W - HS Community Cleaning the tile

Volunteers cleaning tile. The makeover of the historic building took a little over a month to finish.

HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs Woman’s Club building has a fresh coat of paint.

Renovations to the inside of the historic New Century’s Woman’s Club building in High Springs are finished, after beginning July 10. The work was done by organization members with aid from spouses. Together, they logged in 693 volunteer hours to complete the project just in time to host their first event in the revamped building.

High Springs Chamber of Commerce members were the first invited guests as the Woman’s Club hosted the Tuesday, Aug. 13 chamber meeting in their light and airy building. In honor of the special event, chamber members were treated to a light dinner, dessert and drinks on the round tables.

“It was a labor of love,” said Carole Tate, Woman’s Club spokesperson, referring to both the chamber dinner and the renovation project.

Woman’s Club members earned money through several fund-raising projects, and made monetary contributions of their own to help pay for items needed to complete the renovation project. Events like Pioneer Days and city-wide yard sales helped raise the funds, Tate said. “We have been saving up to do this work for some time. It was at the very top of our list of items we wanted to address,” she said.

As an example of the work that had to be done as part of the renovation, “11 volunteers scraped carpet and two layers of tile off of the floor. Jack Phillips planned the restoration, ordered all the materials, did the repairs to the ceiling, walls and wood trim and built the alcove shelving,” Tate said. “He has been a tile-setter for 50 years, and with the help of G. Cox, Tony Sellmen, Ernie Adkins and Toby Pugh, Jack set all our wood grain floor tiles in a herringbone pattern. He and his wife, Windy Phillips, spray painted the walls and ceiling, and Windy painted the doors, moldings and other surfaces. They used all original wood for the repairs to the walls and trim as well,” she said. “This renovation project would not have been possible without Jack Phillips.”

The 1925 building now has a new lease on life, Tate said. The Woman’s Club plans to host a Brunch Membership Drive Sept. 5 at 10 a.m. Anyone interested in finding out more about the 55-member club and the many services they provide locally, nationally and internationally are invited to attend.

An open house is also planned for Sept. 15, from 1-3 p.m. “People can stop in for a visit and see the newly renovated building,” Tate said. “It is a great opportunity for our members to show off all their hard work and invite people to see the lovely, updated building,” she said.

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W - Toby

Toby the horse is just a little over two months old. He had to have surgery due to intestinal blockage.

HIGH SPRINGS – Toby, the 2-month-old horse, had an appetite too big for his stomach.

Toby, a young American miniature palomino, owned by Debbie and Jorge Garcia-Bengochea of Gentle Carousel Horse Therapy in High Springs, underwent surgery in Newberry two weeks ago for an intestinal blockage caused by eating hay. This type of problem is the number one cause of medical deaths in horses according to the owners.

“Toby is doing well at the moment,” said Newberry veterinarian Erica Lacher, of the Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic. “He is recovering from surgery and his prognosis is good, but there is always the possibility of complications in a case like this.” Toby has to make it through the next year before Lacher will say he is out of the woods.

“Toby, like all young horses, wants to buck and kick,” said owner Debbie Garcia-Bengochea. “We can’t allow him to do that for the next 30 days to give his sutures time to heal.” After that, he will gradually be allowed some controlled exercise, Lacher said. His owner agrees. “It is difficult to not let a baby act like a baby,” she said.

Lacher is the heroin of this story, Garcia-Bengochea said. “She was very creative in resolving this problem. She brought in Bridget Bourke, DVM, also from Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic, to handle anesthesiology, and Lance Baltzley, DVM, from Newberry Animal Hospital, to work with her on the surgery and also provide his operating room for the procedure.”

“She has been an amazing veterinarian,” said Garcia-Bengochea. “What she did was to make it affordable for us to have the surgery performed.”

Toby was 52 lbs. when he was weighed before surgery, which is the size of an average dog. “I contacted the University of Florida to see what it would cost to do surgery there, and heard a price of $5,000-$7,000. That would have annihilated their budget for the year. Because of Toby’s size and the cooperation and coordination with Dr. Baltzley, we were able to perform the procedure for $2,000-$3,000 in his operating room,” said Lacher.

Surgery at the university would have been cost prohibitive, said Toby’s owner. “They were able to use drugs on Toby, because of his size, which could never have been used on a full-grown normal horse. We really wanted to save this horse,” she said.

Toby was named by children from Oklahoma after their hometown hero, Toby Keith, because he was born the day a second tornado hit the state June 5. “We just couldn’t let them have another loss after all those people have been through,” she said. “Those kids wrote us about how concerned they were for Toby. We just couldn’t let them down without a fight,” she said.

The little horse had a blockage in the small colon, which is at the very end of the GI tract in horses, Lacher said. “For some reason, mini horses seem to be more susceptible to this problem,” she said. “It appears he ingested some of his mother’s food.”

The surgery took about 60-90 minutes to perform. “Normally horses wake up after surgery in a padded room,” Lacher said. Because of his small size, Toby woke up after about an hour, raised his head, and they helped him to his feet.

Before surgery, Lacher characterized Toby as somewhat placid. After surgery, she said he behaved like a big dog, following people around. “He’s just got a fantastic personality and it really shows. He wants to crawl into your lap,” his owner said. “He has a very healthy self-esteem.”

In addition, the miniature horse with four white socks and white face has the unusual characteristic of having each eye with a brown and a blue pigment.

Lacher said because of the amount of Facebook hits, which were more than 3,600 on her hospital site alone, she had to make sure to report every day on her site about Toby’s condition.

“When you’re doing surgery, you are just doing your job. You always want your patients to do well. But when you get done and all of a sudden you start getting emails and Facebook posts from all over the world, you know your patient just has to do well,” she said.

Right now, Toby is back at home with his mother, Princess, and is being monitored daily. His mother was with him at the hospital and during early recovery as well. His mother is on a diet with special food and vitamins while Toby’s surgery is healing. “We don’t want to take a chance he will get into hay again,” Lacher said. After 30 days, a small amount of an easily-digestible type of hay will be added to his diet to see how he handles it. If he does well, they will gradually add more. They will also start increasing his exercise.

Lacher is appreciative of Newberry vet Lance Baltzley’s help on this case. “It normally takes massive amounts of equipment to do surgery on horses. They are not made like dogs and cats,” she said. “Because of Toby’s size, and the equipment and facilities he made available for this surgery, we were able to perform this particular surgical procedure,” she said.

Eventually, Toby will become a therapy horse and visit children in hospital settings. Lacher said they tried to be relatively conscientious with photos during Toby’s procedure and recovery so those photos could be shown to children in hospitals when Toby goes to visit. “That way they can see he went through the same types of things they are going through,” she said.

Mini horses are pretty impressive, Lacher said. It’s not uncommon for them to live up to their late 20s and into their 30s.

“I have known a few that have lived up into their 40s, she said.”

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GAINESVILLE – The Alachua County Commission has expanded protections for sexual orientation in the county.

Last week, the commission approved an amendment to its human rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The amendment applies to the whole county, but cities have the option of opting out or writing their own ordinance. Cities can also opt out of specific portions of the ordinance, rather than accepting or rejecting it in its entirety.

“We’ve gotten overwhelmingly positive feedback,” said Jacqueline Chung, manager of the county’s Equal Opportunity Office. “In my opinion, it’s long overdue.”

The amendment will go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, making sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes. It is meant to protect against workplace harassment and allows transgender peoples to use the restroom or locker facility of the gender they identify with.

Previously, companies with fewer than 15 employees were exempt from the ordinance. The amendment changed the threshold to five. Religious groups and private membership organizations are also exempt.

The amendment passed with a 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Susan Baird, opposing the amendment, not voting.

“I have three problems with it,” Baird said. First, Baird suggested allowing the cities to opt in to the ordinance rather than opt out. Second, she opposed changing the employee threshold from 15 to five, which she said creates a huge burden on small companies. Third, she wanted to only allow transgendered individuals who have completed surgery to be able to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. Baird said she did not oppose the general goal of the amendment.

No city official in the county has indicated any plan to opt out of the ordinance, though there are some who have expressed issues with it.

Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad said the amendment is controversial, although Chung said the county has received no bad feedback other than some posts on the Alachua County Facebook page.

“It’s kind of a morality issue,” Conrad said. “I’m a Christian. I believe that you’re born with the gender God gave you. A surgeon can’t change it.”

Conrad said he plans to talk to the community in Newberry to gauge public opinion, but he expects the reaction will be negative.  

“I don’t think there’s any need for any change. It’s a box I’d like to not open,” he said. “We’re happy with the status quo.”

Despite Conrad’s opposition, Newberry’s city manager, Keith Ashby, said the city has had no discussion of opting out.

Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper said he has no problem with adding protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, so long as each individual city is able to make its own decision on the matter.

High Springs Mayor Sue Weller said she supported the idea of the amendment, though she hasn’t read enough to comment further.

Support for the ordinance has been widespread, Chung said. Several have sent emails to the commissioners, and the public reaction at the meeting where the amendment was approved was one of jubilance and cheers.

“I’m very proud of the commission for moving forward to approve the amendment,” she said. “In Alachua County, it doesn’t matter whether you’re heterosexual or LGBT, you now have rights to protection against harassment.”

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ALACHUA – It was originally created by accident in the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator in Alachua, but it helps farmers save water and make their jobs easier.

EigenChem Technologies, a resident company of the incubator, has developed a fertilizer made from recycled rubber enriched with nitrogen. Unlike conventional fertilizer which needs to be applied two or three times a year, this fertilizer, called NTireForm, only needs to be applied once every year.

“Chemically speaking, it’s a very simple technology,” said Alexander Oliferenko, chief science officer for EigenChem.

It has two benefits over regular fertilizer, he said. First, it is more efficient. The nitrogen infused in it can be released slowly and evenly, meaning it doesn’t have to be applied to the soil repeatedly.

“You apply it once and save on labor,” Oliferenko said.

The rubber starts to swell in the rain releasing the nitrogen, becoming a soft, spongy material. It also acts as a water reservoir, soaking up the rainwater.

“You have backup generators for electricity, this is a backup supply for water,” he said. “It is a very useful agricultural product.”  

NTireForm can also have an application in the world of sports, he said. It can be used to help protect and maintain football fields and golf courses, for instance.

The fertilizer is created by a short, patent-pending chemical process. Tiny shreds of rubber are put into a reactor with 50 percent ammonia and 50 percent of another abundant compound derived from natural gas. It is infused with nitrogen, which makes up 80 percent of the final material in the form of crystals embedded in the rubber.

The federally funded Small Business Innovation Research program awarded EigenChem a $150,000 grant in May of this year for its work on NTireForm, which will last for six months. EigenChem is going to apply for phase two of the grant, which will award them $750,000 over two years.

The endgame of the project is to get the fertilizer in the hands of farmers.

“We’re not just an academic lab,” Oliferenko said. “Getting it on the market is the ultimate goal.”

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W - Little prince with teddy

Little Prince's hooves are the size of quarters, his owner says.  When people first saw the picture of him, they thought he was a child's stuffed animal.

HIGH SPRINGS – On July 22, 2013, the same day the new prince was born in the U.K., an unusual pure white colt with blue eyes was born at the ranch headquarters of Gentle Carousel Therapy Horses in High Springs. “Both births were overdue,” said owner Debbie Garcia-Bengochea. “When I checked on the time difference in England, both were born at about the same time as well,” she said.

“Because Liberty, the colt’s mother, was overdue, we weren’t expecting a baby as tiny as this. He was 14 inches tall at the shoulders and weighed only 10 pounds at birth. The average miniature horse foals are 20 to 22 inches at the shoulders at birth,” she said. “Our horses are much smaller than the average miniature horse.”

“He is totally healthy and doing great,” she said. The horse’s mother is also pure white, which is called a silver-black sabino. “It is a type of pinto, but without spots,” she said. “We have lab testing done on all our horses so we know what colors they carry. He is definitely not an albino.”

With all the media attention on the new British prince, it was surprising that the little white colt was seen by over 1 million people around the world on Facebook on Aug. 6. “Two different equine-related sites picked up the photo and between the two they received 1 million hits that day,” Garcia-Bengochea said. In addition, Google sent them a note recently saying they love their website. “We have stayed at number one in their search engine for the past two years with no advertising dollars. Just go to the Google search engine and type in ‘Therapy Horses’ and our site comes up,” she said.

“We subsequently received more than 10,000 name ideas from all over the world,” she said. “Who knew there were so many white horses in legends and books in different languages?”

People from France suggested he be named after the author of the book, “The Little Prince.” Because of his blue eyes, Native American names were also suggested. People in Europe wanted names that had to do with the royal family. Many people in the U.S. thought he looked like the Lone Ranger's horse, Silver.

“We finally registered his official name as Silver Sovereign. His barn name is the Little Prince,” she said.

Photos on their Facebook site of her husband, Jorge, holding the tiny horse led people to believe they had developed a tiny stuffed toy horse and the couple received orders for the toy from all over the world. “Although he looks like a little toy right now, he will eventually work inside children’s hospitals and hospice programs,” Garcia-Bengochea said.

“We expect he will grow to probably 22 inches, full grown,” she said. “Right now he walks around the house and I can hear his tiny feet on the floor as he prances around.” His feet are currently the size of quarters, she said.

“We try to expose our horses to as many different sights, sounds, noises and smells as possible during the first 24 hours,” she said. “He does not stay in the house, but we wanted to expose him to it as soon as we could so he wouldn’t be afraid of the different surface under him. We work with our horses to make it so they are not scared by sirens, unusual noises, wheelchairs, elevators and hospital smells,” she said.

During the training process, the couple takes their new babies, along with their mothers, to UF Health Shands Rehab Hospital on Northwest 39th Avenue in Gainesville. They get used to being around wheelchairs and medical equipment.

“The patients, mostly spinal cord and burn injury sufferers, love it…especially when the horses are little babies,” she said. “The patients feel like they are giving back by helping to get these little guys trained.”

The Little Prince will start training at the facility around the first of September. Everything they do at this stage also includes the foal’s mother. “We use the building’s elevators to help get the horses used to things moving under them. Most hospitals we go to have elevators and often the elevators are full of people. The horses have to be unafraid and understand how to behave in an elevator full of people,” she said.

The younger the horse is when training begins, the easier it is for them to get comfortable with everything that is normally very “unhorse like.” “We are being the herd leader so they trust us and feel we’re in charge and they won’t get hurt,” she said. Handling the horses from the time they are born has made a very big difference in their ability to accept the myriad of different things they will be exposed to in a hospital setting.

“Ambulance sounds, bumping into wheelchairs, medical smells, cleaning products, walking on different floor surfaces and being confined in an elevator which is moving under them would all be very confusing to a grown horse not previously exposed to these sights and smells,” Garcia-Bengochea said. “Our training program lasts about two years. The babies are weaned at about 4 months old. We keep them with their mothers in the first stages of training to help them feel more secure.”

The Little Prince’s first exposure to the public will be at the Oleno State Park’s Literacy Festival in September. “Both he and his mom will appear at the beginning of the event at his first meet and greet,” she said. He will not stay through the event. “We try to introduce them to different things gradually, so they feel comfortable,” she said.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs has received a letter demanding $56,200 for infrastructure installed for a local development.

It is the amount of money the city would have received from the developer of the Oak Ridge subdivision from impact fees, the fees the city charges developers in order to pay for the improvement of utilities. The demand letter from Capital City Bank is being made based on a 2005 agreement between the city and two other entities, High Springs Hills and Northend Homeland, LLC.

Lee Holloway, vice president of High Springs Hills and owner of LDM Construction, reportedly agreed to build infrastructure improvements for his proposed 220-property subdivision in place of paying the impact fees.

The letter claims the amount of money due is for properties developed during the impact fee moratorium at a rate of $2,960 per property for 20 of the properties. The letter claims that because the infrastructure improvements accommodate 20 more properties than they needed to, the city owes them for those properties.

According to city sources, the subdivision owner went bankrupt and Capital City Bank took it over and now assumes they have the developer’s agreement rights. City Manager Ed Booth disagrees. “The city made an agreement with Lee Holloway. That doesn’t mean we have an agreement with the bank,” he said. “How an agreement we made with one developer, who is no longer in business, transfers to a bank is a mystery to me,” said Booth.

“I think this is outrageous,” he said.

“A larger lift station was required to accommodate construction of 220 new homes in what is now Oak Ridge subdivision. We agreed not to charge the developer for impact fees if he built a larger lift station to accommodate his construction project,” he said. “The bank is assuming the agreement is now with them and we now owe them for reimbursement of those fees, which I believe is incorrect.” A lift station pumps liquid from one place to another.  

“It appears the developers want it both ways. They ask for a moratorium and now want to turn it around and take advantage of the city because we gave them the moratorium they requested,” he said. I’m not going to let developers take advantage of our city. Development should pay for itself and should not be paid for on the backs of the citizens,” he said.

Asked how he will respond to the demand letter, Booth said, “I will deal with the president of the bank on that matter.”

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W - Water dogs

The Warriors division of Irish Water Dogs takes North Florida veterans on nature excursions.

HIGH SPRINGS – Tony St. Angelo, currently in his mid-30s, joined the U.S. Army in 2004, working at Arlington National Cemetery. Even though he never saw combat, he still had personal battles to fight.

“Everybody individually has their issues,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be combat-related.”

St. Angelo said he’s gone through dark times, but asked not to be more specific than that.

For him, his healing came in the form of a program he learned about at the Gainesville Veteran’s Hospital.

Irish Water Dogs Warriors was started about three years ago in Jacksonville, Fla. The program takes veterans on a trip to nature the first Sunday of every month.

“Being on the water is incredibly healing,” said David McDaid, founder of the program. “I’ve seen miracle transformations with this program.”

Veterans who were physically or mentally injured on or off the battlefield and veterans who just want to enjoy a day on the Santa Fe River show up. Current and former service members fighting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction or dealing with bodily damage go kayaking, fishing, hiking, snorkeling or spend the day shooting nature films and snapping photos.

After five months of running the High Springs chapter from Jacksonville, the organization opened a headquarters in Alachua County in January.

McDaid started the Irish Water Dogs about seven years ago as a commercial venture for outdoor. When he decided to use his network to help veterans, he set up the first chapter of the nonprofit Warriors division in Jacksonville. Soon after, they expanded to Tampa, Miami, South Carolina, Virginia and Idaho. Now, there are 16 chapters spread across nine states. Across the country, the Irish Water Dog Warriors takes out between 1,100 to 1,200 vets each month.

“Each chapter focuses on something that is unique to the geography,” McDaid said. For High Springs, the rivers and springs are the heart of the activities.

In the morning when the vets arrive, they are unsure about the day, he said.

“We ask them what they want to do that day,” McDaid said. “If they want to go fishing, we buy them bait. By the end of the day, you can see the transformation. It’s high fives and fist bumps.”

People of all ages have come for the outings, he said. “We have guys in the program that are 19 and 20, all the way through vets from Vietnam and Korea. We even have one that is 89 years old. He’s a World War II vet.”

When Tony St. Angelo started participating in the program about five months ago, he was able to finally branch out into a passion he’d had for a long time. He was interested in nature videography, and said he always had a dream of being a National Geographic videographer. McDaid said he got him a camera and a waterproof bag to take with him on the excursions.

“I’ve made tremendous progress,” St. Angelo said about his videography techniques.  

Being on the water has helped him learn to enjoy what life has to offer, he said, helping him through personal problems.

McDaid has seen similar progress among others.

“Being outdoors has consumed them,” he said. “To find something that consumes them that is not anguish or hurt is an incredible thing.”

Each chapter of Irish Water Dogs Warriors is sustained largely by that community, and individuals or businesses can donate or sponsor their chapter, McDaid said.

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