FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. - Nick DeSantis is known as the "Dogfather of Flagler County." He says he is simply a servant to the lost paws of this world, adding that rescue dogs are the greatest gift that God ever gave us.
His bedroom is plastered with pictures of all the dogs he's rescued. He even tried to buy a figurine that looked like every dog he saved, but he ran out of room on his dresser. Over the past 11 years, DeSantis says he has rescued thousands of dogs, keeping about 20 of the rescued as his own pet.
"I've met many people I don't like, but I've never met a dog I didn't like!" he says.
Out of all the dogs he's owned none touched his heart like "Riley," a St. Bernard. DeSantis was in a terrible car accident and spend six months in the hospital. Riley became his reason for living. He says he couldn't walk. At times, he would be in bed for two to three days because of his back. Riley would make him get up and go for a walk. Riley also loved to go to the beach, DeSantis says. In fact, having Riley is how he got his nickname.
DeSantis says everybody got to know Riley because he was so big. People would say, as DeSantis explained, "Oh that's Riley. Who is that with him? Oh, that's the dog's father." Hence, the name Dogfather.
When Riley died in 2015, DeSantis decided to dedicate his life to finding loving homes for rescue dogs. "My purpose for doing this is for Riley. I do everything in his name."
DeSantis volunteers for several rescue groups in Central Florida including Wanda Cares Rescue in Citra. Wanda Lasher is the owner. She says whenever she needs anything, DeSantis is always there. "He is kind of like a dog whisperer. All dogs get along with him," says Lasher.
DeSantis goes and picks up dogs in other states and brings them to Florida to be adopted, or he takes dogs from here in Florida to other states where a loving home is waiting for them. Lasher says, "We'll rescue dogs from Georgia, our county, neighboring counties – you can call him, and he'll go pick the dogs up, bring them to you."
DeSantis says he has traveled as far away as Minnesota, Colorado, and California to rescue dogs. He also dog sits, trains dogs, and takes dogs to the veterinarian for seniors who can't leave their homes, all without asking for a dime. He says he can't afford it, but he manages, while also managing to change lives – four paws at a time.