“Secret Santa” paves the way for improved Okaloosa County animal shelter

Okaloosa County

OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — The Panhandle Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) is ready to break ground on a brand new facility thanks to an anonymous donation by a Destin animal lover.

PAWS has been sheltering animals for 63 years now and said this donation is definitely their most hefty to date.

“This gift was a huge surprise as you can imagine to us,” said Tracey Williams, Executive Director of PAWS.

According to PAWS, the donation was made by a part-time Destin resident who asked to remain anonymous.

“I have always been an animal lover, and the need for PAWS is very apparent in the community,” the doner said.

Williams took over the facility in July. She said their shelter houses a lot of displaced animals.

“About 250 cats and kittens and 150 dogs and puppies,” Williams said.
“Here this is obviously very outdated. This is basically just housing animals, feeding them, cleaning up after them. What we hope to have over there is more of an animal epicenter for Okaloosa County.”

Williams said because there are so many animals to care for, PAWS staff has little time to socialize with the animals. That’s where the volunteers come in.

Alexander Gethard works full time in the military but spends his free time at PAWS.

“I come in usually two or three or four times a week if I can find the time to obviously I have to balance work and volunteering here,” Gethard said. “I’ve always been an animal lover but I’ve never had a dog before.”

Gethard hopes to have a large enough home to welcome a dog into one day. But for now, he enjoys the interaction.

“The more that we can help out with them and we can socialize them, the easier it is for them to get adopted,” Gethard said.

Emma Ulibarri, adoption counselor at PAWS said a lot of dogs and cats need homes, but PAWS won’t send them home with just anybody.

“We make sure that you either own your home or if you’re renting, you have rental permission and if you have any other animals that they are up to date on vaccinations and if they’re spayed or neutered, and really just making sure that you can fulfill what the dog needs,” Ulibarri said.

Williams said the anonymous donation was a lot but they still need to raise a lot more money to complete the next few phases.

“It’s obviously going to be a multi-million dollar project,” Williams said.

But this wasn’t the first major donation to the animal shelter, the first was the land itself, which is located across the street from the current location.

“We certainly want to thank Al Qualls and his family who donated the 15 acres,” Williams said. “He did that in memory of his wife Peggy Qualls who was a big animal lover.”

Williams said her hope for the future is to turn PAWS into more of an animal refugee center and less of a shelter.

If you would like to donate to PAWS, adopt an animal, or even volunteer your time, click here

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