Last updateMon, 23 Mar 2015 3pm


Haven Acres owners ordered to pay $626,770

GAINESVILLE – The owners and operators of the now closed Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary near High Springs have been ordered to repay the costs of a June 7, 2011 seizure in which some 697 cats were removed from the property.

A judge ordered on March 29 that Haven Acres owners, Pennie and Steve Lefkowitz, pay $626,770 in restitution to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which led the massive feline seizure.

The first $100,000 of restitution is tied to the couple’s 15-year probationary period, according to court records.  The remainder is being entered as a lien of record.

Also under the terms of the plea arrangement, the couple pled no contest to 47 animal cruelty charges related to the couple’s sanctuary.  The judge withheld adjudication in the case.  The couple may not own, possess, support, cohabitate, feed or rescue cats.  They may not work or volunteer with an animal facility supporting any other animal rescue, reopen Haven Acres Rescue or its web site.  If animals are dumped on the couple’s property, they are to contact animal services.  The judge also imposed other animal ownership restrictions on the Lefkowitzes.

Alachua County Humane Society (ACHS) Executive Director Eric Van Ness said his agency, which placed nearly 300 of the seized cats into adoptive homes, was pleased to hear the terms of the plea, but offered clarification as to the relationship between the ACHS and the HSUS.

The ACHS and the HSUS are not related, Van Ness noted, adding that the ACHS is not a chapter or subsidiary or otherwise connected to the HSUS.

“The Alachua County Humane Society is a completely independent, non-government, private not for profit,” he said.

In an email, Van Ness said, “The restitution is to be paid over time to the Humane Society of the United States…the Alachua County Humane Society does not receive funds from HSUS and will not receive funds from the restitution.”

Van Ness said it is important for the public to know that the ACHS, a local organization working to end euthanasia in Alachua County, must fundraise to support its efforts and would not be the beneficiary of the court-ordered restitution.

Initiated by Alachua County Animal Services, the massive seizure of felines at Haven Acres occurred on June 7 and required the help of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the HSUS, which both took lead roles in the operation.

Of the original 697 cats taken from the sanctuary, more than 70 of the felines reportedly died or were euthanized after veterinary staff determined they were beyond treatment, he said.

The Lefkowitzes, whose eight-acre enclave at 21023 NW 168th Lane is surrounded by the City of High Springs, had used their property as a sanctuary for more than 400 cats and other animals since 2002.  The county’s permitting of the sanctuary resulted in a lawsuit filed several years ago by the City of High Springs.

The Lefkowitzes were granted a special exception for a private animal shelter in August 2007 by the Alachua Board of County Commissioners, to which the City of High Springs quickly filed an appeal, resulting in an ensuing lawsuit with the couple.

Many complaints had been made over the years by neighbors and High Springs city officials.

Neighbors complained of a strong odor emanating from the property.  For several years, city officials warned Alachua County officials that they worried the ‘sanctuary’ could be a public health threat.

City officials also expressed their concerns over the couple’s practice of burying deceased cats on their property.

Over the years, the living conditions of the cats had been reported as questionable by some.  The Lefkowitzes, however, refuted claims that the cats lived in unsanitary conditions, saying litter boxes were changed regularly and their cages were appropriate housing.

Officials conducting the seizure first believed the number of cats to total about 500.  By the second day of the seizure, the final tally was 697 felines.  That’s more than triple the 200 cat limit Haven Acres was permitted to keep by Alachua County. Add a comment Add a comment

6th Annual Mutts and Pups Dog Show

W_-_Mutts_Pups_DSC03225_copy  HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs rolled out the red carpet to dogs of all kinds on March 24.

Several hours of canine competition ranging from most unusual to best dressed to best kisses, brought laughter, applause and awards.

This year’s winners were: Most Unusual, Juno Jackson Romine, Long Leg Chihuahua; Best Dressed, Molly, Basset Hound (loves dressing for the holidays and seasons and is a rescue from West Virginia); Best Tricks, Cirioco, Havanese; Best Kisses, Stella, Boxer; Owner / Pet Look alike, J.T. Barber / Lucky the rat terrier (three years old, loves to chase squirrels and eat banana splits); Most Distinguished Senior, J Dog Dalmatian Mix; Too Cute for words, Dallis, Chihuahua; Most Beautiful, Yeller, Golden Mutt; Best of Show, Yeller, Golden Mutt.

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Sex shop changes name, seeks acceptance

Buzz2012 ALACHUA – Little more than an hour after City of Alachua commissioners unanimously voted Feb. 27 to deny an appeal by a would be sex shop seeking to locate in Alachua, company officials with the Ohio based Lion’s Den Adult Boutique presented the City with an alternative storefront model.

Doing business as Lion’s Den Adult Boutique, Alachua Retail 51, LLC sought to have the commission overturn a June 2011 decision by City Manager Traci Cain in which she denied a the company’s application for a Certificate of Land Development Regulations (LDR) Compliance.  During a Board of Adjustments hearing commissioners denied the company’s appeal, which aims to open a sexually-related business near the intersection of Interstate 75 and U.S. High 441 in the former Western Teepee building and Scultura.

Cain denied the certificate on the grounds that it failed to comply with Alachua’s Gateway Center ordinance, which the adult novelty retailer argues was only enacted to prevent their store from opening.

In a commission workshop scheduled after the Board of Adjustments hearing, company officials pitched a redesigned storefront to city officials in hopes of gaining approval.  Jeff Braswell, an attorney representing Lion’s Den, said the new store concept would be a way for both his client and the City of Alachua to avoid a potentially costly legal battle.

Among the changes being proposed as a set of conditions are, that in lieu of Lion’s Den, the front 25 percent of the store would be rebranded as M Passion, a newer concept used by the company.

Braswell likened the M Passion business model to that of Victoria Secret, featuring lingerie.  He called it a couple’s store adding, “We like to say, ‘they sell romance.’”

Though the redesigned concept would tone down the overt sexual nature of the store, the rear portion of it would still feature items typically found in an adult novelty store.  The two sections would be separated by a clerk’s counter and other visual distractions that company officials said would block exposure to more sexually explicit material.

Lion’s Den Vice President Michael Ulery said his company doesn’t “sell a lot of materials that are more controversial.”

In addition to a rebranded front end to the store, Lion’s Den officials propose landscaping and building upgrades to make the building more attractive.

“I can’t think of any business other than this that would be willing to invest this much money into the exterior and into the landscaping,” Braswell said.

No one under the age of 18 would be permitted in the store, no in-store viewing of materials would be permitted and there wouldn’t be any viewing booths.  The store would be under 24-hour surveillance and about 1,000 square feet of the building would only be available for storage space as a way to meet required building to parking ratios.

Commissioners did not comment on the proposal during the workshop.  The company has already filed suit against the City as a result of the earlier denial.  That lawsuit would presumably be settled were commissioners to reach an agreement with company officials on allowing some variation of the adult novelty store.

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Irby students design ‘Eagle Chair” for elementary art programs auction

Irby_Chair_IMG_1286_copyA selection of art chairs by local artists up for bid at Musican Chair Fundraiser.

GAINESVILLE – Gainesville may be primarily a college town, but from looking around the downtown area, it is also home to a number of artists.

Friends of Alachua County Public School Elementary Arts Programs (FAN of the Arts) hosted its 3rd annual Musical Chairs Project Fundraiser at the Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center on Friday, March 2.

Sue Johnson, Advisory Board member of FAN of the Arts, took 26 solid wood chairs donated by Lincoln Middle School, and distributed them amongst local artists who turned them into works of art for the fundraiser.

The finished chairs were put up for sale with a starting bid of $125 in the silent auction for the public to bid.  Funds raised will go toward keeping full-time arts programs in the county’s elementary schools.

Johnson, a retired art teacher, worked on three different chairs for the auction, and spread the word to other local artists to participate.

Johnson’s “Eagle Chair” was a collaborative piece, where she had second grade students from Alachua’s Irby Elementary draw their own version of their eagle mascot and incorporated those drawings in the painted chair.

Lori Swarthout, art teacher at Irby Elementary for 18 years, recently taught her students etching, which is how the second graders made their eagle drawings. Johnson used those, not only as inspiration for her chair, but also made a book with their original etchings in it to go along with her chair.

“Sue [Johnson] did a fantastic job with the chair, and seeing that not only her chair, but all the other chairs being bid on, just makes it all the more wonderful,” Swarthout said. “Without these contributions, we wouldn’t even have an art program here in Alachua County.”

One of the most talked about chairs of the night, “The Musical, Musical Chair” by local jewelry maker Peter Senesac, was a rustic looking chair with a series of buttons, that when pressed, played recordings by the artist.

“I used my own electronic recording of music I wrote myself, using an electronic circuit board that greeting cards with sound have,” Senesac said. “This was a great opportunity to challenge myself into doing something I wouldn’t normally do, and showcase my electronic music in a creative way and for a great cause.”

Another huge hit with the visitors and bidders, the “Mind Machine” chair, kept the artists Joshua and Jacob Kubisz consistently in conversation about how they created such a unique chair.

“When we first took the chair we wanted to give it this positive spin towards education,” Jacob Kubisz said. “This chair has a six-spoke gear, representing the number of hours in an average school day, a 24-spoke gear, representing the number of hours in a day, and when we turn these gears with the crank it activates a larger gear and a smaller gear and transfers to the other side and back around to the last gear which turns the dial.”

Joshua Kubisz said “It takes 40,000 turns, approximately two turns per second for your progress dial to go fully around. It sounds complicated, but it becomes a metaphor for the amount of hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in school.”

The chair consists not only of the sanded wood gears, but also laser etching in intricate lettering and design on the top of the chair, on the dial and underneath the chair.

The fundraiser showcased what the public contributions would be helping to save, as a small group of Charles W. Duvall Elementary art students sang a series of classic songs, and even showcased their trio of violin players in a short ensemble.

“I know for a fact that having an art program gives the children success in other subject areas,” Aliye Cullu, artist of the chair “In the Stillness – Meditation” said. “Using the right side of the brain stimulates the left side, and children become better in subjects like math and science.”

Cullu formerly taught art to students at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, Fla., and saw youngsters “bloom” as individuals under the art program.

Overall, the fundraiser was a success with all 26 chairs being sold to art-enthusiastic visitors.

The “Mind Machine” chair received the highest bid, ending in the final sale of $1,000, and Johnson’s “Magnolia” chair received the most bids of all.

According to Johnson, proceeds from the auction were estimated at $6,000, exceeding her original goal of $3,000.

“I enjoyed sharing time with people who not only believed that strong arts equal strong schools, but were willing to invest in that idea through the purchase of a chair,” Johnson said, grateful of Friday night’s turnout. “I think that it says so much about who we are as a community, and how we view the value of the arts for our children.”

All of the money raised Friday night will benefit and enhance the elementary art and music programs in Alachua County public schools.

For more information on FAN of the Arts and their cause, visit

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Rabies Alert

Buzz2012ALACHUA COUNTY, FL - Bronson and Archer: The Levy County Health Department and Alachua County Health Department have issued a rabies alert for the Forest Park and University Oaks area which is located in Levy County and near the Alachua County border in Archer. This is in response to a domestic dog that tested positive for rabies on February 23, 2012. Any citizens in this area that have had contact with a light brown American Bulldog or any stray domestic or wild animal are urged to contact the Health Department.

All citizens in Levy County and Alachua County should be aware that rabies is present in the wild animal population and domestic animals are at risk if not vaccinated. The public is asked to maintain a heightened awareness that rabies is active between Bronson and Archer areas north of SR 24 in Levy County and Alachua County. Alerts are designed to increase awareness to the public, but they should not give a false sense of security to areas that have not been named as under an alert.

The rabies alert is for 60 days. The center of the rabies alert is in the University Oaks area and includes the following area boundaries in Levy and Alachua County:

  • North of SR 24
  • East of SR 337 (NE 80th Ave)
  • South of SW 119th Avenue (Alachua County)
  • West of NE 130th Avenue

An animal with rabies could infect other wild animals or domestic animals that have not been vaccinated against rabies. All domestic animals should be vaccinated against rabies and all wildlife contact should be avoided, particularly raccoons, bats, foxes, skunks, otters, bobcats and coyotes. Rabies is a disease of the nervous system and is fatal to warm blooded animals and humans. The only treatment for human exposure to rabies is rabies specific immune globulin and rabies immunization. Appropriate treatment started soon after the exposure, will protect an exposed person from the disease.

The following advice is issued:

  • All pets should have current rabies immunizations.
  • Secure outside garbage in covered containers to avoid attracting wild animals.
  • Do not leave pet food outside. This also attracts other animals.
  • For questions regarding the health of an animal, contact a veterinarian.
  • Veterinarian staff and animal control staff should be alert for animals encountered with signs suspicious for rabies and use appropriate precautions, especially when working with unvaccinated animals.
  • Persons who have been bitten or scratched by wild or domestic animals should seek medical attention and report the injury to the local County Health Department.
  • Rabies is preventable when treatment is provided in a timely manner.
  • Avoid contact with all wildlife, especially raccoons, bats, and foxes.
  • No animal is too young to have rabies.
  • For general questions pertaining to animals, contact the Levy County Animal Services at 352-486-5138 or the Alachua County Animal Services at 352-264-6880.

For further information on rabies, go to the Florida Department of Health website:, or contact Levy County Health Department, Environmental Health office at 352-486-5301, or the Alachua County Health Department, Environmental Health office at 352-334-7930.

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