LABELLE — After over 30 years of building and running one of the first animal rescues in Hendry County even before there was a local Humane Society, Diane Sheppard has made the heart-wrenching decision to move back to England.
“I’m so desperately going to miss my son and daughter, and my granchildren here. It’s such a shame that my family’s so spread.”
Explaining that talking about herself was difficult, especially on the very day she was leaving for England, she said: “I came to the U.S.A. 32 years ago, and brought my old dog and my horse. I never could ever dream of leaving my animals behind. It’s the same with leaving today; it’s been a very complex journey to get my dogs ready.” She went on, “When I first came here, all I ever saw was starving and dumped animals. It broke my heart. I said to my husband: ‘Why would you bring me to this place? It’s a nightmare!’.”
Sheppard started the Animal Rescue of LaBelle Inc. in 1988, after coming across so many local pets in need throughout Hendry and Glades counties. Some of the rescues have even come from as far as Okeechobee and Miami-Dade, and still do.
Sheppard’s daughter was there to help her from the very beginning. “We used to go out and pick up these abandoned animals. There was never a shortage of animals; people made the job necessary,” she said.
She said she would like to see more laws passed to protect animals, but that everything has improved so much over the past few decades.
“I’ve put the animals first in my life, and now there are other good places that weren’t here when I started. There were no shelters at all.” She added, “The other rescues and animal control officers now are amazing, and I feel happy with the way it is all run.
“But, I’ve been away from my three daughters and grandchildren for too long, and after I lost my husband I was lonely and financially in a bad place. I had to make a decision,” Sheppard explained. “I’m 73 now, and I have to give my children in England some of me.”
Angel Biles, who has worked at the shelter for nearly 20 years, will be taking over.
“Angel has been with me for many years, and she knows my shelter has to be clean and comfortable for the animals. Always. The animals come first. It has been a struggle, but people have come through with help.” She went on to say, “Angel knows how my shelter is run, so it’s not gonna close. We have a duty to help those in need.
“Yes, I will take over and run the rescue,“ said Biles. “Diane taught me so much, and I love her for it.” She is a paid employee, who works six days a week. “But now I will be working seven days a week. I have so many memories of our time together, and I am sad, but I know she needs to be with her family.”
Other volunteers, such as Reita Smith and her husband, have been organizing different fundraisers for years, and plan to continue their work to support the shelter.
“Angel is dedicated, for sure. She is there Christmas, Thanksgiving, all holidays. The only days she ever asked off, in all her years, was during Swamp Cabbage, so she could take her kids there. She and Diane have been totally devoted to the rescue since forever. They work hard to help people keep their fur babies when they fall on hard times, too,” said Reita Smith.
“When the hurricane … hit us couple of years ago, Angel and Diane slept in the shelter with the animals never leaving their sides, until it was safe. They made sure they were not alone during such a scary time. Every animal that comes to the rescue learns what it is to be truly loved.”
As for upcoming fundraisers, Smith said: “Trudy Glenn is hosting an event for Animal Rescue Inc. of Labelle, a 501(c)(3) Rescue that is 100% no kill and not-for-profit.” She added, “The fundraiser will have a DJ, live music, lots of different vendors, raffle prizes, games and more. The Animal Rescue of LaBelle will have a booth there, too. We will be selling signs and other items. All of our profits will go to the fur babies. It’s going be lots of fun for entire family. If anyone else would like to set up as a vendor, its just $15 to set up. Contact Trudy Glenn at 863-673-6387 for details.”
The event for LaBelle Animal Rescue Inc. will take place in Barron Park on Nov. 21, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.