free port – Alaqua animal shelter It was an ancient haven for pets and farm animals in need, accommodating everything from neglected dogs to cats abandoned by tropical weather to injured horses to goat need.
Now wildlife can help, too.
Alaqua recently announced the opening of its new wildlife rehabilitation center on a 5-acre site within its original property on Whitfield Road in Freeport.
The Alaqua Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is a nonprofit state and federally authorized facility that provides a “much needed” resource to rehabilitate sick, injured, and orphaned local wildlife, according to the press release. The permits were issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) and are pending for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), according to the statement.
Shelby Broy, a wildlife director, has more than 12 years of wildlife rehabilitation experience placed in the center, she said. Proie believes this is the final ingredient to make the Alaqua truly capable of helping all animals, including domestic, exotic, farm and wildlife animals.
“I couldn’t have had a better team,” she said. “They are amazing, they are passionate and they are excited. And it was just a dream come true to be able to develop this, open it up and now be able to offer it to our community because we know there is a huge need for this in Walton County in particular.”
The Alaqua Wildlife Rehabilitation Center welcomes animals of all kinds, including shorebirds, seabirds, raptors, mammals, marsupials, and reptiles, and will not be open to the public. Alaqua expects most of the animals to come from Walton, Okaloosa and Bay counties, according to the press release.
Proie began discussing the concept with Laurie Hood, founder and director of Alaqua Animal Refuge, in October 2020. But Hood said the idea has been years in the making.
“There are about a dozen or so counties surrounding our area that don’t have any kind of wildlife center whatsoever, and we get calls almost on a daily basis,” Hood said. “You hate not being able to help. So we finally have the right team together and the facility to do that, so it’s time to go ahead and pull the trigger and bring this to our territory, so we’re really excited about that.”
Proie echoed the need for a rehabilitation center at the Alaqua site, which is centered between Navarre and Tallahassee, she said.
“We love the Emerald Coast (wildlife sanctuary) and a lot of the private rehabilitation centers that have been here forever, but it’s very difficult for the public to drive all the way from Walton or Bay County, all the way to Navarre with an injured animal,” Broy said. Some of the services don’t go to pick up the animals, so I think a lot of the animals suffer just because there’s no ability to provide transportation.”
Proie believes it will also serve the tourism industry.
“You have a lot of people who pay a lot of money in Destin, Santa Rosa Beach, and they find injured pelicans, herons, gulls, hawks on the beach and nobody can do anything about it,” she said. “FWC doesn’t have the ability to respond. Well now we can do a better job of being able to go and assess whether or not this animal really needs help, and if that happens, show the tourists that we care and we’ll take it and treat it and we’re not just going to leave it there until You watch death on your vacation.”
Hood describes Proie as a “dream come true” because she is organized and “plays with books.”
“I knew when I started talking to her and when she came on the boat just to work with the pets, she would make sure everything was done the right way, and I love that,” Hood said. “She just exudes everything she does, all the protocols and the way she takes care of the animals – even her rules to make sure that wild animals interact with as few humans as possible, because the end goal for them is to be free again and be wild again. She does everything Something to make sure that happens.”
Alaqua He had to build the facilities “from the ground up,” Proie said, because he had to create specific wildlife enclosures and create new roles for staff. The center has a dedicated wildlife team with 30 years of experience working with wildlife in clinical settings.
She said it was a crazy summer.
“My team is amazing. I hired them as wildlife rehabilitation specialists, and they were absolutely fantastic, being contractors and only developing diet books and everything else you can imagine and they don’t blink an eye digging holes for ponds. This crew has literally done everything. Our blood, sweat and tears are in this program and in center now.”
Their structures are “pretty cool,” Brouy added.
The wildlife rehabilitation center includes a wildlife clinic with a surgical suite, triage area, an intensive care unit for critical animals, a separate nursery for birds, and a mammal nursery with a quarter of its rabies vector species to provide specialized care for orphaned children in a contained environment, according to a press release.
“We have a vet on staff six days a week who will come in and do our consultations and surgeries,” said Broy. “We have a full arsenal of medication, so we can create our own treatment plans and treat just about any disease. And that’s what’s unique about some of the private rehabilitation professionals that we have that extra medical component where they won’t have to take them to a private vet and pay for We provide the service free of charge for any such surgeries, radiographs and procedures.”
Outdoor habitats include a flight cage constructed on woodland to provide an environment free from common urban stresses, a turtle yard and a seabird pool. Broy said a cage is under construction for the other birds. This will allow the rehabilitation process to take place in an environment similar to nature.
Broy said the center also has a “bird pavilion” because it receives so many swans.
Alaqua estimates its inpatient and outpatient capacity from 300 to 350 animals.
“We started small, and we plan to expand as we get more donations and funding,” Brouy said. “You know, Alaqua as a whole is a nonprofit, and that doesn’t make the Wildlife Center any different. We are funded 100% by donations. Although we provide this free service that is really important to our community, we don’t get any government or federal funding or grants. Or anything like that at the moment. So if anyone feels compelled to support us in our mission and growth, we would be very happy to accept donations.”
In the future, Alaqua hopes to relocate all of its pets and farm animals to its new property off State Road 20 and use the original site exclusively for wildlife rehabilitation and equine therapy that is closed to the public.
“Rehabilitation patients can easily be printed and accustomed to humans, so don’t allow visitors,” Broy said. “The new property will have all the pets, all the farm animals. And then when we add the Ambassador Wildlife Area, which will be like unreleasable animals, they will be on the new property because they can be on display and open to the public.”
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center began receiving patients last week, Broy said. She admits that due to the delay in opening, the center operates between the birth season and the migration season.
“It’s kind of funny, because we’re in the slowest two weeks in the rehab world, so we have seven squirrels at the moment and we’ve been going out and helping out the annoying raccoon call,” Broy said. “There’s an epidemic like tuberculosis in Walton County among its raccoon population, so we’ve been going to different places and helping to get the raccoons and treat them or take them out of the wild so they don’t have the power to affect the other and keep spreading this disease, which unfortunately in many Sometimes it’s very deadly.”
Proie can’t wait for the season to start.
“I’m available 24/7 so I can make night calls. And if I can’t get to you, I can at least direct the public in a way that de-escalates the situation so you can get the animals to me or I can get to you. And then our business hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week.
Pets can be delivered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at Alaqua Whitfield Campus, 914 Whitfield Road, Freeport. A volunteer team is also in the process of gathering to rescue the animals and bring them back to Alaqua. Individuals who need assistance can call the office at 850-880-6697 or the FWC Wildlife Hotline at 888-404-3922.