Dog’s Best Friend

The Animal Kingdom has a powerful advocate in Key Biscayner Alicia Aballi, founder of Born Free Shelter, an organization dedicated to helping abandoned dogs in South Florida find new homes.
Text by Luisana Suegart Photos by Antonio Eli | July 2, 2018 | People

Some say a real testament to how kind a human being is can be seen in how they treat their animals. If such is the case, Alicia Aballi may have a real heart of gold. In 1980, she and her husband founded Born Free Pet Shelter in Key Biscayne. What started as a shelter for a couple of stray dogs is now a 5-acre farm in The Redlands where more than 140 dogs are cared for as they await an adoptive family. “When we moved to South Florida from New York, I remember seeing many loose dogs around Crandon, some with skin conditions, broken bones and malnourishment,” Aballi recalls. “An animal lover since I was a 6-year-old little girl in Cuba, I took these dogs to a vet where they received the treatment they deserved. Then I took them in.”
Born Free Pet Shelter was created from those first rescues. Its growth prompted Aballi, now 81, to purchase the 5-acre refuge in The Redlands, a country club for dogs, so to speak, where she personally cares for the dogs. “I had 55 pens built, each measuring 20 feet by 60 feet, big enough for two dogs to live comfortably. When a dog is brought to the shelter, it’s given the finest veterinary care and cared for until we find it a good home.”
Currently the shelter isn’t taking any more dogs, as too many were coming in, and not enough were going out. Although she’s housing 140+ dogs, no sacrifice is too big considering Aballi’s love of animals. “The cost of animal care is covered by my own funds, and from donations we receive on weekends during our visits to PetSmart, where we encourage people to adopt.”
Aballi’s good will has earned her awards and recognition from the Veterinary Society and the county. But to her it doesn’t really matter. “Awards mean very little,” she says. “What means the most is seeing these dogs recuperate after coming in with an illness or disability; watching the recovery process is what’s rewarding.”

For more information on how you can support Born Free Pet Shelter, or if you are interested in adopting a pooch, call 305.903.6610 or visit