Lois Marlow realizes it takes a village to run an animal shelter.

“Every person plays an important part,” Marlow told The Sun during a tour of the DeFuniak Springs shelter.

The Walton County Animal Shelter director says that the bustling operation would not be possible without the help of its friends in Walton County.

Especially with the state of the economy, the shelter more than ever relies on adoptions, fundraising, and volunteerism, to augment county funding.

“Strays are being turned in because of the economy. I thought it would get better,” Marlow said. But, “It’s just as bad.”

The Friends of the Walton County Animal Shelter has been the main fundraising arm for the shelter since it was created a couple of years ago as a separate 501(c)3.

“Our mission, our job, is to help the shelter in ways the county is not helping,” said Bill Bard with the group.

The organization has helped fund projects at the shelter, to include providing a second operation table for spaying and neutering, as well as helping decrease the number of strays by offering free identification tags.

The shelter takes in stray, surrendered, and other found animals, as long as there is room, but is under strict time limits as to how long they can keep the animals. If an animal is not claimed or does not get adopted within seven to 10 days, it must be put down.

“We don’t have a choice,” said Marlow. “We’ve got to move some out.”

This is where local rescue Alaqua Animal Refuge comes in. The no-kill shelter will often take in doomed dogs and cats to extend their lives and chances to get adopted.

“We have to give a lot of credit to rescues,” said Marlow, specifically to the Freeport refuge. “I work very well with (Alaqua owner) Laurie (Hood), and I consider her a good friend.”

With the outside help and extra funds, the number of animals that must be euthanized is at a record low, and in the past six months, the shelter has only had to euthanize 21 dogs. That number has been declining since the Walton County Animal Shelter opened its headquarters Jan. 5, 2010, on Triple G Road in DeFuniak Springs. 

Marlow started as only one of two officers working with the county animal control effort in 2002, when it took over the responsibilities for the Humane Society. At the time, the animals were taken to a vet in Chipley, a 35-mile trek each way. Now, the shelter operates out of its own building with a capacity for 92 cats and 80 dogs, as well as a green space donated by Ella Caro, who started the Friends organization.

No matter how large the space, however, it can never be enough to house all of the in-need animals of the county.

“There is a place for every animal — it’s just finding that place,” said Marlow, who said that because of the time constraints, there isn’t always time to find an animal’s forever home. “It’s an emotional roller coaster. When the animals are returned to their owners, it’s a wonderful feeling. But whenever you’re faced with animals you can’t place…” she trailed off.

But even considering the ups and downs, Marlow would not trade her job for anything.

“Somebody has to do this,” she said. “I know God put me here. I prayed too long and too hard.”

 “They’re dedicated folks,” said Bard of the shelter staff and volunteers. But, “They’re just like every other agency in the world… understaffed, too little money.”

If you would like to help, the shelter has a sponsorship program, which for a $55 donation waives the adoption fee for another person. The shelter also has need for donations of crates, dog and cat food, cleaning supplies, and cat litter.

Friends of the Walton County Animal Shelter will offer items for sale and information about the organization at the Seaside Yard Sale today. Bard said that if space allows, the organization will offer animal ID tags made on site for a donation. 

Marlow said the fundraising and outside assistance helps further the shelter’s mission, but that the most important thing locals can do to help the shelter is to be a responsible pet owner.

“Spay and neuter,” she said.