MILTON — The Santa Rosa County Animal Services office received good news from commissioners at their meeting Jan. 24. The county approved a transfer of $30,000 from reserves for contingency funds to support a spay/neuter program. The funds requested would provide approximately 365 procedures.

Brad Baker the emergency management director for the county has been busy since taking the animal services directorship. He took over a department that unfortunately had the infamous reputation of having the highest euthanasia rate by county in the state.

During the meeting, Baker presented his 2018 numbers. Total animal intake was 5,772. Of those, 3,647 — 65 percent — were euthanized. Baker specifically pointed out that cat intake for 2018 was 3,294 out of those 2,813 was euthanized for an 85 percent rating.

"What we are doing is not working," Baker said.

The fund transfer will allow animal services to institute a low-cost spay/neuter program for the county. Additionally, the program allows for temporary, targeted return-to-field and trap-neuter-release programs Baker said.

Many of the proposed changes are recommendations from a shelter assessment completed by TeamShelter USA in October of 2018. The $30,000 assessment was completed free of charge thanks to arrangements made by A Hope For Santa Rosa County founder Brandi Winkleman.

These are the five needs Baker identified to improve services and whether they're short or long-term goals:

Low cost spay/neuter clinics, which are in progress
Return-to-field targeted program - short-term goal (within six months)
Reduce hold time from five days to three days (no hold times for puppies or kittens) - completed
County ordinance reviews - long-term goal (over six months)
Pet licensing - long-term goal

Animal services staff have made some changes already. Baker introduced a new staff addition, part time veterinarian Dr. Megan Arevalo. The doctor vaccinated 90 dogs and 40 cats last week, a new procedure and policy implemented by having a veterinarian on staff.

"All dogs and cats will be vaccinated for infectious diseases upon intake." Dr. Arevalo said. Rabies shots will be given upon adoption along with spay/neuter.

The county animal services has developed partnerships with A Hope For Santa Rosa County for transportation to and from spay/neuter surgeries, and the Pensacola Humane Society to assist with surgeries.

County animal services has also stopped some procedures like reducing hold times for intakes. They will no longer set up or pick up traps or trapped animals; however, they will accept trapped animals from residents. A Hope has traps and can help others who need help trapping animals, Winkleman said.

Winkleman spoke in support of the county animal services and their efforts. She also announced that A Hope is looking for some land, which will help in these efforts.

"Once we have property, we can apply for grants to build our own spay/neuter clinic and keep that money here in our county," Winkleman said.