As the rest of the country experienced a peak in the coronavirus pandemic last January, Patricia Watts and her daughter Tyra had their own issues.

Watts had fallen a few months earlier, and the health problems that followed sent her between three hospitals and three long-term care facilities in the span of several months, leaving her only able to walk short distances with a walker.

Tyra Watts, now 20, was kicked out of the University of Tennessee in the fall due to the pandemic, but was not allowed to see her mother for three months.

“Over the weeks my daughter called me one day and she said, ‘Mom, I’m so lonely,'” Patricia Watts said in tears. “She was struggling.”

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Tyra Watts and Finn, her one-year-old chocolate lab looking for food, treats, a sturdy toy, and a bed through the WAGS Angel Tree.

The two discussed Tyra’s getting a dog, which she recognized as a big commitment but well worth it. She took over Finn, now a chocolate-colored Labrador Retriever and emotional support dog, in January, and continued to make it a priority to keep him even as a student with his disabled mother.

“If anything happened to her, she would be very devastated because he was the focal point for her to move beyond loneliness, pursue her education and move on with her life,” Watts said.

As she and her daughter continue to make ends meet, they’ve connected with WAGS Animal Rescue Online to meet some of Finn’s needs this holiday season through the organization’s Angel Tree. , which encourages the community to help more than 100 animals in need of homes, food and other supplies and services.

Extend the reach to more animals in need

“We wanted to step up and give this opportunity to people who have been injured by COVID and maybe a job loss or something where they didn’t have the option to help their pets,” Gia said. Perrett, vice president of WAGS. “Instead of having them picked up to relocate or some other place they could put the animal like a pound or something like that, we wanted to make sure the animal stayed with the owners.”

WAGS had an angel tree a year earlier with only 25 pets, which were mostly rescue animals. This is the group’s first year helping community pets who already have homes.

WAGS, Working Advocating Giving and Saving, President Jeani Derrough carries Zero, a deaf mixed dachshund dog, to an adoption fair on Saturday, December 11 at Berrettini Feed Specialists on SR40 in Ocala.

“This is a good opportunity for us to put aside what we would ask for and what we need for relief and instead focus on the whole reason we exist, which is to help keep animals in safe places. loving homes, finding homes for animals that don’t currently have them and really celebrating the human-animal bond, and it’s a perfect opportunity to do all of these things at once, ”said the president of WAGS, Jeani Derrough.

WAGS has also partnered with Ambassadors of Nature Education Foundation, SouthEast Beagle Rescue, Sheltering Hands, Heroes and Horse, Stirrups’ n Strides, and Marion Therapeutic Riding Association, each of which has animals on the tree that the community can support.

“We know we can help animals no matter what, but we also know that if we work with others we will have a bigger impact and we can help save a lot more, help keep a lot more families. together, ”Derrough said.

The needs of the animals range from houses and veterinary expenses to hay for the horses. Watts, for example, searches for a bag of dog food, treats, a Kuranda bed, and a sturdy toy that Finn can’t destroy.

Angel ornaments and wish lists can be picked up from Mr. Mocha’s Pet Supplies in Belleview, the Tattoo Gallery of Ocala, and Berrettini Feed Specialists in Ocala. Some items can be purchased directly from stores or online through the WAGS Amazon Wish List. Donations are requested before Saturday December 18.

The season to give

While WAGS accepts donations and helps the community year round by housing animals, educating the public and promoting animal welfare, the group sees the need especially during the holidays.

“During the holidays we find that people feel more pressure to do things, and it can be very disheartening when you say to yourself, ‘I can’t support my family the way I want to,'” said Derrough. “You don’t want to ignore the fact that you can celebrate how much you care for them at a time when you see everyone around you doing it.”

WAGS Vice President Gia Perrett, Working Advocating Giving and Saving, looks face to face with King Louie, a seven month old cat who is up for adoption, near the Angel Tree to help adoptable pets find a home and fundraising for pets needing help with veterinary needs, food or toys while on vacation.

Perrett, who hosts six cats for WAGS, added that for some families this can be a choice between dog food and Christmas gifts for the kids.

“Although yes, people do need gifts, when it comes to the holiday season, it’s a lot like peer pressure, ”Perrett said. “Everyone wants to be able to give this holiday season. ”

For others, it’s just about caring for the four-legged family members who have been by their side through hard times.

“I don’t know what would have happened, to be honest, if (Finn) hadn’t come into our lives, and dogs will.” Dogs are very special, ”said Watts. “Even if he doesn’t know it, doesn’t realize it, he fills that void and fills that void and does it every day.”

The WAGS Angel Tree is filled with ornaments at food specialist Berrettini on SR40 in Ocala, Florida.  on Saturday, December 11, 2021. The ornaments help adoptable pets find homes and raise donations for pets in the community needing help with veterinarians, food or toys while on vacation.

Derrough says that while there are many programs in the community designed to help people, organizations can do better to disseminate information and make help accessible. She says it “really broke my heart” to learn that a pet owner, for example, needed help feeding their animals but wasn’t comfortable asking.

“A lot of our programs are, ‘come here and take this’ and’ you can have it, but you have to ask for it. ”Said Derrough. “You have to show that you are in need and that you have to have transportation, which means that sometimes the people who need help most don’t get it. ”

WAGS also accepts monetary donations to provide goods and services to animals whose ornaments are not picked up. The rescue is based entirely on foster families and volunteers. Visit facebook.com/WAGSAnimalRescue or wagsanimalrescue.org for more information on donating or participating.

Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at [email protected]