Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on nonprofit organizations that improve Santa Rosa County residents’ quality of life.
MILTON — Help Four Paws, Inc. is a local non-profit organization that saves animals by taking them to approved 501(c)3 rescue groups who are willing to save them.
Volunteers run the organization under the direction of Marcia “Sue” Bruce, the director and transport coordinator.
Every Saturday volunteers transport local dogs and cats from shelters in Chipley to Tallahassee, Tallahassee to Lake City, and from Lake City to Wildwood.
Shelters euthanize 1.5 million of the 6.5 million companion animals that enter shelters — 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats — each year in the United States, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Chipley has a small rural shelter that serves 3 counties and has to euthanize due to space; that's why the transport team helps them.
The group has raised approximately $2,800 of its $5,000 goal on a Go Fund Me page set up in November 2016. HFP purchased a second transport van, as well as covering the costs of fuel, maintenance and insurance with the money it raised.
“Our transport has been helping shelters since 2009 and I'm proud to say that we saved 1,099 animals in 2016,” Bruce said. “We work with several rescues in our immediate area — Melanie Hawkey with Navarre Wags and Whiskers, Frankie Van Horn Harris with Pensacola Junior Humane Society and several others.”
Help Four Paws offers courtesy rides to other transport groups when needed for a small donation for fuel cost, according to Bruce.
The organization also works with the Escambia County Animal Shelter and Compassionate Animal Rescue Team in DeFuniak Springs. A group of volunteers regularly monitor the Chipley shelter, waiting for the time when transport is necessary.
“A volunteer comes once a week and takes pictures of all the dogs, and then goes to the library and uploads all of them on Pet Finder,” Bruce said. “Then I send out the links to at least two-dozen various rescues that we work with and see who's willing to take what dogs. Next, I send out the notice to ask for transport help and work the transport legs around which dogs need to go where.”
Before retiring and moving to Milton, Bruce was a regional coordinator with Boston Terrier Rescue of East Tennessee from 2009 to 2016; she then established the rescue’s Florida division.
In 2014, Chipley’s Angels Rescue Team joined forces with Help Four Paws, and in 2017 they became one non-profit entity.
Along with their regular duties, the group also advocates ways to lessen the number of animals killed each year in shelters, which includes spaying and neutering pets and avoiding breeding.
"Spaying and neutering helps reduce the number of strays and unwanted animals in a community and that tremendously affects the number of animals that end up in the local shelters,” Bruce said. “If people adopt from animal shelters instead of buying from breeders (puppy mill and backyard), it could tremendously affect the financial burden these stray and abandoned animals have on the counties.
“The dogs in shelters have only a short time before the possibility of being euthanized due to lack of space, so if more folks adopt from their local shelters, more lives could be saved.”
Visit www.gofundme.com/transport-team-needs-your-help to donate to Help Four Paws to assist in funding rescues.
Editor's note: This article has been updated for clarification.