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Pets’ Lives Matter

Tails and tales about our cherished family members

As the human population evolves in the United States, and certainly in Southwest Florida, we realize that our pets are important family members who deserve our love and protection.

That’s why we feature Sarah Baeckler, CEO of Humane Society Naples (HSN). Her brilliance in compassionate human leadership, understanding of the plight of animals in HSN’s care and the stewardship of both will leave readers inspired and empowered with the information she presents.

Knowing that our pets, sadly, cannot live forever, we offer Dr. Sara Hopkins’ insight into what we call approaching the Rainbow Bridge.

Hot cars can kill a pet, particularly during this area’s scorching summers. Kimberly Blaker takes on the topic in detail in her pet protection column.

To wrap up the National Pet Month theme, we offer funny and endearing pet videos and photos our readers have submitted for your enjoyment.

We can’t overlook the fact that April 22 is Earth Day, and we offer ideas for facing the acceleration of climate change head-on.

This quote from author Ken Poirot sums up this chapter succinctly: “No one cares until someone cares. Be that one.”


Pet Paradigm Shift in Paradise

HSN’s mission focuses on the “human” in “humane”

by Kathy Grey

Sarah Baeckler was just starting to rearrange her personal and professional life in September 2017. She had recently been hired as the new CEO of Humane Society Naples (HSN) and wasn’t fully settled in when Hurricane Irma, a strong Category 3, hit Collier County.

Five years later, Hurricane Ian (recently upgraded to a Category 5), clobbered Southwest Florida much more powerfully than Irma.

Some people are equipped to overcome such daunting obstacles. Baeckler is one of them. That’s partly because, in the five years between Irma and Ian, Baeckler and her dedicated staff devised an emergency plan, working in cooperation with other forward-thinking, no-kill organizations around the state, the country and into Canada. Animals who were housed at HSN before the storm were flown from Naples Airport to other shelters to make room for incoming animals. It was a logistical feat that kept the HSN staff working around the clock for weeks on end. And it was a success.


Dudley needed a drink, and Baeckler provided it before he was transported from Naples Airport following Hurricane Ian.

Bit of Background

“I went from chimpanzees to dogs and cats,” Baeckler laughs. “I grew up working in what we used to call ‘the pound’ through high school and college. This drew me into the animal world.” She has lived in that world for 30 years.

She developed two sanctuaries for chimpanzees. Advocating for apes, she testified before the Senate to have 300 chimps destined for research released to sanctuaries. The issue was, and is, that chimpanzees, who can live more than 60 years, are poor models for scientific experimentation because they lack key biological similarities to humans.

“They are wild animals that should be roaming for miles and miles. But given that these apes can’t be released into the wild, we got them out of lab cages and into the sanctuary setting.”

Proud of her accomplishments, she began to feel she’d done what she could in the sanctuary field, plus it was a four-hour commute from her home in North Carolina to the sanctuary in north Georgia.

"So, I spent a lazy summer with my kids,” then 7 and 13, she says, as she considered her options for prioritizing family life. She accepted the CEO position at HSN and feels her “animal world” has come full circle.

Her son, Ryan, now 19, is studying and working in New Hampshire. Baeckler and her son, Van, now 12, live in north Naples, where they care for about 100 plants and a “zoo of animals” comprised of three cats, three dogs and one angel fish.

“I’m a natural caregiver in many ways,” she says, noting that “the animal care world can burn you out.” So, she practices yoga, is a vegetarian and feels blessed that self-care — taking care of body and mind — has rubbed off on her sons.  

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Baeckler assists on the tarmac at Naples Airport as cats are loaded for relief transport following Hurricane Ian.

Humane Touch

The paradigm of no-kill shelters, Baeckler says, is evolving as human and pet populations expand.

“I like to call it ‘dog-centric,’ with someone holding each end of the leash. Society has come to view pets as family. The policy had been that we’d take in very sick animals, do the surgery [for example] and re-home them to someone else. We’re paying for the surgery either way,” she says. “Why re-home a wanted pet to someone else? A family should not be broken apart because of financial issues.”

Instead, the goal is reunification of the pet with its family. It’s as much a human service as it is an animal service, with programs and interventions that support and facilitate the process. With a success rate of 70% at HSN, it’s an impressive confirmation that HSN is not only onto something, the model is working.


Hurricane Ian relief transport at Naples Airport: Baeckler bids farewell as this pooch begins his journey to a partner shelter up north.

HSN prioritizes pets whose owners have died, especially because the shelter has limited physical capacity, and the need is growing.


Operation Rescue was effective in finding beds for pets in need, here or elsewhere. The program, Baeckler says, was fully funded by donations, and she’s grateful that HSN is surrounded by so many donors, wealthy or not. Because of these financial contributions, HSN programs have grown … some of the very few positives Hurricane Ian left behind. 

“We’ve expanded our fostering program, which allows us to keep space open at the shelter. That’s lifesaving at its finest,” she says.

Her leadership strongly encourages HSN staff to reserve judgement about pet owners. How they care for their furry creatures is often culturally influenced. 

“It comes down to personal belief. I like to encourage employees to think about animals who live in other parts of the world. Our manner of care isn’t always the best way. And when a pet owner is focused on making rent or keeping the family pet they love,” she says, HSN has implemented programs that lift the focus from financial hardship to pet family wellness.

“That’s a great privilege” for HSN, she says, because the community is so philanthropic. “Our population makes it happen.”

That includes the mobile vet clinic that serves remote areas of the county and pets of financially struggling and homeless people. "We ask that they pay what they can. If you can pay in full, great. If only $10, that’s fine, too."


Baeckler with Yawkey, her own HSN rescue

“Housing is the main issue,” Baeckler says, pointing to the fact that four or five families come through each day to surrender their pet(s). “Ninety percent involve eviction or moving to a place that has a restriction.”

Also, St. Matthew’s House and some other shelters typically don’t accept pets, so they come to HSN for safekeeping. There’s a social worker on staff whose job is to navigate every pet-family case, creating the best possible solutions for all.

“I wish I had five more like her,” Baeckler says.

Walking the Talk

With the support of HSN’s board of directors, her seven senior direct reports and 76 employees, Baeckler is proud of the direction the organization is headed.

“It’s about families and taking the holistic view that ‘more progressive’ shelters do, and building a good network of allied shelters,” she says. “I feel we’re all going in the right direction, and it’s a mission this community believes in.”

The Power of Pets

Humane Society Naples CEO Sarah Baeckler shared powerful information provided by the National Institutes of Health, offering additional insight on how pets can lead to healthier human life. Click HERE to read this enlightening piece.


Approaching the Rainbow Bridge

Five tips for exploring your pet’s end-of-life care

by Dr. Sara Hopkins


Caring for a pet nearing the end of their life or recently diagnosed with a terminal condition is filled with emotion and confusion. There are many factors to consider, and it can be hard to know where to begin. The bond you share with your companion is special, and as their caretaker, you want their remaining days to be the best days possible. And when the time comes to say goodbye, it can be done with love, respect and dignity.

Here are five ways pet owners can navigate end-of-life care for pets.


Consider Your Pet’s Quality of Life

When I ask owners what their goal is in having a hospice/palliative care consultation, their answer is inevitably: “I don’t want my pet to suffer.” An animal’s quality of life is not only about pain management or physical health, but their mental health as well. Are they able to do the things they love, or do they seem anxious and stressed? Do they still engage with you or are they spending more time by themselves? Are they frustrated because they need help with basic tasks such as standing up, eating and drinking?

It is also important to think about your own emotional well-being and quality of life. If you are struggling, it is important to seek help. Making the decision to euthanize your pet is incredibly difficult under any circumstance. Even when the brain tells you the time is right, the heart never wants to let go. Having compassionate support and guidance surrounding this decision can make it a little less awful.

Consult with a Veterinarian

As you face end-of-life decisions for your pet, it is helpful to consult with your regular veterinary team. They have the benefit of an established relationship with you and your pet and can offer guidance based on the medical history, their medical knowledge and your personal relationship.

There are often “when is it time” and “how will I know” conversations. It is important the pet owner ends the consultation with a feeling of relief in knowing that they are supported and have the tools to make the best possible decisions moving forward. Families have options and may need time to process and decide what is best for their situation.

Understanding the Euthanasia Process

While losing a pet is undeniably heart wrenching, the actual good-bye is gentle, loving and beautiful. The actual process involves an initial injection (under the skin) of a heavy sedative or anesthetic plus pain medication. Once the pet is completely anesthetized, the final euthanasia injection is given, and the pet will pass quickly. From the pet’s perspective, they are drifting off to sleep, surrounded by the people who love them most.


Knowing and deciding aftercare options prior to the euthanasia appointment is very helpful. There are different types of cremation: communal (several animals cremated together, with no ashes returned to the family); individual (several animals in the crematorium, separated by dividers so only those pet’s ashes are returned to the family); or private (only one pet cremated in the crematorium, with the ashes returned to the family).

If the euthanasia is performed in the home, the mobile veterinarian will often take the pet into their care and arrange for cremation, if this is wanted. Some families choose to keep their pet’s body for a time and then transport directly to the crematory. And some families choose to bury their pet, either on their private property or in a pet cemetery. Regardless, it is important to choose the service that feels right for you and your family.

There are many memorial items available that can incorporate ashes into them, such as jewelry, glass art, planters, and more. The most important thing to realize when it comes to aftercare is that there is no right or wrong path.

Take the Time You Need

There is no roadmap through grief. Everyone will process their loss differently and grieve in their own way. All the “firsts” are difficult: the “first feeding time without her” or the “first time not being greeted at the door.”

Some people focus inward on their grief, while others feel that outside support may be helpful. Aside from talking with friends and family who have experienced pet loss, there are now many options for online support groups. It is important to seek what you feel will best serve you. And, of course, please seek professional help when needed. A licensed mental health professional in an individual session can be invaluable.

Preparing for your pet’s end-of-life journey is not easy. It is the price we pay for having these amazing companions in our lives. As a client once told me, “The pain now is worth the happiness then.”

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Sara Hopkins is the founder of Compassion 4 Paws, an in-home end-of-life care for pets service in the Pacific Northwest. She is a renowned veterinary professional with over two decades of experience in the field. In 2020, she was honored to join the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care board of directors and became president of the nonprofit in 2023.


Beware the Dog Days of Summer

Know the risks your pet faces from heatstroke and hyperthermia

by Kimberly Blaker

Countless pets die each year as a result of being left in parked cars, often when pet owners make a “quick” stop and get sidetracked or delayed.

It takes only a few minutes for a car to heat to dangerous temperatures, even when car windows are cracked open on a cloudy day.

Car Interior Dangers

Studies have found that, within 10 minutes, car interiors can heat up by nearly 20 degrees. At 60 minutes, car cabins can increase by 45 degrees.

Most charts that show the rise in car cabin temperature begin at 70 degrees, but even on cool days of 50 or 60, temperatures increase similarly, risking a pet’s hyperthermia or heatstroke.

Hot Weather Exercise

Dogs are particularly prone to heat exhaustion or heatstroke when they are overexercised in hot weather, especially those with short snouts or thick or long hair. If your dog begins to pant or drool or wants to stop, provide adequate rest and shade.

Heed the Signs

Signs of heatstroke or hyperthermia are similar in dogs and cats. One or more symptom(s) can be a sign your pet is in distress. If not caught and treated quickly, it could result in coma or death.

  • panting

  • excessive drooling

  • pale gums

  • bright red tongue

  • difficulty breathing

  • increased heart rate

  • irregular heartbeat

  • little to no urination

  • vomiting

  • fever of 103 degrees or more

  • heartbeat or breathing cessation

  • muscle tremors

  • seizures

  • shock

If Your Pet Overheats

If your pet shows signs of heatstroke or hyperthermia, get out of the heat and sun immediately. Move into air conditioning or at least the shade.


Dogs can be hosed down or put in a tub of tepid (not cold) water. Because cats typically despise water, try dipping the kitty’s feet in a sink of tepid water. You can also wet a towel and rub your cat or dog down, concentrating on the head, neck and underside of the legs. Don’t feed your pet ice or icy water because it’s dangerous to cool down an overheated animal that way.


If You See a Pet Left in a Hot Car

Pet owners should be aware of their state’s laws (or any state where they might travel).

Thirteen U.S. states have varying laws about pets left in vehicles: Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina. But even in states where laws are not in place, good Samaritans can take action to protect or save the life of an animal left in a hot vehicle.

If you see a pet left in a parked car in temperatures that could escalate quickly, or if an animal shows signs of distress, call 911 and go into the business where the car is parked and ask that the vehicle’s owner be paged and located.

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Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer. She also owns an online bookshop, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera; and more at

­­­­­­­­­­­­READERS WEIGH IN

Can’t Get Enough of Pet Videos?

Readers contribute to this èBella anthology of loving pet clips and pix

by Kathy Grey

It’s likely that we all have friends who stalk the internet for funny, creative and endearing videos or photos of pets being pets and doing their thing.

We reached out to èBella readers to contribute the best of their best pet images — video or still — for the entertainment of all our readers.

So, sit back and relax. Pour that tea or pop that corn and enjoy our anthology of amusing, beloved pets in or community doing what they do best.

Kitney Thing is a little shy. ~ Sharon Hood

Kitten ready to pounce. ~ Leah Griffith


“Rose of the Desert” ~ Kathy Grey


Teaching the dog to sing. ~ Kathy Grey

My pandemic office colleagues. ~ Connie Moody

A conversation with my dog’s tail. ~ Kathy Grey


Somebody hand me a tongue depressor! ~ Lori Loftus


Barking at the competition. ~ Lori Loftus

Steve: one growing and stubborn teenager. ~ Chris Andruskiewicz

Chauncey agrees with Audrey Hepburn: “I’m just crazy about Tiffany’s!” ~ Laurie Walter

Edith Piaf at 14 weeks. ~ Patricia Horwell

Pierre plays fetch. ~ Patricia Horwell

“We had to change all the doorknobs in the house to prevent this from happening.” ~ Samantha Zuniga

Five-year-old Ginger loves to do the downward dog with dad.” ~ Samantha Zuniga

Rescue cat Bitty, then 5 weeks old, was found in a trash pile behind a mechanic’s shop. Now 2, he’s smart, funny and perceptive. And Bitty LOVES boxes. ~ Susan Mehas

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Octavia didn’t like her new socks. ~ Sharon Milano Croke


Monitoring Climate Change Acceleration

Tips for helping the planet this summer

by Kimberly Blaker

Despite efforts by scientists and leaders in the fight against climate change and best intentions among citizens, climate change isn’t slowing down.

“The physical signs and socioeconomic impacts of climate change are accelerating as record greenhouse gas concentrations drive global temperatures toward increasingly dangerous levels,” the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has reported, saying one of the key indicators of global warming includes a record-breaking rise in sea level.

We’ve seen a 12% rise in carbon dioxide levels since 1994, according to the WMO, identifying the many impacts this warming trend is having on our planet, one that will continue with increasing frequency and severity. These include natural disasters, loss of food resulting from climate threats to agriculture, displacement of human populations resulting from disasters, health issues arising from heat and air quality and decrease in oxygen in oceans and significant threat to ecosystems and other environmental impacts.

Global warming isn’t our only threat. Scientists have long warned us of the decline in our natural world. The impact of this decline is already seen in one million animal and plant species at risk of extinction. The end result of these two crises will be catastrophic to human survival.

It will take drastic measures, both nationally and globally, by governments and businesses to halt global warming and the human imprint on our planet. Still, each of us can do our part in daily living to reduce the rate of acceleration.

During the warmer months, we contribute to global warming and damage to our planet in ways that differ from colder seasons. Still, summer is the perfect time to implement strategies to reduce our imprint. Not only are these habits better for our planet, most are better for your wallet and can add up to sizable savings.

The following are some summer go-green tips.


Make nearby errands or visits part of your exercise regimen. Walk or ride your bike.


Run heat-producing appliances at night to reduce A/C use. These include dishwashers.


Keep summer heat out of your home by closing window coverings where direct sunlight comes in. This will reduce your air conditioning use. Open window coverings on windows without direct sunlight to light your home and eliminate the use of daytime lighting.

Turn the air conditioner up a few degrees. At night, blow a fan toward your bed so you can sleep comfortably while keeping the A/C set at a higher temperature.


During the summer months, cut back on watering or eliminate it. When you do water, do it only after dusk, maximizing plants’ absorption of water and reducing frequency needed.

Another option is to plant large areas of ground cover in your yard that don’t require water except when it rains.

Locally grown food

Shop farmers markets for your fruits and veggies, thereby reducing the use of fossil fuels and pollution from groceries being shipped to stores across the country. Another option is to plant a backyard garden or look for a nearby co-op.

Buy used

Consider buying goods that would otherwise fill landfills, which also reduces environmental pollutants from the manufacturing of new products.


We use a variety of chemicals to treat our lawns and plants, and use them to protect our yards and homes from pests. Look for “green” products that don’t negatively impact the environment, people and wildlife.

Pet Paradigm Shift in Paradise
Approaching the Rainbow Bridge
Beware the Dog Days of Summer
Can’t Get Enough of Pet Videos?
Monitoring Climate Change Acceleration
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