MILTON — In a study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals published in Open Journal of Animal Sciences, the ASPCA estimates more than 1 million households give up their pets due to financial issues every year. A HOPE for Santa Rosa County founder Brandi Winkleman seeks to reduce those numbers locally.

Respondents answering an ASPCA study were asked what could have helped them keep their pets and they cited the following reasons:

    Free or low-cost veterinary care - 40 percent     Low-cost training or behavioral help - 34 percent     Pet-friendly housing - 33 percent     Low-cost spay/neuter - 30 percent     Low-cost pet food - 30 percent     Low-cost temporary pet care or boarding - 30 percent     Help paying pet deposits - 17 percent The ASPCA study found a stark difference between those making over $50,000 and those making less. Pet owners with lower incomes were more likely to re-home a pet due to cost as opposed to pet-related issues.

Winkleman knows and understands these numbers.

"Before A Hope became what it is now, I used to collect pet food and distribute it to people on my own," she said.

Now Winkleman has a pet food pantry at the Paw Pad, A Hope's office. Winkleman said the 30 percent of owners from the ASPCA study that would have kept their pets if they had free food was enough to open the pantry.

"The biggest problem is getting people here to pick it up," Winkleman said as she waved her arm at the stacks of food. As of this writing, the Paw Pad is almost full of donations.

The pantry is normally open the second Sunday of the month from 1 to 3 p.m. However, if owners are considering surrender because they cannot afford food, they can call A Hope for help.

To get free pet food, bring a rabies certificate - the paper copy not the tag for each pet, proof of income and proof of residency. Without these items, Winkleman said you can get the first pet food order but they're necessary for additional food. A Hope can give enough pet food to feed five animals, cats or dogs, for one month.

A Hope can schedule a spay/neuter if needed as well, Winkleman said.

The county's animal services said they track owner surrenders but do not track the specific reasons. County staff said the three types of surrenders locally are military redeployment, pet behavioral problems, or finding pet friendly rentals or having to pay large pet deposits.

Winkleman said there are options for these surrender reasons.

A local group, Dog on Deployment, Winkleman said can house a dog temporarily or re-home them. For behavioral problems, owners can call A Hope and schedule a $20 assessment with a local dog trainer who can determine if the issue is behavioral or lack of training.

For owners lacking money, Winkleman wants to start two funds, one to help owners with pet deposits and another to help owners pay for veterinary services.

"It's all about giving the pet owner options in order to keep the pet in their home," Winkleman said.

For more information visit www.ahope4src.com or call 850-736-2892. The Paw Pad is located at 5755 Washington St.