JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After a local animal rescue team stumbled upon a group of dogs in the woods being cared for by a homeless man, who put his four-legged family members before himself, the community is not only rescuing the dogs but also lending a helping hand to the man.
It all started when Annie, a mixed-breed light brown dog, was spotted by a concerned citizen running loose in a wooded area on Jacksonville's Westside.
Fur Sisters, an animal rescue based in Jacksonville Beach, was called, but when the rescue's founder, Kelly Kinlaw, and some volunteers arrived, they found there was much more to the story than a stray dog.
"We heard a lot of other dogs out in the woods,” Kinlaw said.
They found out Annie had just given birth to three puppies that completed an 11-dog pack -- all being cared for by Louie, who was homeless and living in the woods.
“At first, I was angry, because I didn't know,” volunteer Jennifer Rubio said. “I judged."
But when they took a closer look, they realized what they had missed at first glance.
"He was skin and bones, and the dogs had clearly been eating better than he was, so you can tell he put them first. He had bug spray to spray them to keep the mosquitoes off of them,” Kinlaw said. "His story really touched us, because he has lost everything, and he took care of these animals better than he was taking care of himself.”
Kinlaw and Rubio found out that through some unforeseen circumstances, Louie had lost his job and his home. His wife was staying at a shelter nearby. He was just trying to get by, living under a tarp in a wooded area with his four-legged companions.
"We realized that we had to help,” Rubio said.
Fur Sisters Rescue took in eight of the dogs, but it wasn't easy for Louie to give up what he considered family.
"Everyone he brought out and handed over he cried and told them goodbye and that he loved them,” Kinlaw said.
Two of Louie's dogs have already been adopted, but there many more dogs at Fur Sisters are waiting for forever homes.
Fur Sisters also went a step beyond taking the dogs in and gathered a group of volunteers to make things better for Louie and his fur family.
"We set up this tent. We left tons of dog food and food and bug spray and water,” Rubio said.
But that won't be the end of the story.
"Of course, this was all temporary,” Kinlaw said. “We want to get them out of the woods."
Kinlaw and Rubio said they hope the community will learn from their experience and be willing to help others.
"Don't judge a book by its cover,” Kinlaw said. “Please give everybody a chance and listen to their story, because everybody has one."
Fur Sisters and community volunteers are helping Louie and his wife get jobs and find a permanent home.
If you are looking to adopt a pet or help out Fur Sisters, you can go to https://www.facebook.com/fursisters and use the "donate" button to make a donation or send a message to learn more about volunteering, fostering or adopting.