Tallahassee native Theresa Ink was working in finance and accounting when local animal shelters became flooded with animals that had been living with owners in Miami and were displaced by Hurricane Andrew. About that time, she was ready to retire.
She’d been an animal lover since childhood, when a dog named Fluffy entered her life. So she retired and followed her heart to begin volunteering with the Gulf Coast Humane Society in Fort Myers, answering phones.
“Every day someone would say, ‘I really want to get my pet spayed or neutered but I just don’t have enough money.’ … So I asked a veterinarian, if I build a clinic, will you come? And we did that in December of 1998. This is 15 years and 70,000 surgeries later.”
Ink used her own money to fund the North Fort Myers clinic, which is now self-supporting through donations and grants. PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) offers inexpensive spay and neuter services for animals of low-income owners.
When needed, the clinic takes care of other problems, mostly life-threatening injuries. “If an animal has been hit by a car and needs an eye removed or a leg removed, we do that. We also help with bladder stones,” Ink said.
She feels lucky to have seen the possibilities in women’s lives, including her own, increase greatly during her lifetime.
“My only advice for people is, stay in school, get an education, and find your passion. That’s not like a job when you (just) go to work every day, (it’s when) you’re excited to get up in the morning to see, ‘What can I do today?’”