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Laurie Hood, founder and president of Alaqua Animal Refuge, has made a lifelong commitment to advance the interests of all animals and their rights—both domestic and wild—to help make lasting change in our society and create a kinder, more empathetic world for all living souls. Propelled to make a difference in animals’ lives and be their voice, Laurie continues to be a shining example in her ongoing work of animal rescue, welfare, cruelty prevention, education, and advocacy.
Laurie’s approach to her mission was unique, creative and clear. She wasn’t going to let anything stand in her way.
Give us a little background information on what initially lead to opening Alaqua Animal Refuge?
Alaqua Animal Refuge was born on a whim after I discovered that thousands of stray, homeless, abandoned, and abused animals were being picked up and taken to a “holding” facility that was not open to the public. The facility held the animals for a week, and if they weren’t claimed, 100% of them were euthanized. The animals were coming from within a five-county area, including my own, due to the lack of a no-kill shelter, animal control facility, or adoption organization of any kind.
I asked the facility if I could save some of the animals and was told that it would be hundreds of dollars to do so. However, they said if I represented a rescue or other shelter, I could “pull” the dogs for free.
Once I heard this, there was no turning back. The situation was not acceptable for any animal, and it certainly wasn’t acceptable for me. The animals deserved better, and I was determined to give it to them. The next day I brought my newly created paperwork to the facility, along with my horse trailer, and I left with 38 animals. With the help of a few friends, I cared for them in my barn until I could figure out what to do next.
I never intended to start an animal refuge; but even as a child, I went door to door in my neighborhood to stop kids who were killing songbirds. That same passion fueled me to make a difference and Alaqua was born. Almost 16 years later, we are still going strong with the founding belief that every abused, neglected, and homeless animal deserves a second chance.
When did you start and what were your main hopes for this journey?
I started Alaqua in 2007. At the time, my hope was just to save those initial 38 animals and ensure they were going to live. I had no idea what I was doing but knew that it had to be done. I worked with a local veterinarian to make sure the animals were spayed/neutered and healthy. I leaned on my marketing background, and went to the media to ask the community for help and began advertising that the animals were in need of homes.
Alaqua grew quickly. Animals were dropped off at the end of my road where I lived, and I took care of them. My original plan was to save dogs and cats, but it morphed into rescuing farm and unwanted exotic animals. My vision was to have a different kind of refuge—one that was a happy place where animals could live in a pristine, healing environment and where people would find a peaceful place to adopt, volunteer, and visit.
After rescuing, rehabilitating, and finding new homes for domestic and farm animals, we added wildlife to that mix in late 2021. Our wildlife rehabilitation center serves an 11-county area that was without a physical facility. To date, we have rescued more than 2,000 injured, sick, or orphaned native Florida wild animals with the purpose of rehabilitating them and releasing them back into their natural habitat.
The Refuge is constantly evolving along with my personal journey of what I want to achieve. Today, we are in the process of relocating from our original 10-acre farm to 100-acres of donated land, where we are creating a one-of-a-kind facility to continue our work of rescue and rehabilitation. We also strive to be an educational, training center for animal welfare advocates that will inspire, empower, and educate others to make change in our society. In doing so, we have become a model for other organizations and leaders on legislative issues to help animals on a global scale.
What is your favorite part about running the Refuge?
There are so many wonderful things associated with running Alaqua. It has literally become my heart and soul. We have a direct hand in saving lives all day long and giving these animals that come to us in need, with nowhere else to go, a second chance. What brings me the most gratitude, however, is watching animals that have come from unimaginable situations come out the other side. These animals have a “look” of complete despair deep in their eyes. We give them the time, love, and patience needed to overcome what has happened to them, and their eyes once again have a spark of life in them. I will not lie. It is heartbreaking at times. But the transformation is what makes it all worth it.
"I love when people say something cannot be done, and I figure out a way to make it happen."
What has impacted your life the most from this experience?
When you are passionate about your work, you attract like-minded people who want to be involved in helping carry out the vision and mission. I love bringing these people together and empowering them. When this happens, things move quickly, and success is contagious. Watching systemic change happen right in front of you is a powerful thing.
What have been your biggest challenges with the Refuge?
To be honest, the biggest challenge is fundraising, as with many non-profits. It is a continual effort, and we rely solely on funds raised through private donations and fundraising, with a focus on special events, memberships, planned giving, and grants.
Non-profits end up having to be experts in events, auctions, grant writing, and other avenues all at the same time they are carrying out the important, mission-focused work, which never stops. The balancing act of wearing so many hats is difficult, all the while keeping the organization operational.
What have been your biggest successes?
I love when people say something cannot be done, and I figure out a way to make it happen. For example, animal cruelty cases were happening all around me without consequences to the abusers. In fact, there had never been a documented case of successfully prosecuting an animal abuser in our area when I first began. I was told that law enforcement and prosecutors here did not care. After some research, I learned that they simply did not have the training or tools necessary to be successful. I created a program to provide this training, free of charge, and within a year of the first class, we had dozens of cases in the court system, and abusers were being held accountable. The best part is that the law enforcement, animal control agencies, and prosecutors embraced this change and became ambassadors for the program, and we now work in tandem to hold abusers accountable.
When did you start your podcast?
The podcast began during Covid and had to be recorded via Zoom initially. The concept came from brainstorming sessions with producers that I worked with on a National Geographic WILD series. I loved doing a network show, but at the end of the day the network owned the footage and the messaging that I wanted out there was not always conveyed. I wanted to highlight our important work, inspire viewers to want to be a part of our movement, and showcase other individuals and organizations that were also helping to make the world a better place for animals. The podcast allowed me to do all these things and more.
Where do you hope these episodes take you in the future?
My goal for the podcast episodes is to feature people who are doing extraordinary work for animals and conservation—the best of the best. There are so many “Difference Makers” in our world that deserve to have their story told. The podcast is a rally cry to help create much needed and lasting change in our society by entertaining, informing, inspiring, and encouraging support for their incredible work on behalf of domestic and wild animals—in our own community and across the globe. Knowledge is power, and if you don’t know what is happening in the world, you cannot be part of positive change.
What have been your biggest challenges with the podcast?
There are so many options for podcasts today, but ours is so drastically different. It is unique because it is a combination of a podcast with video, a one-on-one interview, and a professionally produced documentary with footage that rivals the top television programming out there. It’s a challenge to explain that to our audience, but once they see one episode they are often hooked.
What have been your biggest successes with the podcast?
Personally, I feel that the biggest success of these podcasts is the variety of people we have interviewed thus far. They are all personal heroes of mine and it’s been an absolute honor to tell their stories.
What are your favorite KÜHL clothes to wear while out on the job?
I love all my KÜHL clothing, but the pants are my daily go-to! The fact that they are stylish, yet durable, takes me from the office to the fields. The quality of the material and the variation in styles, from lightweight pants for our hot summers to thicker fabric for winter, allows me to feel comfortable and confident year-round.
Check out Alaqua Animal Refuge to support and learn more.
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