If you saw how many animals Saint Leo alumna Carolyn Allard cares for on her five-acre property in Florida, you'd immediately understand how much she cherishes furry creatures in need.

The 69-year-old native of Walhalla, N.D. who now resides in Brooksville, Fla. is the proud owner of We Care For Paws Foundation. The 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization provides a shelter, fostering and adoption opportunities and educational programs all centered around animals in need.

The veteran took a unique avenue in life to get to where she is today.

A Path to Military & Federal Service

 Allard, who admits she was a high school dropout and later got her GED, enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 27. She moved up the ranks to become an E5.

"I joined the Army because I wanted an education," she says. "I was struggling living in North Dakota and having to drive through snow to go to a local university there. It was going to take me forever to finish, and I was going to have to pay a ton of money for it."

After serving six years in the Army, she transitioned into the Air National Guard where she became an E7 among the Air Force ranks, also working with the greater Joint Communications Support Element and Central Command. She later joined the Department of Veterans Affairs, spending over four total decades working as a federal employee.

Allard can say she has two claims to fame within her kin. She is the first female in her family to be in the military and the first to earn a college degree.

How a Saint Leo Education Changed Her Life

Despite the delay in officially completing her high school education, she would go on to earn her associate's in liberal arts from Saint Leo University in 1985 at the university's education center on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

"I was on active duty in the Army at the time," she recalls. "The flexibility Saint Leo offered me to go to school at night was wonderful. I also enjoyed having the accelerated terms because you were given all the material you actually needed with no fluff. I went to the MacDill center, and I loved the small class sizes and convenience."

She has nothing but praise to offer for her professors.

"My instructors were fantastic," she says. "Any time I had questions, I could contact them. One time, I needed some help with algebra. My instructor met with me after class and gave me some extra problems to work through. Plus, the instructors were very creative. Our religion professor took us to a synagogue, and a literature professor allowed us to come to his home to watch a movie and enjoy popcorn."

Being accommodating to the often unpredictable lives of military members was also a huge benefit she truly relished in as a Saint Leo student.

"Even if you were deployed or gone for a long time, they would give you the syllabus right when the class started so you could complete your work and turn it in when you were back in town. I can honestly say I would never have gotten a college education if it weren't for Saint Leo."

She walked away with several key core values and skills that allowed her to be successful both personally and professionally.

"The experience taught me how to manage my time, how to be a better writer and how to focus on getting things done. It really gave me that discipline I needed."

Lending a Hand to Man's Best Friend

In March 2000, Allard launched We Care For Paws Foundation after a feline unexpectedly paid her a visit.

"I had a cat show up on my doorstep in St. Petersburg, and it eventually had kittens. I called around and found an organization that said they were a no-kill shelter. I visited them and wound up having to fill out a bunch of paperwork basically giving them permission to put down any animals that came in their door. I wasn't into that idea at all."

One thing led to another, and she wound up being responsible for several pets whose owners had passed away.

"It's just evolved over time," she says. "I used to only take in rescued dogs and cats, but now we take animals for active-duty military, veterans, homeless and domestic violence victims. We even have three rabbits now. I've learned that you just have to go with whatever comes your way."

The animals live comfortably in 10'-by10' kennels, allowing them to move around and dig. Many of them are older, and some are disabled or have been abandoned.

"When animal control comes out to take a look at the facility, we always pass their inspections," she says.

Allard has several volunteers who come in to walk, feed and provide water to their favorite animals, including a doctor, a pediatrician, a real estate broker, a maintenance supervisor and college students who travel to her home from all over the state. She also places some of them in foster care from volunteers willing to take them on. However, she is always looking for volunteers, foster homes and those who can adopt any of the animals.

In addition to caring for pets in need, the nonprofit has provided unique educational programs to children in school.

"We've gone out to a school to do a presentation for preschool-aged kids. We've brought in dogs that are blind or don't walk right. We show the kids that some of these animals are different and that the other animals might pick on them because of it, but they're still normal and can do everything they need to do. We try to spread an anti-bullying message through these programs."

Helping Animals Weather the Storm

This past fall, Hurricane Irma took a toll on Florida and presented a bit of a challenge for Allard and her animals.

"We had to make sure all the animals were inside," she says. "It was a little rough on everyone."

In 2005, she volunteered for two weeks during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans by teaming up with another organization out of New York City.

"I took my SUV and hooked a lawn trailer behind it with supplies like I was going on a military maneuver," she recalls. "We fed and watered dogs and cats and did some trapping to save many animals in the 9th Ward. We basically lived right out of a Winn-Dixie parking lot."

She adds that dealing with the people was quite eye-opening.

"Along with the animals, we gave lots of people water and helped them. They hugged us and were so grateful to have us there. They weren't anything like they were depicted. The whole thing was the most humbling experience of my whole life."

As for the future of proper animal treatment and care, Allard has a positive outlook.

"There is a core of young people out there in the animal movement who will make things better in the future."

Learn More

We Care For Paws Foundation has a website and a Facebook page with more information about the organization and how you can get involved.

Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog post were provided by Carol Allard and are used with permission.

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