A new culture emerges at Santa Rosa County Animal Services

Ramon Rios

MILTON — In the summer of 2018, Santa Rosa County Animals Services had a euthanasia rate of 65 percent, the highest kill rate in the in the state.

In 2019, the euthanasia rate dropped to 29%. What changed? Just about everything.

“We want to be part of the solution to help animals and the community,” said Dora Thomason, shelter director.

Four major changes happened at the department to turn the numbers around.

The department now has owner surrender mitigation. If you want to surrender an animal, you have to call and make an appointment. In addition, the shelter will present options to see if there is anything owners can do to keep the pet.

“We want to give owners the tools to keep their pets,” Thomason said.

If intake is reduced, so is euthanasia.

The department hired a part-time veterinarian, Dr. Megan Arevelo. All cats and dogs that come through intake are given a physical, dewormed, given immunizations for Bordetella, the DA2PP vaccine and given flea prevention. This keeps the animals’ healthy while at the shelter, which makes them better candidates for adoption. They also decreased the hold time before an animal can be adopted from five to three days.

The adoption fee, $45 for dogs and $25 for cats, covers the price for the medical exams and the spay or neuter if the animal is of age. If a pet is brought in as a stray and returned to the owner, it is micro-chipped.

The department developed strong working relationships with rescues and animal advocacy groups to help them place animals in foster or permanent homes instead of euthanizing the animal.

The biggest change, according to Thomason, was the change in attitude of the staff.

“We all bought in to the changes in policies and procedure,” Thomason said. “I am passionate about working with animals. I think most of our employees are, too.”

Other changes included making Thomason the director of the shelter and Dale Hamilton the director of animal control. They have rescue coordinator Tera Deaguilera, who works with rescues around the country allowing animals from Florida to be transferred to other states. Jennifer Ard is the foster and volunteer coordinator.

The staff has implemented programs that bring humans and animals face to face in order to increase adoptions. Programs like Doggy Day Out, where prospective owners can take a dog out for the day to give the animal a break from being in a cage. Most of these pairing turn into keeping the dog overnight, according to Ard. They also have Pup Tales at Ollie’s Neighborhood Grill and Brews Angles where dogs can mingle with people. On the other hand, you can come to the shelter for a Pack Walk and take a dog out for a walk around the area for exercise.

Animal services has also put cats to work. A Barn Cat program pairs cats with barn owners who need to get rid of pests.

For more information on these programs and hours of operation, call 850-983-4680 or go to www.santarosa.fl.gov/387/Animal-Services.