Starke family saves abandoned exotic pets

STARKE, Fla. -- On the outskirts of Starke, the Stricklands -- Dawn, Mark and their kids -- live on a little more than 5 acres.

There's a "Beware of Dogs" sign on their front gate, but their handful of dogs are just a few, and definitely the most common, of the animals that call their property home.

"We have well more than 50 exotic animals here," said Dawn Strickland.

She says she was the kid growing up who would bring home wild animals.

"My parents said, 'as long as I can take care of them, I can keep them," she said.

Now, all grown up, not much has changed.

Dawn and her husband Mark bring in exotic animals when others have to get rid of them. They are Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission-licensed to provide amnesty to abandoned animals.

"People want them, but don't keep them the way they should," she said.

She has a climate-controlled aviary full of colorful, tropical birds.

They've built a tortoise habitat home to giants that will live more than 100 years.

Mark and Dawn have custom-built homes for lemurs, marmosets, capuchins and porcupines.

But all of that doesn't even get close to listing all the animals she's rescued from people that can't make investment of time or money to keep the exotics.

"I don't work really," she said, "I have a couple businesses I run from my house, but I'm here all the time taking care of these animals."

Right next door they run Home Sweet Bone, a pet kennel and day care, so she's never far.

They also have a small staff to help care for the animals.

"Having exotics, it's difficult to get the license but I'd like to make it even tougher," she said. "You can't treat them like dogs or cats."

And in a state where the black market for smuggling exotic animals is as big as the illegal drug trade, she says she's providing a much needed service.

Otherwise, she says, these abandoned animals would be euthanized.

"I love all these animals," she said. "There's not an animal I don't like."


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