ALLENTOWN — A HOPE founder and president Brandi Winkleman was feeling positive and hoping there would be a memorable outcome at the July 11 zoning board meeting. The outcome was memorable, but not what Winkleman had hoped for.
Most in attendance had positive comments about the group, however, the Allentown neighbors that spoke said they did not want A HOPE in their neighborhood.
"I didn't think they would deny our request," Winkleman said.
A HOPE was at the zoning meeting to get approval to purchase almost 9 acres in Allentown zoned as AG/RR (agriculture/rural residential) to build a veterinary clinic that can provide low-cost spay and neuter services in Santa Rosa County.
The request was denied after neighbors spoke of their concerns the clinic would become a dumping ground for abandoned animals and a haven for feral cats. Residents also commented that noise levels would increases and others were concerned about odors coming from the clinic.
"After a few days of thinking about it, I figured it was best to know now that our potential neighbors didn't want us there rather than buy the property, build a clinic and then find out we are not wanted," Winkleman said.
Undeterred and proactive, Winkleman is looking for 5 to 10 acres near the city of Milton that can be donated or that A HOPE can buy to build their clinic. The clinic would be used for low cost spay and neuter and has to meet state certification and registrations as a full veterinary clinic.
Winkleman said future plans include is a 1,200 square foot facility for adoptable cats and a small facility for a 10-dog run. She also envisions building cabins on the property for weekend and summer camp programs. Winkleman said she hoped to have enough room to use it as an events center for animal lovers.
"We want a low cost spay neuter clinic to fix every community and feral cat we can catch or residents can bring in," Winkleman said.
"We fix those cats and since they have no owners, we release them in the same area we found them," Winkleman said.
By fixing stray cats, Winkleman hopes to reduce the number of stray animals in the local shelter and cut down on the number of animals that have to be euthanized each year.
"Once we buy property we can start applying for grants to build the clinic and grants for the equipment we will need," Winkleman said. “We will also hire a qualified veterinarian and veterinarian techs."