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EARS animal sanctuary in Englewood faces zoning issues

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ENGLEWOOD, Fla. -- EARS animal sanctuary in Englewood is facing a crisis.

"We would have straightened this out a long time ago if we had known that," said board member Mary Curtis.

Since 2003, EARS -- which stands for Englewood Animal Rescue Sanctuary -- has been a community fixture. But there is one problem.

"We are actually not zoned to be a full blown animal rescue," said Curtis.

When the sanctuary was started, and as recently as 2008, the founder (who is now deceased) had the property zoned as a pet store. And indeed it is, but over the years EARS has expanded to taking in rescue cats from the area.

"We just wanted to be able to have cats on site. It's easier to adopt them, people can come in to see them," said Curtis.

Recently an anonymous tip sent in to Sarasota County put the kibosh on that. Volunteer Sherelle Lovely says she can't imagine why this is happening.

"We're all volunteers. It's not hurting anybody. It's helping," said Lovely.

Lovely told us the sanctuary has a benefit to the community, even giving out animal food to those who are facing tough times.

"We'll give you dog food for a week. If you still need help we'll give you more. It just helps a lot of the community around here," Lovely said.

The sanctuary relies heavily on a vast volunteer base, as well as a thrift shop they just opened two blocks away.

"We're not funded by state or federal it's all donations. The thrift store has been amazing," said Curtis.

Curtis says Sarasota County told them they had to get rid of the cats, or face a $250 a day fine until they do. Now they're in a mad dash to adopt out those that remain.

"Cats don't handle change very well at all so we want the transition while we're going through the zoning issues to be as seemless as possible for the cats," said Curtis.

The County will decide whether the property can be zoned to have an animal rescue but Curtis says if the answer is no, they'll just find somewhere else to go.

"We'll find a location where we are able to have as many animals as we want and be properly zoned. It's a day by day thing, we're learning as we go along," stated Curtis.

The deadline to get these cats adopted out is quickly approaching. If you would like to adopt one, EARS Animal Sanctuary is located at 145 W. Dearborn St. Englewood. Their phone number is 941-681-3877.