RESCUE ME

RESCUE ME

The Banttari Family Gives Dogs a New Lease on Life

BY MARIA IANNUCCI
PHOTOS BY MIKE POTTHAST

 

“Dear, no. A dog like that is too big for our house and the hair, what about all of the hair?” That’s what Melissa Banttari told her husband, James, almost six years ago when he first met members of the Florida Great Pyrenees Club (FGPC) and some of the dogs in rescue that they had with them at a First Friday event. Four years later, the Lakeland couple and their sons, Austin and Alex, saw the club again at the same annual event. After meeting a three-yearold male rescue named Kirby, Melissa knew she couldn’t tell James “no” again – not after seeing how James and Kirby connected. “I’ve heard many people say how their dog chose them, but not until that evening did I truly understand what they meant” said James.

 

Almost two years later, the Banttari home wouldn’t be complete without these impressive dogs. James serves on the Board of Directors of the FGPC, and was recently named Vice President; Melissa spends nearly every weekend helping the club in some capacity; and Austin and Alex join their parents in educating the public about these “gentle giants,” helping care for dogs in need, or raising money for the club’s rescue efforts. “While our family is very involved with the club, the fact is that we’re still ‘newbies’ and there are some members who have been doing this since the club started 15 years ago. Without their contributions, there’d be no club.” said James.

 

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GENTLE GIANTS

“I know that everyone thinks that their breed of choice is special, but most people have never met a dog quite like a Pyr” said James. The Great Pyrenees (pronounced peer-a-neez) is a livestock guardian dog (LGD) that has been protecting flocks of sheep in the French Pyrenees Mountains for centuries and is known for being confident, gentle (especially with children), and affectionate. “They were bred to live within a flock of sheep and defend it against predators while remaining calm towards the flock they protect,” said James. As one might expect, many Pyrs live in homes where they have a large yard, but it is not necessarily required. Even in an apartment or townhome, a Pyr can thrive.

 

HELPING DOGS IN NEED

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The Florida Great Pyrenees Club rescues between 130 and 150 Pyrs each year and, at any given time, has 30 to 40 dogs in foster, being evaluated or waiting to be adopted. When a dog is rescued by the FGPC, after it is nursed back to health, spayed or neutered, and brought up-to-date on its shots, it is fostered for at least three weeks to get a good feel for the type of home in which that particular dog would work well. “I think fostering is so important because it helps us get to know the dog and be able to better place it in the proper home. It is also important for the dog; many of these dogs have come from bad situations and need to be reminded what a loving home feels like.” said James. Sometimes after spending time getting to know a dog, it’s hard to let them go. When asked about this, 3rd grader Alex said, “I want to keep ALL of them, but I know I can’t.”

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Living with these dogs does present some challenges though. There is no question that they do shed, and that is a reason why some of them end up in rescue. “There is a lot of vacuuming involved and tile or hardwood flooring is the way to go – that’s for sure,” Melissa shared. Austin, a 6th grader, also has a helpful tip; “When you do laundry and put the clothes in the dryer– if you select the ‘Reduce Static’ option, your clothes come out with less hair stuck to them.” Even so, lint rollers are a part of life for the family.

 

A CHANGE IN PRIORITIES

The Banttari family is often asked about all the time they devote to their animals and the rescue. “Sometimes it feels like I’m never going to get doing the projects around the house that I’ve started… (but) it’s about making time for what’s important to you,” said Melissa.

Melissa has also seen her priorities change. “When James and I bought our house six years ago, we had envisioned all of the things we wanted to do with it to make it the home we would raise our boys in. It was the perfect house for us. Now, I wish we could go back in time and buy a house that was maybe older and maybe further out, but had some land that we could devote to making room for some more fosters.”

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Representing a significant change in priorities, Melissa is assisting in the opening of a nonprofit spay and neuter clinic here in Lakeland. The culmination of the efforts of FGPC President Terry Sandlak and her late mother, TLC PetSnip (www.tlcspetsnip.org) is slated to open in late April. By educating pet owners about the importance of population control and working to provide an affordable option, Melissa is not only devoted to helping unwanted animals, but more importantly helping to prevent them in the first place.

There is little question that helping these dogs has become a core part of the Banttaris’ lives and when asked why, they all agreed that it was about seeing dogs who were unwanted, unadoptable and about to be put down, get a new lease on life, find their “furever” homes, and blossom into loved members of a new family.

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