By Martie Thompson
Ana Andenmatten said she has always loved animals. She recalls hiding various animals in her room as a young girl. When her father found out about a particular rabbit that wasn’t supposed to be there, young Ana got in trouble. She hid a rabbit again and the next time her father found it, he gave in and helped her build a hutch for it in the backyard.
In college, she worked in a veterinarian’s office. She said she was upset that some people would have their pets put down for what she considered unacceptable reasons and this stayed with her and was instrumental in the work she does today as founder of Ana’s Angels Animal Rescue.
Ana’s Angels started up in 1999 and was incorporated as a 501 c 3 non-profit in 2003. Every Saturday, Andenmatten drives to animal shelters in rural areas like Clay County and Putnam County and loads up her car with dogs and kittens to be adopted at Petco, PetSmart and Pet Supermarket, all on San Jose Boulevard. She is particularly drawn to black dogs and cats (which she said take the longest to be adopted) as well as those that are elderly or have medical needs.
“I always felt badly for these animals in rural areas, because they weren’t being seen by prospective families,” Andenmatten said. “They had no visibility and their outlook was bleak. So I bring them to Mandarin, which is full of nice families who can give them good homes.”
To date, Ana’s Angels has placed more than 5,000 animals in loving homes.
By day, Andenmatten utilizes her early childhood education degree that she earned from the University of North Florida. She has worked for 13 years as a Duval County Public School teacher and is currently in her third year teaching first grade at Mandarin Oaks Elementary. She currently fosters animals in her classroom at the school, with permission from administration as well as parents of students in her classroom. She said it is not unusual to have a mama cat in the back of her classroom nursing kittens while the children work on their studies.
“It teaches students responsibility and compassion,” Andenmatten said. “I always tell the students, ‘Don’t get attached’ to the animals, because we are fostering and the ultimate goal is for the animal to be adopted.”
She said that she gives the students a much anticipated weekly update on the animals that have found their forever home each week.
At her home, Andenmatten has, predictably, a rescued menagerie — including a horse, goats and chickens. Since she has her Florida Fish and Wildlife license, she also has rescued bobcats in a cage in her backyard.
“I come home from work in heels and change into boots,” Andenmatten said, since she has so many different animals on different diets to feed. She and her husband are parents to two young children, who are also animal lovers.
Andenmatten said she is in need of foster families in the Mandarin area for the animals awaiting adoption so that she can continue her passion of helping animals.
“I’ve gotten better at being realistic about what I can do,” she said. “I’m better about only taking in the number of animals that we adopt out each week and not trying to do more than we have resources for.”
Ana’s Angels is completely volunteer-run and Andenmatten said she couldn’t make it work without the approximately 25 volunteers who help her. Donations to pay for the required veterinary visits for each animal as well as food are gratefully accepted and tax deductible. Visit “Ana’s Angels Animal Rescue” on Facebook for more information or to contact Andenmatten to learn more about fostering.
Photo courtesy Ana Andenmatten
Dolly Parton after being cared for by Ana Andenmatten and fostered in her classroom at Mandarin Oaks Elementary.