By Rachel Christian
Summer may be a slow time in some spots, but the Osceola County Animal Shelter in St. Cloud isn’t one of them.
An influx of cats and dogs is typical for the shelter, which currently houses about 62 canines and 97 felines.
But Animal Services has hosted an array of interesting critters over the years,
including cockatiels, chimpanzees and everything in between.
These animals don’t make their way to the shelter often – Animal Services Director Kim Staton estimates that 95 percent of occupants are either cats or dogs.
But when other species do arrive, they can make life interesting for staff and volunteers.
“The emus can be a handful,” Staton said of the tall ostrich-like birds. “They tend to have a mind of their own and their legs are as strong as wrought iron.”
No emus currently occupy the shelter – much to the relief of Staton and staff – but the large birds have made appearances before, along with horses, goats, pot-bellied pigs and even a buffalo.
One size does not fit all when it comes to the wide range of wildlife abandoned or relinquished at the shelter.
People often bring in injured native animals, like sandhill cranes or baby squirrels, but Staton said the shelter isn’t well equipped to handle these kind of creatures. In this case, the animals are transported to Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge in Orlando, a nonprofit group that rehabilitates animals and houses ones that are too sick or injured to return to the wild.
The Osceola County Animal Shelter has also seen its fair share of exotic animals, like monkeys, rare birds and unique snakes. These animals require a permit to own, Staton said, so Animal Services can’t adopt them out to just anyone. Staff typically contacts Florida Wildlife Conservation, which tries to place the animal in a proper sanctuary or locate its owner if the animal was brought in by someone else.
This generally leaves common birds, rabbits, Guinea pigs and livestock animals. The 10-acre facility is equipped to handle farm animals like goats and horses, though these animals don’t always reach the shelter in good health.
“Sometimes the animals are so starved we can’t save them, or it takes us a long time to get them healthy again,” the director said.
Staton urged anyone who thinks they can no longer physically or financially take care of an animal to call the shelter. Sometimes the solution can be as simple as staff bringing out a bag of pet food or feed
and assessing the situation from there.
“But we won’t know or be able to help unless people give us a call,” Staton said.
Once animals are safe and healthy, the next challenge is finding them a new home.
Social media has played a vital role in the adoption of all animals at the shelter – even the pot-bellied pigs.
Staff often focuses on the unique stories and personalities of the animals in its Facebook posts, an easy task for the uncommon occupants.
“We generally don’t have to wait long for those kinds of animals to be adopted after we post about it on our Facebook page,” Staton said.
For more information about Osceola County Animal Services or to learn how to volunteer, call