Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on nonprofit organizations that improve Santa Rosa County residents’ quality of life.

PACE — Girl Scout Troop 25, which includes six eighth-grade students from Pace and Gulf Breeze, has worked more than a year to complete their Silver Award project to benefit Santa Rosa County Animal Services.

To complete construction of a dog agility course for the animal group, the scouts used their school holiday of Presidents’ Day to build the equipment and Good Friday to install it. 

Animal Services converted one of the fenced-in areas behind the shelter to an exercise yard for the dogs, and the Cadettes — the term for Girl Scouts in middle school — installed the equipment

Sydney Dodson, 13; Alyssa Pascoe, 14; Nadia Palag, 14; Lonni Moorer, 13; and Taylor Murphy, 14, worked on the project. Sarah King, 14, also helped but moved to Atlanta before the installation. She still will receive her  Silver Award.

To be eligible for the Silver Award, the highest award a Cadette can earn, requires each member to contribute at least 50 hours toward the project, according to troop leaders Karin Garvin and Kelly Bowling.

Conception to construction

Garvin said the troop brainstormed before deciding on the project.

“Originally, they wanted to make dog beds for the animal shelter since they helped with a dog bed built for the Escambia shelter in January 2016, but Santa Rosa County already had someone providing beds to their shelter,” Garvin said. “The troop met with Dora Thomason, the supervisor for Animal Services, (in the) spring of 2016 and asked what they needed.

“Ms. Thomason said they needed somewhere to exercise the dogs, and the idea was born.”

The troop met with Mary Owens, Service Dog University’s director of training, in September 2016 to discuss various pieces of equipment and safety concerns for the dogs.

Each Cadette researched a specific piece of equipment she wanted to build and drafted a sketch with instructions and materials.

The girls met with Jim Dodson (Sydney’s father), who reviewed each draft and discussed design and material changes, according to Garvin.

They cut wood and PVC pipe to construct each piece of equipment. Jim Dodson, Brian Pascoe (Alyssa’s father) and Charlie Garvin (Garvin’s father) also trained the girls to use power tools.

‘Adopt, don't shop'

Stores that donated to the project included Lowes in Pace; Home Depot in Pace; Hall’s Hardware in Milton; Ace Hardware in Gulf Breeze; Lowe’s in Gulf Breeze; and Home Depot in Pensacola. 

Cadettes provided a detailed proposal to each store.

So, what are the benefits of the new facility?

Thomason told the scouts that people who saw dogs using exercise and agility equipment would realize the dogs are trainable, enjoy taking instruction and are more likely to be obedient, according to Garvin.

“She also indicated that dogs that use the equipment will get more exercise and will be more content,” Garvin said, “and that personality trait would make them more likely to be adopted.”

Santa Rosa Animal Services is accepting applications for volunteers to walk the animals and work with dogs on the new agility course. It also needs food donations.

According to Thomason, more animals come to the shelter in the spring and summer. With their Partners for Pets program, they can receive funding for rabies vaccines and spay-neuter procedures, making the adoption fee $45.

“Adopt, don’t shop,” Thomason said. “Most of the time when these animals are in here, it’s situationald. They’re not misfits. They need socialization and training.

“Love and care; that’s what they need.”