By Samantha Lambert
The first sound you hear when you step out of your car at Panhandle Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) is that of many barking dogs. Step inside, and the sound continues as you head into the back of the building where the dogs are kept. All types of dogs come up to the front of their spacious enclosures to say hello to you with constant tail wagging. In the far back is an enclosed area covered by a large tent where more dogs are kept. Volunteers have many of them out playing with them.
The Humane Society was first incorporated in March 1957 as the Playground Humane Society PAWS. Their first facility was a small building in Valparaiso. In 1986, the shelter was renamed the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society. Today, PAWS is a private, nonprofit organization that presently handles more than 7,000 animals annually and is dedicated to their welfare.
The present shelter on Lovejoy Road was built in 1991. In 1995, PAWS started the first low cost spay and neuter clinic in Okaloosa County. The clinic also offers to already-spayed and/or neutered animals low cost vaccines and medications appropriate to treatment and prevention of diseases; heartworm, feline leukemia, and feline AIDS testing; and medical and surgical treatment for pets that otherwise would not visit a veterinarian.
The shelter also includes two meet and greet areas, both an indoor and outdoor run, play area, and swimming pools. According to Dee Thompson, “We also have the best volunteers in the world who come in everyday.”
Thompson started as the kennel supervisor in 1986 and became the executive director of PAWS in 2014. “One of the biggest challenges we face is an aging building,” she says. “The Qualls family has donated 16 acres of land across the street for a new facility. Breaking ground should start in three or four months. There is still some capital fundraising to come for the new facility.”
PAWS also undertakes animal control, so they are considered an open shelter. Their goal is to save and treat adoptable animals. Their mission includes the following—to offer refuge, medical care, nourishment and an opportunity for a second chance for life to unwanted animals in our community; to protect animals from cruelty, neglect, carelessness and ignorance; to encourage and promote responsible pet ownership; to educate and inform the public about animal issues; and to assist in the development of short- and long-term community oriented solutions to such problems.
PAWS received 97 animals last March from an animal facility that was closed in Niceville. Along with animals that are turned in every day, PAWS also receives some animals from rescue groups. “People are saving many lives by adopting here,” says Thompson. “It is so much more rewarding! You just have to give an adopted animal time to adjust and have lots of patience.”
There are many ways to help PAWS. First and foremost, adopt, spay and/or neuter animals. You can volunteer at the shelter or do other things such as helping with fundraising and special events, serving on a committee, or working at the Junkyard Dog Gift N Thrift shop. The shop is the primary source of funds for humane and adoption services provided by PAWS and contributes $130-150,000 annually to PAWS.
They are located at 179 NE Eglin Parkway in Fort Walton Beach. Tax-deductible donations can be resold to benefit the animals at PAWS, and if you need assistance in getting your donations to the shop, call 850-244-1830.
Another way to volunteer is to make a “Doggy Date” with a shelter dog. You can take one out to a park or for a walk. There are also “Dog Slumber Parties” where you can take a dog home for the weekend, and other PAWS events every weekend. Coming up Saturday, Oct. 26—“Dogs and Drinks” at the Boathouse Oyster Bar on the Destin Harbor, an adoption event.
The objective of the PAWS adoption program is to find permanent, responsible and loving homes for the animals (both dogs and cats) in their care and educate those who want to incorporate a companion animal into their lives. There is also a reduced adoption fee for seniors who want to adopt from PAWS.
Visit PAWS in person at 752 Lovejoy Road in Fort Walton Beach or online at www.paws-shelter.org.