Brandy Winkleman founded A Hope for Santa Rosa County, a nonprofit organization aimed at raising awareness and providing low-cost spaying and neutering for strays and house pets.
JENNIE McKEON @JennieMnwfdn
Brandy Winkleman has been an animal advocate all of her life.
When she moved to Milton, it was only natural that she found herself volunteering at the Santa Rosa County Animal Shelter. But she noticed a huge problem in the county.
“There’s over-population, people are not fixing their pets and not maintaining vaccines,” she said.
Winkleman decided to take her advocacy a step further and founded A Hope for Santa Rosa County (AHFSRC), a nonprofit organization aimed at raising awareness and providing low-cost spaying and neutering for strays and house pets.
Inspired by the Barbara Grice Memorial Low Cost Spay and Neuter Clinic, an affiliate program of the Pensacola Humane Society, Winkleman started putting together a game plan to one day bring a similar clinic to Santa Rosa County. But first, she’d have to raise a lot of money and a lot of support.
“Last year the animal shelter had 6,011 animals and only a third of them made it out,” she said. “A lot of people aren’t even aware of the statistics.”
With the Barbara Grice clinic currently booked out until February, Winkleman started to reach out for other local options to provide low-cost care. She found a Panama City Beach organization called Operation Spay Bay. Twice a month, Winkleman and other volunteers with AHFSRC arrange transportation to the Panama City Beach clinic.
“We meet at the Tiger Point Animal Hospital in Gulf Breeze at 4:30 a.m. for pickup and animals are brought back by 4:30 p.m.,” she said. “Since it’s such an early drop off time, we have arranged for boarding with volunteers in Milton.”
Since AHFSRC began working with Operation Spay Bay in September, more than 50 animals have been fixed. Spays and neuters start at $35 and go up to $100 for dogs over 80 pounds. For an additional cost, pet owners can opt to have vaccines updated, microchips inserted or nails trimmed. On Mondays, stray cats and ferals can be fixed for as low as $30.
There is no income requirement on pet owners to receive the reduced-cost services.
“Honestly, everybody in Santa Rosa County needs this,” Winkleman said. “We don’t want any animals in the shelter, that’s our goal.”
A Hope for Santa Rosa County is also working to rally support behind a trap and neuter program for cats. Currently, the county doesn’t have one and, according to Winkleman, cats are most at risk of euthanasia at the local shelter. She started a petition in late September that has reached nearly 250 signatures to date. You can sign the petition online or in person at any of their outreach events.
“We want to get about 1,500 signatures before we present it to the (Santa Rosa County) board of commissioners,” Winkleman said. “We want to be able to tell them that the community really wants this. We’ve been working events just about every weekend to get signatures.”
Right now, A Hope for Santa Rosa County is a small operation of 13 active volunteers. They contribute to the nonprofit in different ways, such as coordinating transports to graphic design to manning educational booths at outreach events. The volunteers represent all five districts of the county.
Sometimes the hardest part of being an advocate is getting people motivated, but Winkleman said she hasn’t found that to be an issue.
“The amount of feedback and participation we’ve received is incredible,” Winkleman said. “This is something that nobody has been able to follow through on. The most amazing thing is the emails and phone calls we get — the interest is all there.”
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