Busy facility gives back to community with education, senior partner program and more
When Laurie Hood first embarked on starting up an animal refuge more than four years ago, she had little idea what the future would entail. With little staff and a healthy measure of volunteers, however, the 10-acre acility has grown quickly in a short time.
Within two years, Alaqua Animal Refuge expanded to provide additional housing for the animals. Funded by grants, improvements were made to an existing barn, and a new barn was added along with two quarantine buildings, two infirmary buildings, six dog buildings and two cat buildings.
Currently, Alaqua Animal Refuge houses more than 250 dogs and cats along with horses, donkeys, pigs, birds, fowl, a pair of emus and one very large bovine.
Now, with a former Auburn University veterinarian professor on board three days a week along with a full time vet tech, and a large staff of volunteers working every day, the future holds no boundaries.
The ever-expanding non-profit refuge has had many challenges with the economic down turn. In addition to the many pet owners that were forced to give up their beloved companions, animal abuse cases were also on the rise.
Once such abuse case, an emaciated miniature horse named Champ, gained quite a bit of local attention.
Arriving at the facility weighing only 75 lbs., Champ was close to death. The beginning stages of his recovery took round-the-clock nursing care.
“We were on shifts with Champ,” said Hood as she explained how she and the Alaqua staff had to hand feed him and keep him calm to prevent the tiny horse from injuring itself.
“Horses want to stand, and he couldn’t so he panicked,” Hood said.
Champ is doing well now, and close to his perfect weight at 180 lbs.
Faced with the horror of dealing with abuse cases, Hood feels the best approach is to educate. Alaqua is now planning a program to educate county law enforcement in knowing what to look for in the field. The State’s Attorney’s office has agreed to put on the training seminars for prosecutors as well. Hood hopes this will better help prosecute offenders.
Joyful new beginnings are going on at Alaqua as well. A senior program called ‘Partners’ offers a winning situation for elders 65 and older interested in companionship. The program aligns low-key animals most suited for senior citizens. The adoption fee is waived, and food donated if the new owner cannot afford to pay. The refuge will also take back the pet if the owner reaches a point where they can no longer care for the animal.
The concept started over a year ago and has had good success.
“We have placed a lot already,” Hood said with a smile.
The future also brings Alaqua taking over management of the Bark Park on J.D. Miller Road in Santa Rosa Beach. Plans for an agility course along with training classes are in the works.
In addition to the many fundraisers, Alaqua will be hosting their annual holiday open house on Dec. 11 from 12-4 p.m. and hosting the K-9 Carnival at Gulf Place in the Spring.
Alaqua Animal Refuge is located at 914 Whitfield Road, Freeport, Fl. 32439. Their hours are Tuesday – Sunday Noon – 5 p.m. Tel: (850) 880-6399. For more information, go to: http://www.aarflorida.com/