“I stuck my hand into a hole in this tree and felt this little furry thing, and then I knew I found what I was looking for.”

University of Central Florida senior Hunter Menning has many accomplishments to display on his résumé: Speech and debate, volunteering at the local church, founding a club at his school, but most importantly: animal rescuer.

“We’ve rescued many different types of animals,” Menning said. “One of my first ones was a baby squirrel. It had been evident that its mother had passed away, and it was stuck in a tree crying for help. I had to climb into this tree and reach my hand into every groove until I eventually pulled out this baby squirrel whose eyes weren’t even open yet.”

When Menning was in sixth grade, he and his family began volunteering at the local animal shelter in Bithlo, Florida. From there, they started working with animal control and have become well-known in the area for their efforts to help animals in need.

“Usually, I will get a call from a friend or someone who knows about me or my family rescuing animals,” Menning said. “From there, I will go out to the location where the animal is, talk to their owner if it’s not an abandonment situation and rescue the animal in need.”

After rehabilitating the animal, Menning and his family will try to get it adopted out.

“There are a lot of animals breeding in areas around us such as Bithlo, so we end up finding cats and dogs just on the street that need our help,” Menning said. “We usually take them in and rehabilitate them or try to foster them out, but any animal we can’t find a home for or get placed just ends up staying with us.”

Menning has done over 100 rescues, including a variety of wild animals, ranging from squirrels, ferrets, birds and iguanas.

“The iguana had to be one of the most interesting animals we’ve gotten,” Menning said. “We found him in winter. It seemed like he was frozen. We got a reptile cage and heat lamp for him, and he ended up being revived. So, we just had an iguana chilling in our house through the winter.”

According to the Orange County government website, each year 23,000 animals are received by Orange County Animal Services. About 50 percent of those animals end up without homes.

Menning says that he and his family find people who are ready to adopt through social media. Most families in the area are families they know personally and are ready for the responsibility. If no one is willing to take the animal in, Menning’s family ends up keeping the animal to prevent it from being euthanized at the shelter.

“There is a huge problem with overcrowding in the shelters, so we try our best not to let the animals we get end up there,” Menning said. “Puppy stores and pet stores take away a lot of the buying power from shelters.”

Along with his efforts to rescue animals, Menning also founded UCF’s Body of Animal Rights Campaign (BARC). The club volunteers at animal sanctuaries from all around Florida that have rescued animals from poor conditions and given them a place to live out the rest of their lives. One trip, however, did not end like this.

“So, [in] one visit, BARC went to an animal sanctuary in Bithlo, and it turned out that the animals were living in extremely poor conditions,” Menning said. “I wasn’t there for this particular visit, but my sister was.”

By the end of that summer, BARC had helped shut down the sanctuary, and every animal was placed somewhere it could live out the rest of its life in peace.

“It’s important to me to have compassion for animals, and I just love animals so much that I can’t say no to rescuing them,” Menning said.

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