Overtime, the reward of volunteer work is something that is always precious. Moments in my life where I was volunteering, or doing something for someone else, are some of the best memories I have. Even when times get tough, and my schedule is filled to the brim, I can always look back to my volunteering moments. And whenever the opportunity arises, in my schedule, I take a chance to volunteer. This time, however, I volunteered in a location out of my comfort zone. As a Key West native, I was used to beach clean ups and marine volunteer work, something not particularly relevant to the Orlando area. However, when my friend offered to gather a group to visit Journey’s End Animal Sanctuary, I was willing to try something new. Journey’s End is a place that provides lifetime care to many homeless and handicapped animals located in Deland, Florida, about 50 minutes away from campus via car. The sanctuary is run by the selfless Mrs. Florence, who has dedicated her whole life to caring for animals who could not care for themselves. Florence has been caring for animals since 1974, and Journey’s end continues to grow from this day. With cats, dogs, pigs, horses, sheep, and birds, there is a diverse community of unique, happy animals all living together in sweet peace here.
We arrived to the sanctuary early in the morning, and were greeted to dogs rushing over to say hello. Mrs. Florence was very friendly in our welcome. We saw some goats eating and relaxing, while the dogs surrounding us were quite the opposite. Their excitement to have new friends around was palpable in the air. The dogs that spend time outside in the morning, however, are the wheel chair dogs. There are a few dogs at Journey’s End who are paralyzed from the bottom half of their body, and use wheel chairs to move around and by. It is very comfortable for them, and they are quite skilled in their movement. Some of these dogs, particularly Skippy, Giddy, and Otis, were faster than the dogs who could move all four of their legs. The wheels moving of the wheelchair, the excited squeaking from all their quick movements, and their eyes filled with utter friendship is a volunteer memory I hold dear to me.
After our friendly introduction, Mrs. Florence gave us a tour of the facilities, and introduced to a large portion of the animals. We met Casper, a cat with no eyes who could high-five anybody in his path, and Bones, a sweet, loveable, dog looking to follow you everywhere. All the animals had a story Florence told us. She would look at them, and think back to when she found them, what they looked like before Journey’s End care, and how much they have improved. It was so mesmerizing to see how she could recall the story of every animal. The love she has for animals on this Earth is immeasurable.
What was most telling, however, is the floor plan of Journey’s End. Florence has developed this happy place within her own home, and has set up entire rooms for animals, allowing them to have plenty of space and all the things they need. The fact that she has sacrificed her own space for these creatures is something that will always ring a chord with me.
After our tour, I spent most of my time in what is considered the cat house. The cat house is an area fenced off with over 50 cats, who love to play, cuddle, and sleep together. There are towers after towers, a playground, and plenty of resting space. All the cats inside were the friendliest I have ever met, simply looking for love and affection. This is where I was most moved. The interaction I had with these animals was so relaxing and friendly, I remember never wanting to leave.
The Cat House.
Many hours later still spent in the cat house, it was time to head back home. I said goodbye to all the animals I could, and Mrs. Florence set up another weekend for us to return to visit. My time at Journey’s End was something so special to me, and was such a rejuvenating break from college life. This sanctuary is something I am forever grateful for, especially for all the beautiful creatures who are lucky enough to call it home.
Donations can be made to Journey’s End through their website.
All images taken by writer.