SEBRING - When Highlands County resident Maggie Bobe arrived at the Highlands County Animal Control on the day before Christmas this year, the clock was ticking.
Seven dogs were scheduled to be euthanized at 4 p.m. that day to make way for other abandoned or stray animals caught by animal control officers.
Bobe, using her cell phone and with the help of others posting information on Facebook, found homes for six of the dogs, she recalled. At that point, she had less than 10 minutes to find a home for the seventh.
Around that time, Eileen Keenan, a Cape Coral resident, saw the postings on Facebook and was horrified at the thought that one of those dogs might not live to see Christmas.
She called Bobe and offered to adopt any one of the dogs.
"When I called that day I was in tears," she said.
As a result of that call, Bobe succeeded in rescuing the seventh dog, Duke, a black mouth cur, who is now with Keenan. Duke would have been euthanized within five minutes, she said.
The rescue of Keenan and the six other dogs wasn't the first by a group named the Sebring angels. During the last three years, they've saved almost 2,000 dogs and cats at Highlands County Animals Control, said June Wilson, who is an administrator on the Facebook page, Sebring, FL Urgents.
Darryl Scott, animal control director, said the group is instrumental in reducing the number of animals being euthanized.
Efforts by Animals Control to publicize the fact that animals can be adopted and the work of the group "have had a great effect over the euthanization rate," Scott said.
"We can only hold animals for so long," Scott said. They don't have the room to house the animals for the long term and at the same time take in new ones, he said.
Statistics that Wilson received from Animals Control show the number of cats euthanized dropped from 3,010 from 2010-2011 to 2,150 from 2011-2012 and 1,650 from 2012-2013.
For dogs, the numbers dropped from 837 in 2010 to 617 in 2011 and to 582 in 2013.
The Sebring Angels that have helped Scott and his operation got started after a Fort Myers woman, Kate Flanigan,saw a posting about an animal at Highlands County Animals Control and adopted it.
Wilson said the Facebook page, which has more than 4,000 followers, typically includes photos of animals in danger of being euthanized.
Wilson, like many of the people who support the effort in some way, such as by committing to pay for adoptions, fostering animals, delivering dogs and cats to those who will adopt them or adding to the web site, don't live in Highlands County.
They've had people from as far away as Connecticut agree to pay for adoptions in Highlands County, said Wilson, who lives in Port Richey.
Bobe became involved with the network after her daughter sent her a link to the page. She said she had recently lost her Chihuahua and saw one on the page that was in danger of being euthanized.
"I couldn't sleep that night because I saw that Chihuahua," she said.
Bobe said she traveled to the shelter and rescued that dog.
On Tuesday, Bobe met Karen Jackson, who has run a lab rescue operation. Jackson traveled to the Animal Control from near Clearwater to get three dog that will be taken to no-kill shelters in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.
But several animals remained in danger of being euthanized by New Year's Day.
Although the work continues endlessly, Bobe and others take comfort in saving all the animals scheduled to be euthanized Christmas eve.
Keenan said Duke, the black mouth cur delivered to her, is a wonderful dog to have in her house.
"Every time I look at him, I remember how close he cam to being put down," she said. "He got a Christmas miracle for sure. They( the six other dogs facing euthanization) all did."