Whether it’s a dog, rooster or camel, the first face an animal sees at Speranza Animal Rescue usually belongs to Janine Guido.
“Speranza” means “hope” in Italian, and no animal at the rescue lives up to that name more than Libre, the Boston terrier whose story spawned statewide change in animal cruelty law.
Libre has been at the Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, facility since he was found near death on a Quarryville farm in 2016. Libre had skin infections and sores.
Libre, in Spanish, means free.
Janine Guido, with the help of Dr. Ivan Pryor at Dillsburg Veterinary Center, was able to nurse Libre back to health and pave the way for Libre’s Law. The law added updates and several provisions to Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty code, which was initially drafted in 1983. One of the biggest changes was to allow felony charges against first-time cruelty offenses outside of animal fighting or killing an endangered species.
Gov. Wolf signed the law June 28, 2017, and it went into effect August 28, 2017.
Where is Libre now?
The poster pooch of Libre's Law still lives on the Speranza property under the watchful eye of Guido’s mom, Sandy.
According to Libre’s unofficial event chauffeur, volunteer Mikki Clark, Libre has improved by leaps and bounds over the past five years.
“As he gets a little older, I feel that Libre has definitely settled down a little more," Clark said over the phone. “He was very much a puppy, and although his early puppy stages were detained because of how sick he was, he caught up for it.
“He loves light, and he's a happy dog. He's fearless when he has people like myself there with him. He does wear goggles now, or as I call them, 'Doggles,' because the sun does bother his eyes.”
Sandy Guido recalled how small and fragile Libre was when he first embarked on his long road to recovery.
Now, the 5-year-old Libre is a happy (and healthy) American Kennel Club-registered novice trick dog. Trick dogs are registered and can perform 10 skills from the organization’s novice list.
Despite the challenges he endured as a puppy, Sandy Guido said, he “prospered” as he grew.
“I've had a lot of dogs in my lifetime, and he’s just truly special,” she said. “He’s not resentful for anything that happened in his past. It’s like he’s forgotten about all that and doesn’t hold a grudge at all.”
‘Home for wayward animals’
Janine Guido founded Speranza Animal Rescue on Brandt Road in Mechanicsburg in 2012, as she says, “a one-woman show with seven dogs.” Growing up, she rode horses on her family’s 17-acre farm, which would eventually become home for a much larger pool of creatures than just horses.
At 19, Guido was diagnosed with clinical depression, and after a nearly successful suicide attempt, she said that doctors weren’t sure what the best course of action for her mental health would be.
After rescuing those first seven dogs, her hope became Speranza, and the rest is history.
“I started Speranza mainly to save my life," Guido says. “It gives me hope and motivation to get out of bed every day.”
Today, approximately 50 dogs live at Speranza, many of which are rehabbers or lifers recovering from a past life of mental or physical torture. Beyond dogs, there also are chickens, sheep, cows, ducks, horses and even two zebras and a camel.
“It's not a petting zoo, and they're not pets — these are animals that are able to be there to live out the rest of their lives as they were saved from safari hunting and breeders,” Clark said.
Janine Guido arrives around 4 every morning at Speranza and leaves 12 hours later. She also ventures out to central Pennsylvania’s worst sites of animal abuse and neglect, in the hopes of bringing those animals to Speranza to live a better life.
As a nonprofit organization, Speranza is responsible for zero paychecks and a lot of overhead. Clark estimates that, in a “normal” month, it costs about $40,000 to keep Speranza going.
Janine Guido and Clark credit Speranza’s “village” of fervent supporters for keeping the facility open. A quick scroll through the rescue’s Facebook page shows not only an unfathomably deep well of cute animal pictures, but also dozens of pictures showcasing donations from mom-and-pop shops and local Target and Walmart stores.
“We can't do what we do without our volunteers and supporters," Janine Guido said. “I can't do this alone, so I'm very grateful for that.”
A not-so-normal day
There are no “normal” days at Speranza, but there are normal operations. Generally, it takes three shifts of six or seven people to walk all of the dogs, with additional farm and cleaning volunteers at 2 p.m. and 2 a.m.
In all walks of life, someone has to shovel the crap, especially at Speranza, where it can come in all shapes and sizes.
With as many animals that have waddled, crawled and sprinted through the Speranza gates, Clark said Janine Guido has a near photographic memory of each animal.
"She knows every single animal's name and personality," Clark said. “No one else on the property names them. Every deceased hen, chicken, rooster. We separated 37 bunnies the other day, and she had a name for every single one.”
One of Speranza’s “normal” days got upended in the worst of ways recently, when Guido received a call from a state trooper about hundreds of malnourished animals left to die on a Shippensburg farm.
During the week of June 7, Janine Guido and dozens of volunteers made trips to and from a farm belonging to a man named Barry Orndorff.
“Unfortunately, you just sort of have to kill (the owners) with kindness, for the benefit of the animals,” Janine Guido says. “And then once the animals are removed, the cops take over, but you have to stay professional, and that is probably one of the hardest parts.”
All told, 404 geese, ducks, roosters, goats, turkeys, chickens, pheasants and a 30-year-old horse named Mr. Ed were recovered from the Shippensburg farm, one of the largest animal rescue operations in the state in recent years.
About a quarter of the animals were sent to other rescues, leaving many at Speranza. In the days that followed, at least one bird died per day at the rescue because of the poor conditions in which they were found.
“Honestly, we see so much bad in humans through rescue, but at the same time, we see so much good in our supporters and donators — it's almost half and half," Guido said. “With the 404, we sort of lost all our faith in humanity, and then all the supporters and businesses restored everything.”
Orndorff, 64, of Southampton Township, Cumberland County, faces more than 2,000 charges, including cruelty to animals, aggravated cruelty to animals and neglect of animals.
During the last year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic, Speranza hasn’t been able to hold popular fundraising events, such as a pumpkin fest and 5K run, but the plan to return to in-person fundraising will line up with the rescue’s 10-year anniversary gala in April.
“Without Facebook, we would be screwed, so I'm praying that it never ends because that's where we get all of our followers and probably 95% of our donations,” Guido said.
The future of Speranza looks much like the present of Speranza — keep helping, keep saving, keep going and potentially with more space to do it past the current 17 acres.
“I usually come back from (Speranza) tired and dirty," Clark said. “Most of my wardrobe is Speranza at this point. We live and breathe it, it's just a feeling. It's amazing, exuberant, peaceful. ... I mean, you can use all of those adjectives and then you’d have to continue to add a bunch more to really describe it.”
“Some days, I pull in here and just think, holy crap,” Guido said. “I never in a million years would think that it would become what it is today. I literally still pinch myself some days.”