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FREEPORT — An all too familiar scene played out at Alaqua Animal Refuge on Monday.


Erin Blattler, dressed in a pale blue protective gown with surgical gloves, cared for her patients who were suffering from the effects of a potentially deadly virus. In this case though, Erin’s patients were four puppies, and the virus in question was canine parvovirus, not COVID-19.


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While the coronavirus has halted many activities, it hasn’t stopped animal abuse and neglect. Nor has it slowed the people dedicated to helping them.


The puppies were part of a group of 15 dogs that were taken in last week when Alaqua assisted the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office in an animal cruelty case. In addition to the cases of parvo, the dogs and puppies were also infected with a skin disease that caused severe itching and hair loss.


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Their owner deprived them of necessary care and treatment, and is being charged with cruelty to animals, according to a press release from Alaqua.


This week the number of dogs from the Calhoun County rescue jumped to 24 after one of the dogs gave birth to a litter of nine puppies.


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When Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order in early April, Alaqua Animal Refuge closed its doors to the public and sent its 400 volunteers home. Fortunately, it was able to place 80 dogs and 50 cats in outside foster homes before it closed.


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Alaqua founder and President Laurie Hood said that it looks like many of those animals will eventually be adopted by their foster families. A skeleton staff now cares for the couple hundred animals left on the property.


Although closed, Alaqua worked with Walton County to continue to offer animal adoptions as a curbside service.


"We can do video with the individuals for adoption purposes if they want to virtually meet the pet," said Hood. "And when they apply for adoption we do everything digitally. When they drive up, we literally bring the animal to the car and hand them their completed paperwork."


Over the past few weeks, Alaqua has also seen an increase in the number of pleas for help from people who have lost their jobs and are not able to feed or provide medical care for their pets. Hood said the refuge has started an emergency medical fund to help with that, and is also working with grant providers to establish a pet food and hay bank for the region.


"We don’t want to see people having to surrender their pets because they can’t afford to feed them or take care of an emergency medical need," Hood said.


Alaqua is not immune to the financial pressures that plague Northwest Florida and the rest of the country.


Hood estimates the refuge’s monthly expenses to be about $150,000, most of it raised locally, and "the money has basically just stopped coming in."


"We take on so many emergency medical cases that our local shelters can’t afford to," she said. "Between the special needs medical cases and the cruelty cases that we rarely say no to, our medical expenses are always through the roof."


Among the cascade of canceled events along the Emerald Coast this spring were two fundraisers for Alaqua, one of which was in its 10th year and was expected to raise as much as $250,000 for the refuge.


Hood is quick to point out that the refuge’s financial squeeze is just a part of a much larger economic tragedy taking place that includes businesses closing and people losing their jobs.


"Animals are second to people and we have to be respectful of that," she said. "It’s just a challenging time."


WANT TO HELP?


Alaqua welcomes any food donations and you can visit alaqua.org to donate, view animals available for adoption or to apply for adoption.


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