Walton County Animal Shelter (WCAS) in DeFuniak Springs, Florida serves as the only animal shelter in the county for approximately 75,000 human residents (2020 census). Although Alaqua Animal Refuge and other animal-focused non-profits are located in Walton County, these organizations are classified as rescues, rather than shelters, which is an important distinction.
As an open admission shelter, which is a division of the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, WCAS responds to calls from residents about animals in need and accepts any animal received by a resident of Walton County. This presents obvious challenges for the shelter and results in more than 3,000 animals a year that are accepted by WCAS. “I think many people don’t understand that, as a county-run shelter, we are not legally allowed to turn any animal away,” Walton County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Lindsey Darby explained.
Patty Weingartner, a talented, reward-based dog trainer, had been working part-time with WCAS as a Volunteer Coordinator since 2017 and was promoted to Shelter Manager earlier this year. In addition to coordinating the volunteers, the shelter needed assistance engaging the community and organizing off-site adoption events to showcase adoptable animals. According to Darby, Patty exceeded their expectations on those fronts and was the obvious choice to take on the role of Shelter Manager.
When the off-site adoptions stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “we really had to rely on local rescue organization partnerships. Patty did a fantastic job developing these partnerships to get the animals into foster homes or into rescues like Alaqua and others throughout the state.” These partnerships enabled WCAS to free up valuable kennel space at the shelter to make room for more animal intakes. WCAS coordinates a weekly transport to rescue organizations in the state of Florida - sometimes as far south as Ocala.
Weingartner takes a hands-on approach to managing and speaks highly of the shelter’s volunteers and staff, crediting them with successes WCAS has been able to achieve. Her passion for the work is evident when she says, “I see myself as going to work and doing what I love. I honestly just care a lot and I’m going to make sure, at the end of every day, those animals have every chance they possibly can to find their forever homes.”
Weingartner and Darby highly encourage anyone that is interested to come by WCAS to tour the facility, which features an impressive, recent renovation of the lobby, meet the staff and become a volunteer. Weingartner and the WCAS staff and volunteers keep the facility spotless, as cleanliness is a critical health and safety factor for humans and animals alike. To learn more about WCAS, visit www.waltonso.org/animal-services. You can also stay up-to-date on future events or animals currently up for adoption by following WCAS on social media. (We promise you’ll see some adorable mug shots!)
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