PAWS eyes upgrades

The animal shelter is working toward a new facility

Savannah Vasquez

FORT WALTON BEACH — Last May the family of the late Peggy Qualls of Fort Walton Beach donated almost 16 acres to the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society for the animal shelter to build a new, larger facility. The property sits directly across the street from the current PAWS location on Lovejoy Road.

Plans for the new animal sanctuary include dog and cat bungalows, a bird aviary, a horse barn, a veterinary clinic, walking trails and an event barn, at an estimated cost of between $3 million and $4 million.

The current PAWS shelter was built in 1990 and is showing signs of age with corroding fencing, mold, cracking floors and overflowing pens. But even though there is a desperate need for improved animal housing for PAWS, the project, called the Peggy Qualls Animal Sanctuary, will not begin with construction of such facilities.

Instead, the project will begin with a $400,000 welcome center.

"The Qualls requested it to be the first building we built," said Manda Moore, community development director for PAWS. "It's part of our agreement for the land and we can't go back on a donor agreement."

She said PAWS has more than $600,000 set aside for the sanctuary and that fundraising has not formally begun for the other new buildings.

“Our welcome center is in the stages of permitting with the engineers, and we are hoping to be able to break ground probably this summer,” Moore said. “Once we have our welcome center, we will move our offices over there and then we will be able to start our real capital campaign fund.”

As for the remaining $200,000 (after the welcome center is built) Moore said all the money will be allocated to the housing aspects of the new shelter.

"It’s going to end up going toward a stable for horses and pigs and whatnot, and the start to our dog and cat housing," she said. "I think that they are going to start with the dog and cat modules first, but they (the building board) have to find out how much that is actually going to cost."

In December, PAWS launched a crowd-sourced fundraiser to raise an additional $150,000 for emergency maintenance to its existing facility.

“We need this building fixed because we are still going to be keeping this building; it’s still going to be used for animal control,” said Alysia Martinez, the foster coordinator for PAWS. “Our kennels, they’re just rusted and falling apart. We’ve used so many different chemicals and tons of bleach over the years, so everything is just slowly falling apart.”

Moore said there is still no timeline for when construction of the new shelter buildings will begin. She said PAWS must have the exact cost estimates before donors can be requested.

"We are still going to have to continue to utilize this facility, and we will still be in it for the next year at least, maybe two years," Moore said. "I cannot start a capital campaign until I know how much each part of the project will cost. The idea is that when you have a namesake donor, they actually donate the whole cost of the building that they name after."

Moore added that PAWS still has a long way to go for the other buildings on the new property.

In addition to repairing the old building and raising money to build the new facility, Moore said PAWS also hopes to raise about $30,000 for new programming that will help keep animal intake numbers down.