FREEPORT — Alaqua Animal Refuge staff and volunteers began evacuating 304 animals from the rescue center Wednesday.

Alaqua's staff estimates it will take until at least Saturday to organize and get the animals off the property safely. All farm and domesticated animals — from puppies to feral horses — were being moved to higher ground in case Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm in the Caribbean, approaches Walton County.

The property, which often has standing water after rains, sustained major flooding during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

"I know it seems a bit early to begin evacuation," said Mary Chris Murray, Alaqua's communications director. "But the last time when Ivan hit, we were 4 feet under water. Even in an afternoon storm, the back pastures flood."

Staff and volunteers hustled about the property all day Wednesday as they copied charts, administered vaccines, packaged food and handed off animals to foster parents.

"What we're doing now is trying to find locations for our dogs and cats," Murray said. "We believe we have most of our farm animals taken care of."

The staff said they hope to have all horses, donkeys, goats, pigs and chickens shipped to shelters in Cottondale and Paxton on Thursday.

Alaqua's staff and volunteers will then turn their attention to domesticated animals, which will likely be placed with fosters in and around Freeport.

"On Thursday we will have an assembly line of crates with the animals' names already on them," said Alissa Parsons, the lead animal technician at Alaqua. "We will have food, water, bedding and bowls for the animals to take with them."

Every animal on the property had been microchipped and can be identified if lost or misplaced during the evacuation, Murray said. The domesticated animals will also wear collars with Alaqua's name on the identification tag.

"They will have all of their paperwork with updated information about the animals' vaccines in case any of them find their forever homes while away from the facility," Parsons said.

Alaqua Animal Refuge is asking anyone interested in fostering animals through the storm or volunteering to transport animals to fill out an application at alaqua.org.

Murray said the goal is to have every animal off of the property by Saturday.

"The best way people can help donation-wise is by monetary donations," Parsons said. "We've set up a hurricane fund on our website and are also accepting supplies like food and water for the animals."

.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }