The Pet Issue '19: Bringing ‘A Hope’ to Animals
By Jennifer Leigh
As a volunteer for the Santa Rosa County Animal Shelter, Brandi Winkleman saw the best and the worst of her community.
Animal shelters can be criticized for having to do the unthinkable. That was no different in 2017, when the shelter made local headlines for having one of the highest euthanasia rates in the state. Where many people saw a problem, Winkleman started looking for a solution.
“I saw the gaps in need while volunteering,” she said. “It wasn’t just about rescuing animals. I believe the number one killer of animals is when owners aren’t listened to. I wanted to help fill that void.”
Winkleman said the responsibility shouldn’t be solely burdened on the shelter. The community should work to make it better. In September 2017, she founded her nonprofit, A Hope, with the goal of preventing shelter overpopulation through outreach and practical solutions.
Since the 501(c)(3) nonprofit began, it has helped 1,500 animals—and counting—get low-cost spay or neutering at Operation Spay Bay in Panama City. Every other week, Winkleman facilitates transports for 50 to 75 animals.
Thanks to a recent $26,500 grant from Sunday’s Child, A Hope was able to subsidize fees for spaying/neutering surgeries along with rabies vaccine and microchip for a program they call “Fix and Chips.”
And because prevention doesn’t begin and end with spaying and neutering (although it is a big part of it), Winkleman and about 10 volunteers foster medically-needy kittens from the Santa Rosa County Animal Shelter. So far, they’ve saved 200.
A Hope also recently partnered with Panhandle Animal Welfare Society to provide low-cost rabies vaccines and microchips to hundreds of animals.
A Hope works primarily to help both cats and dogs—but Winkleman also fostered a mouse for someone at the Escambia County Animal Shelter once. Cats tend to be a big focus since they are the most vulnerable.
Inside the A Hope office in Milton, otherwise known as the “paw pad,” is where pet food donations are kept to help families in need.
Money is often a big barrier for pet owners, Winkleman said, which is why she hopes to one day soon open a low-cost clinic in the Milton area. All she needs is the land and perhaps a few big donations.
“We need to stop thinking that all people are bad,” she said. “When I volunteered (at the shelter), I would guess about 70 percent of owners surrendered animals because of cost. They couldn’t afford spaying and neutering or they moved into a new rental that didn’t allow pets.”
When it comes to changing hearts and minds, Winkleman said educating the public about spaying and neutering can sometimes be hard. Not everyone sees an animal like an extension of family. But she isn’t afraid of the work ahead, and she stays hopeful because of the good she’s seen in Santa Rosa County.
“Our community is pretty great,” she said. “We just have to help people with animals because the animals can’t help themselves. I’m working on teaching the future animal advocates. Otherwise, we’re just going to keep running in circles.”
To learn more about A Hope or to make a donation visit ahope4src.com.