Here?s One for the Underdog

Here’s One for the UnderdogFrogs to Dogs’ Dr. Jenny Fortune Finds Loving Homes for Special-Needs Animals

By Lee Gordon

For the past 27 years, Dr. Jenny Fortune has worked as a veterinarian at the Niceville Animal Clinic. Her last name is misleading, in that she doesn’t make a fortune caring for animals, but she is collecting a lot of good karma. 

Through the years, Fortune has seen thousands of animals come through her clinic. Many are surrendered because, for one reason or another, their owners can no longer care for them.

In early 2008, a family came to see Fortune with a blind kitten. But they weren’t looking to help the cat; they were looking to rid themselves of this helpless animal. They were looking for a “perfect” cat, and one without the ability to see just didn’t cut it. 

At the same time, Fortune worked with a girl that was deaf. She was looking for her own “perfect” cat.  So Fortune put the two together. A young girl, who couldn’t hear, paired with a cat that couldn’t see. Together, they would help one another. And a “perfect” match was made.

“She fell in love with this cat and they bonded so much more because he takes the time to listen to her,” says Fortune. “They bonded so dramatically that it always impacted me. That was the beginning of the idea.”

The “idea” was to find happy homes for special needs animals. And Fortune found the perfect facility, just down the road in Destin.

“I had a clinic that was underutilized, so I turned it into a shelter for these special needs animals that are un-adoptable. We spay, neuter, we clean their teeth,” she says. “If an eye needs to come out, we take their eye out. Sometimes I do orthopedic surgeries.”

And so, Frogs to Dogs was born. The name is appropriate in that it’s a home for animals that, for lack of a better word, are different. But different is all in the eye of the beholder, and what some see as an imperfect animal, others see as the perfect pet.

For example, there’s Eddie Scissorhands, the shelter’s de facto mascot. He’s a small, black, border collie who is missing his front feet. Eddie was found on the streets of Pensacola; someone had cut off his ears and tail. He could barely walk and couldn’t hear, but he was the perfect dog to represent Frogs to Dogs.

“You can tell they did it as a small puppy and you can tell he was used to moving around without feet. These animals came to me four months old and were coping with whatever issues there were. He didn’t have front feet so he did the best without them.”

There’s also Rue the cat. Her feet were deformed in the womb and non-functional, so she hopped around like a kangaroo. 

There are blind dogs, deaf dogs and cats with their paws pointed backwards. They are all welcome here. And all made to feel like they are just as normal as any other animal.

“These are animals that wouldn’t stand a chance at a regular shelter,” says Fortune.

But why does this North Florida veterinarian spend so much time with these animals? It’s not to make a fortune. In fact, she’s spending a fortune to keep the clinic up and running.

“My rent is $3,600 dollars per month,” she says. “We have one paid employee that gets about $1,600. Financially, it’s huge. But it’s the right thing to do and somewhere along the way, someone will come around and have the backing. I wanted to make it as pure as I could without the bureaucracy. It’s me and the animals and we place them from death’s doorstep into the community.”

Not every animal can come into the clinic. The facility is about 3,000 square feet and you’ll see anywhere between 10 to 25 animals on site at any given time.

“We have some rules. They have to be small and sweet. I won’t take anyone that bites,” she says. “I do turn dogs down if I don’t feel they are appropriate. I just got three pugs in, one has an eye issue, the other two are fine. We don’t necessarily take only special needs animals.”

But Fortune doesn’t give the animals away either. While she’s not in this to make money, she still wants to make sure the animals end up in a good home where they will be loved.

“We usually suggest at least $100,” Fortune explains. “To get them into an adoptable position costs between $400 and $600. It’s not to recover money, but so the owner has a bond. If you give animals away, they don’t take as good of care of them. It’s a screening-out process.”

Word is starting to get out about the clinic. Folks from as far south as West Palm Beach and as far north as Georgia have stopped by to adopt a pet. In the past year and a half, Fortune says they’ve adopted out close to 300 animals. That includes animals brought to her Niceville clinic, those brought to Frogs to Dogs in Destin and others she rescued during Hurricane Katrina. 

Yes, this same woman who works full time in Niceville, runs a clinic for special needs animals and has a husband and five children, still found the time to drive to Louisiana to rescue animals.

“There are people who like to help people and people who like to help animals,” she says. “During Katrina, I went to New Orleans and I got 115 animals out of the Lower Ninth Ward in my truck and drove back with them and did it again three weeks later. I saw how you have the bureaucratic response. The Humane Society had their nice, neat place and then you had the people who were rescuing them out of houses. It’s a pure charity, because the longer a charity is there the more layered they are in bureaucracy. I wanted to do something that is direct and help out as much as I could.”

But what about the future? Not many people can afford to spend thousands of dollars every month and expect to stay afloat.

“I don’t mind not making money, that’s not how I do it. But I can’t continue to put $4,000 of my own money into it. We’re going on a year and a half. I’m horrible at fundraising, I’d love to have someone help us out and say we’ll find someone. We are a nonprofit and it’s tax deductible. I can talk to a bunch of people and be effective, but I don’t have the time to canvass the streets. I’m hoping that somebody will step forward as a fundraiser to take us under their wing, a grant writer, maybe just the rent taken care of, but the rest I’ll cover. If I can’t get the rent, I’ll have to close it down.”

Let’s hope not. Fortune’s tenacity and love for injured animals is built on hope — hope for a decent life for even the smallest creatures, and a hope that her community will help.