FORT WALTON BEACH – Melissa Forberg has been chosen as interim director of the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society. She replaces longtime Director Dee Thompson, who recently stepped down for personal reasons.


Tell us about your background in animal services. What led you to PAWS?


I have a varied animal background and a history with PAWS, as I worked at PAWS in the 1990s. I am a certified cruelty investigator for both companion animals and horses and animal control officer with considerable experience in large-scale seizures, rescue and disaster response. When I heard that PAWS was in need of a director, I reached out to help, hoping to give the board of directors time to find the best long-term candidate to lead PAWS and animal control, as the citizens and animals of Okaloosa County deserve.


►RELATED: Thompson cites ‘personal reasons’ for leaving PAWS


Tell us a little bit about yourself? Are you a native of DeFuniak Springs? If not, where are you from?


I am a native Floridian, born and raised in St. Petersburg, and have always loved animals. As a military spouse, I sought out animal-related jobs wherever we were stationed, both in the U.S. and overseas. My husband and I realized early on that we wanted to retire in Florida, but the Panhandle fit our lifestyle better than farther south.


What are three of your goals for PAWS?


My goals for my tenure at PAWS revolve around providing excellent care for any and all animals who come into our custody, supporting the staff and volunteers to make that happen, and I will be responsive to the needs of the community as we strive to be good community partners for animal welfare. Animal welfare and animal services/control is evolving, and this is the opportunity to do that with PAWS.


What are its greatest challenges?


The challenges for PAWS are the sudden nature of the situation, leaving staff and volunteers confused and unsure. The board of directors have stepped up to the plate, but they were not previously involved in the day-to-day operations of such a diverse and complex operation. Two animal shelters, an animal control contract, a clinic, a thrift shop, staff and dozens of volunteers is like juggling multiple balls in the air.


Tell us about your animals! You must have pets if you have signed up for this job.


I live on a 40-acre farm and have multiple animals, including an 18-year-old cat, a 153-pound St. Bernard (who counts as several dogs), barn cats, 19 horses and even an emu. Several of the horses are rescues, and most of the rest are retirees who lounge around as lawn ornaments. They are second and third generations of my preservation breeding program, with offspring around the country.


Anything else you'd like to add?


I am very excited to have this opportunity to help PAWS move into the future. The people and animals of our community deserve the best, and I will give my best to make that happen.