HOLMES COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) – Tucked away off a long dirt road in Bonifay is a 30-acre farm home to The Lucky Puppy Rescue.

Terri Mattson founded the non-profit 15 years ago.

“They call me Momma T, so I’m the dog momma,” said Mattson.

Spend just a short time on the farm and you’ll understand why. She knows each dog’s name and their story. She treats each of them as if they were her own. She also doesn’t hesitate to help a nursing dog feed her puppies.

“I feel so much for the mommas,” said Mattson. “They’re helpless. They have 10 babies to care for and no one to care for them so I step in to care for them and their pups.”

It’s not unusual for Mattson to spend the night on the floor next to a nursing pup to make sure puppies are fed and healthy.

Her mission is giving dogs, who others gave up on, a second chance. But her biggest priority? Prevention.

“Preventing more litters when we already don’t have enough homes for the litters that are here,” said Mattson.

Every dog that passes through Lucky Puppy is spayed or neutered. She said she’ll even help the community spay theirs.

“If you have a dog that needs fixed and you need an appointment, call me!”

When that phone rings with requests to take in a pregnant dog, she tries her hardest to say yes.
“If I can’t, I say no, and try not to think about it and pray someone else says yes.”

The farm may look large, but the rescue is at capacity with the most dogs they’ve had in their 15-year history.

“We’re just under 250.”

Currently, the rescue has eight dogs each nursing a litter of puppies. There’s a variety of middle-aged and senior dogs, and several puppies.

“To be honest, we’re stopping on our growth in Florida, I can’t keep up here,” said Mattson. “So what our goal is for the future is to build some of these same containers, here in New York.”

Scattered throughout the farm are heated and cooled shipping containers. It’s become a creative but functional way to house dog kennels or shelter for the dogs.

“If we can duplicate some of the things we’ve built here and take it up North, then it will speed up the process here and we won’t have so many dogs here.”

Three years ago, Mattson opened up an adoption center in upstate New York. The nearly six-acre farm houses ready-to-be-adopted pups from the Lucky Puppy Rescue in Bonifay.

“The Northeast isn’t overpopulated, because those people spay and neuter. They dont get rid of them when they’re teenagers, so we have an open market per say that want dogs.”

Expanding the farm in New York would mean a shorter stay for dogs at the rescue in Florida, and ultimately, more dogs in forever homes.

“I might have 60 dogs in Florida ready for adoption, but only kennels for 25 in New York,” said Mattson. “So the dogs get stuck here [in Bonifay] waiting.”

Mattson drives the dogs to New York in a big white bus herself about twice a month.

“It’s been a fabulous opportunity to get dogs adopted.”

Mattson could then focus more on pregnant dogs at the rescue in Bonifay and make an impact on overpopulation from the very beginning.

“They take a lot of time because to raise a litter is three or four months,” said Mattson. “It’s a great length of time to occupy my space. But the reason I think it can make the biggest impact is because I can raise these puppies properly.” Mattson said she can socialize them, keep them healthy, and then hand them off as a well-adjusted puppy to be in a family.

At Lucky Puppy Rescue, care for their dogs goes beyond food and shelter. Dogs get the chance to roam the farm and go on pack walks. It’s a way to socialize and teach them manners so they have a better chance at getting adopted.

“We teach them not to jump. We teach them to walk on a leash.”

Her work in animal rescue is never-ending and often overwhelming. She doesn’t take time off and she doesn’t go on vacation.

“But don’t feel sorry for me, because I enjoy it,” said Mattson. “I would like it to be less than it is. I would honestly like it to be less than what it is. But, it is my purpose. So when I get up in the morning that’s what I go do.

It’s a purpose that’s morphed into a passion.

“I’ll fight you over messing with a dog,” said Mattson. “There’s a lot of passion there for sure.”

While she pays a small staff to help out, she doesn’t collect a salary. She also relies heavily on volunteers. Hurricane Michael and COVID-19 made things only harder.

“Some of our volunteers and staff moved away because they lost housing and then some of our usual support was gone,” said Mattson. “We’re begging for money and begging for money just like everyone else is.”

The non-profit relies solely on community donations and fundraisers to keep its operation running.

They have their largest fundraiser on Saturday, March 11. The 11th annual Spayghetti with No Balls Luncheon will be held at The Barn at Wicked Wheel in Panama City Beach from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Lunch costs $10 for adults and $5 for children. It will be served from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. A Wish List item to help support the rescue is also requested.

Wish List items include:

  • Bleach (regular)
  • Dawn Dishwashing Liquid
  • Laundry Detergent (HE)
  • Baby Food (i.e., Gerber Chicken Jar)
  • Rescue Cleaner
  • K9 Power Puppy Supplement
  • Puppy Pads (We like the washable kind)
  • Goat Milk
  • Purina One Wet/Dry Dog Food
  • Disposable Plastic Gloves
  • Purina One Wet/Dry Puppy Food
  • Linens (New or Used)

Besides lunch, there will be a silent auction and raffle from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

If you’re interested in adopting a dog, you can find details and an application here.