time for one of the resident tigers, who just moments before had been a lovable fur ball. Once he started eating, however, the “wilds came out,” as Christin and her staff like to put it, explaining that big cats experience a physiological change once they start eating where they no longer recognize their handlers and are so focused on their meal that they can become very violent.

It was important to see all of the resident animals for their truly wild selves, as a somber reminder that the wild is where these animals really belong. Christin hopes that through her educational programs, more and more people will think twice before getting a wild “pet,” and there will be far less to rescue in the future.

What stood out the most was that this was not just a place to keep these animals for the duration of their lives, but a loving sanctuary for them to truly thrive. As we walked the grounds with Christin, not only did we get a comprehensive education on the varying species, but we also got to know each of their names, their sometimes tragic history and insight on each of their incredible personalities. Each animal is part of the C.A.R.E. family and holds a special place in her heart.

A variety of tours are available to suit your group or family, with different levels of interaction. You can set up group field trips for your school or program, as well as have Christin come to you as part of her education tours.

King of the Jungle Tours include a guided tour at feeding time where you’ll get hands-on with a few species, feed some new friends and witness a big cat feeding for yourself.

Caretaker for the Day Tours last 5 to 6 hours and allow you to really dive deep into all it takes to keep the C.A.R.E. Foundation going (for ages 16 and up only). If you’re celebrating a birthday, be sure to let them know as they are now offering special birthday tours as well.

4703 W. Ponkan Road, Apopka 32712
(407) 247-8948
FB/Insta: @CAREFoundationFlorida
By appointment only
Tours start at $100 – call to book

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