By Tiffany Merlo Phelps

Monica Kohn loves to foster puppies and dogs, but sometimes she has a “foster failure” and the fosters become her pets. 

Enter Sofie and Princess — two dogs that began as foster pets, but ended up with a forever home because Kohn could not let them go. They joined Murphy, Kohn’s first rescue dog from S.A.F.E. Pet Rescue in St. Augustine (Saving Animals from Euthanasia) when she first moved to Ponte Vedra Beach from Virginia in 2014. 

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In 2015, Kohn attended a S.A.F.E. adoption event at the Ponte Vedra Beach Pet Supermarket and began to volunteer with the group soon after. Prior to the pandemic, events were held there monthly using the S.A.F.E. mobile unit and by incorporating bake sales, the Landrum Middle School cheerleaders (Pom Poms and Paws Bake Sales) and often local Girl and Boy Scouts. 

“I met some amazing people, volunteers and residents, all with different backgrounds and all pet and animal loving people willing to help in many different ways,” said Kohn. 

This recently led Kohn to start the Ponte Vedra and Beaches Animal Volunteer Group via Facebook. 

“This has become a place where animal lovers can join, help and share about pets, rescues and adoptions,” said Kohn, adding that there are now 400 members. “It is also amazing how generous everyone is when there is a need.” 

For example, a need was posted for a certain type of leash requested by S.A.F.E. and within two days, 60 leashes were donated. 

Kohn said the group began as a way to reach out to residents and volunteers and morphed into a Ponte Vedra Beach/Nocatee extension of S.A.F.E. Pet Rescue. 

“We are all just people who love animals. The end. Doesn’t matter if you are young or old, what you do, what you look like or how you feel about anything else,” she said. 

Kohn met with fellow dog lover Lisa Wargo at an adoption event and described Wargo as a “rockstar” who will do anything to help an animal. Wargo, a Nocatee resident, said she likes to help at fundraising events for S.A.F.E. and also coordinates community service hours for volunteers. 

“I have always loved animals. I used to hide stray animals in my room when I was little because I wanted to save all of them,” she said, adding that she helps with adoption applications to ensure that all animals are matched with the most loving homes. 

Today Wargo has Chance, a Shepherd mix, who was rescued from a homeless man living in his car. It was a long process, but Wargo and S.A.F.E. ultimately ended up rescuing the dog and helping the man.

Dave and Jean Gleason, Ponte Vedra Beach residents, have been volunteering at adoption events with Kohn and Wargo for the past five years. They also go to PetSmart in Jacksonville Beach to pick up donations of beds, leashes and collars from the store for S.A.F.E., and they pick up community donations at a bin placed at Pet Supermarket. They have remained very active with this pick-up service during COVID since adoption events were put on hold temporarily. Events are beginning to resume now, said Jean Gleason. 

The Gleasons are also the owners of a once foster dog named Elliot. The now 14-year-old Chihuahua lived his life in a breeder’s cage prior to being rescued, Jean Gleason said. Elliot has an eye condition that requires drops twice a day for the rest of his life, and Jean Gleason said she fell in love with Elliot and knew that no one else would want to provide this type of care and bear the expense. However, she did. 

To learn more about the Ponte Vedra and Beaches Animal Volunteer Group, go to its Facebook page by the same name. Anyone interested in earning community service hours or any other questions may call Wargo at (914) 420-5769. To visit S.A.F.E., go to Jean Gleaseon also encourages the community to visit or donate to S.A.F.E’s thrift store.

Photo courtesy Monica Kohn 
Volunteer Monica Kohn.

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