At 3 a.m. on many mornings, Brandi Winkleman and her dedicated volunteers are at the Paw Pad in Milton, checking paperwork and loading up cat and dog carriers into a big van.
Winkleman chugs a caffeinated beverage, then drives for hours to reach Operation Spay Bay with dozens of animals in tow. She does this because it’s the only way pet owners in Santa Rosa County can easily access low-cost spay and neuter services. She does this for free because she genuinely cares about animals.
A HOPE is trying to build their own clinic on 2 acres of a 25-acre parcel off Pine Blossom Road. The idea would be to create the contained facility, then leave the 23 additional acres of the lot wooded to buffer from neighbors and people who might mistake the clinic for a walk-in vet.
The nonprofit got dragged through the mud by a gang of disgruntled neighbors during the Zoning Board’s meeting. “Not in my backyard,” better known as NIMBYism, was on full display.
A neighbor got up and declared that A HOPE – the nonprofit responsible for pioneering change in the way animal services are handled in this county and saving thousands of cats and dogs from euthanasia – was blatantly lying about their plans. She claimed that they were going to build this massive facility with animals everywhere at all hours of the day for the sole purpose of destroying her peace and quiet.
What a farce. Planning and Zoning Director Shawn Ward pointed out the nonprofit can legally only do what they request on their conditional use application or risk being shut down. A HOPE has always been up front about what they want to do with their clinic which is fulfill a desperate need in the community to ultimately bring under control the county’s stray animal populations.
Another neighbor brought up traffic. This one is especially hilarious in its lack of logic. If A HOPE were to build their low-cost clinic on the site in question, there would be vet staff and a few drop offs in the morning. Then a few pickups and staff leaving at the end of the day.
If the property were developed as the law allows right this second, the sheer number of homes allowed on the property would generate dozens more vehicle trips per day. A residential development down the road is already bringing about more traffic impact than A HOPE’s clinic ever could.
One neighbor lodging complaints said that any new animal in the area would disturb her very sensitive horses. Seriously? What, your horses can sense the presence of a strange dog inside an enclosed building 23 wooded acres away? Those are some pretty magical horses. And what, your neighbors or anyone else who might decide to buy that property cannot have pets ever because it would cause irreparable damage to your horses? Again, we say, seriously?
When complaints were raised about disposal of dead animals, it was hard not to laugh. They are required, by law, to dispose of the bodies through a crematorium just like any other licensed veterinary facility. Just because the facility serves those with less income doesn’t mean it’s a dump. Don’t be stupid.
Anyone who has been to Operation Spay Bay, the clinic A HOPE is directly modeling in Panama City, knows that these complaints are absolute hogwash. It is a professionally run clinic operated by trained and licensed staff who truly love animals.
It’s not loud or messy or a nuisance. It’s efficient. They handle at least twice the animals A HOPE’s operation could, and there are maybe 10 cars in the parking lot at peak drop off time. You wouldn’t even know it was there if it weren’t for the cat and dog logos emblazoned on the building. Trust us, our reporter accidently drove past it at first.
The real problem for these NIMBYs is change is scary. It takes absolutely no courage or character to say no to change, keep things the way they are and reject any and all newcomers to our sphere of existence.
But to look on change as opportunity rather than a hassle, to welcome smart growth and to keep an open mind takes courage. NIMBYs will never be happy with what may come, regardless if it had been houses or anything else proposed next door. They are too short sighted.
Think beyond self for a moment. Realize you are not losing anything by simply letting others do a good thing, especially with a 23-acre woodland buffer between you and the good thing.
Don’t be a NIMBY.