The FHS opened as a tiny shelter with 16 kennels and an office on Sept. 15, 1982.
Where were you in 1982? Some of you may not have even been born yet. Some of you may have been wearing your Reebok high tops, listening to Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" album. 1982 brought us the opening of Epcot Center, the first episode of David Letterman's show and a little movie called "ET."
1982 also brought something pretty special to Flagler County: the opening of our shelter. Then called Flagler County Humane Society (The word “county” was removed from our name in the early 2000s because it confused people who thought we were a government agency).
Founded by a group of devoted animal lovers, the Humane Society was incorporated on Sept. 15, 1980. The small but mighty group obtained tax exempt status, began fundraising and visited other animal shelters for ideas. Agreements to provide animal control and care services were drawn up with Flagler Beach, Bunnell and Palm Coast (then called Palm Coast service district because Palm Coast wasn’t even a city yet).
The first board of directors included Hanneke Frederik, Ken Dawson, Marie Dawson, David Siegal, Judith King, Judge William Atack, Bettie Schaffer, Irwin Connelly, Robert Schroeder, James Cooksey, Kenneth Petrie, Norm Tepper, Gertrude Vance, Dr. John Bass, Herb Brattlof, Curt Ridgard, Robin Full and Katherine Watson.
On Dec. 14, 1981, ITT Development Corp. donated an acre of land on U.S. 1. Herbert Bratloff, owner of H Bratloff Construction C., contracted to build the shelter, during the course of which he fronted monies until the shelter raised enough for the building.
The tiny shelter, with 16 indoor/outdoor kennels, a roughly 100-square-foot cat room, an office large enough for one desk and a laundry closet opened to care for homeless animals on Sept. 15, 1982.
The shelter was run almost completely by volunteers, with just one staff person for the first several months.
In December 1982, Dr. Don Walker opened his veterinary practice in the upstairs of the shelter. He would act as the shelter’s veterinarian for the first five years until he moved to his own practice, Community Animal Clinic in 1987.
When Walker’s practice moved, shelter manager Linda Smith Hampton moved into a renovated upstairs apartment over the shelter and provided round the clock security for the shelter animals.
In the fall of 1988, the facility expanded to include two new cat rooms. The former cat room was turned into a manager’s office.
A low cost spay/neuter certificate program began in 1991 thanks to the cooperation of local veterinarians. Then in 1993, Flagler County began offering a $25 rebate as an incentive to have pets sterilized. This program still exists. Affordable spay neuter is a huge reason that shelter euthanasia has dropped exponentially over the years.
Another expansion included a small infirmary, laundry room, wash room for bathing dogs and a food prep room, so the office would no longer smell like dirty blankets and dog food.
The 1990s was a busy decade for the shelter. We were handling more animals than ever on a daily basis. We expanded our hours and were open seven days a week. The Brinkley Puppy Mill abuse case received international attention in a time before social media. The courts awarded 517 dogs to our custody and the abusers were jailed.
In 1998, Flagler County was under siege by wildfires. We evacuated the shelter and fled to the fairgrounds, where we accepted pets of owners who were evacuating. When Sheriff McCarthy called for the entire county to evacuate (the first ever countywide evacuation in the U.S.), we transported several hundred animals to neighboring counties.
Soon Palm Coast Holdings would donate more land, and a fundraising campaign began to build the facility that we are in now. I still call it the “new” building.
Over the years, our programs have expanded. We have veterinarians on staff now. We have a wellness clinic, a pet food bank and other programs to help pets remain in their homes. We have partnerships with local pet supply stores where our animals are showcased for adoption. We have a successful thrift store. We host summer camp for kids and work to strengthen animal protection laws. We have a weekly radio show on WNZF and we have one of the largest social media followings in Flagler County.
So what might the next 40 years bring? At the rate we are going, there might not be a need for an animal shelter. We have a staff of 39 now, and we all would gladly be out of work if that meant that all the animals had permanent, loving homes.
Later this year we will be having a 40-year celebration. Please watch our social media for details.