On a large, rural lot near Callahan, a new tiny house development is being built.
But these tiny houses will be tinier than typical tiny houses and will be occupied by dogs, not humans. They will be temporary homes for the canines while they are in rehab — being transformed from damaged, unwanted and largely unadoptable dogs into family pets, working and support dogs with bright futures.
The TAILS Doc Tony Rescue and Rehabilitation Compound is the latest project taken on by Pit Sisters, a Northeast Florida rescue group. The Nassau County center will succeed Doc Tony’s TAILS Training and Adoption Center in Mandarin, which was run by Pit Sisters in commercial space in Mandarin where the lease was expiring.
The sanctuary “is being developed now because our commercial lease is not sustainable and we needed more room for the dogs,” said Jen Deane, Pit Sisters’ founder and executive director. “We chose this location because Nassau County is growing but there are large plots of land zoned appropriately for what we needed. ... Our current center is in a strip mall with lots of traffic, and the new compound is literally out in the woods.”
The current and future centers are named after “Doc Tony” Crothers, a local chiropractor and animal-rescue supporter who has been a major donor to Pit Sisters programs.
“I love people as well as animals,” he said. “Jen ... works nonstop to save the lives of abused or unwanted animals. She is a beautiful person and I’m proud to support her and her mission.”
The Callahan compound will be used to rescue, rehabilitate and train dogs and to train up-and-coming dog trainers, Deane said. Plans call for a training center, three fenced play yards and dog-walking paths.
When complete, the center will have enough space for 50 dogs, each one living in its very own tiny house equipped with a recliner, air-conditioning unit, radio, dog bed and toys, food and water. They will also be decorated inside, she said.
For more information about TAILS, go to pitsisters.org/tails. To sponsor or adopt a TAILS dog or volunteer at the TAILS center, contact Jen Deane at email@example.com. To donate, go to gofundme.com/f/tailsdoc-tony-rescue-and-rehab-compound or at pitsisters.org/donate-today.
The new space marks Pit Sisters’ evolution from a group of foster homes for rescue pit bulls to an organization that also runs the TAILS shelter-dog training programs at area prisons and jails and will now offer a large, quiet sanctuary and rehabilitation to survivors of dog fighting, hoarding and animal cruelty cases.
“We have become known as one of the best rehab organizations for dog-fighting survivors and animal-cruelty cases as well as other special cases,” Deane said. “We take the dogs no one else will, and we have a very good track records with the dogs we have taken in from these cases. One went on to be a narcotics detection dog for the Honaker, Va., Police Department and several have become service dogs and emotional support dogs for veterans and first responders.”
Pit Sisters was founded in 2011 by Deane, a certified dog trainer, and her sister as an animal-rescue group that focused on pit bull-type dogs. The mostly volunteer group now advocates for all “misunderstood” dogs. In 2012 they took over TAILS — Teaching Animals & Inmates Life Skills — an eight-week First Coast No More Homeless Pets program in which inmates from state prisons, county jails or transitional programs train at-risk shelter dogs.
“Her TAILS program helps both animals and inmates find themselves,” Crothers said. “There is no way for [incarcerated] men to fake this program — you need love, patience, compassion to rehab these dogs.”
TAILS is currently in five county, state and federal correctional facilities and may expand into a Florida Department of Juvenile Justice facility. Over the last three years alone, TAILS has worked with about 800 inmates and saved about 500 dogs, Deane said.
The Mandarin center, opened in 2016, has been home for TAILS-bound shelter dogs and for TAILS graduates still looking for permanent homes. It became a safe haven for other at-risk shelter dogs. Because of the expiring lease, the current residents have to be relocated to the Callahan site by Aug. 1.
Pit Sisters’ large contingent of volunteers will do most of the work at the new center, but there will also be a live-in caretaker for the dogs, Deane said. The public can help by donating services, such as walking dogs and painting, and by donating funds. The project will cost $150,000, with $58,000 raised so far, Deane said.
The mission — helping transform people and dogs — has been life-altering, Deane said.
“The work I am doing has really changed how I see things,” she said. “Rescue is extremely difficult both emotionally and physically. It has been the hardest job I have ever had but it has also been the most rewarding job. I love working with the dogs and guys who need us the most. Making a positive impact on other lives is an honor.”
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109