While some women have been a part of Walton County's history for decades, Women's History Month could not be given a proper nod without acknowledging one woman who is currently making history in the county.
Not long after Laurie Hood married in 2001 she and her husband, Taylor, decided to leave Destin and look for land out in the country, as Laurie had always wanted horses.
Laurie recalls that Taylor said he would consider it if the land was by water.
The couple found a five-acre plot on Alaqua Creek that had a little, dilapidated house, and they bought, thinking they could fix it up and use as a weekend getaway.
Soon after, they purchased another five acres that adjoined it.
"It was a good time to buy," says Laurie.
And the couple began working on their getaway home, soon realizing that they were spending so much time there that it would be their full-time residence.
Not long after moving in, the Hoods began noticing that animals were being dumped at the end of their dirt road. And that was the first time Laurie realized that animal control was a problem in Walton County.
"After my second child, I knew I wanted to adopt animals, but my husband had to ease into all this," she said of her motherly instincts.
Her reaching out to help began when a man near them was going to kill a litter of kittens a stray cat had birthed on his property.
Laurie asked if she could take the kittens and find homes for them. He asked her to take the mother also, and she did.
The same day that she loaded them all up for a checkup at the veterinarian's office, a dog came walking up that had been shot. Laurie took him also and was able to find a home for him.
Living out in the country, Hood was seeing so many animals that needed homes, she knew she had to start a non-profit to enable her to get some help.
Hood founded Alaqua Animal Refuge in 2008, with the help of just her husband, family, and friends, who agreed to be on her board.
"In the beginning, I did everything -- cleaned cages, built cages, adopted them out, bought all the food. My husband thought I was crazy, but he was glad to see me so passionate about something that he let me do what I wanted to do," she said.
Hood worked with the Sheriff's office and animal control, and "Skinny horses and chickens came along right off the bat as word got out, and we were inundated immediately," she recalls. "I had no idea what I was doing. I had worked in the medical industry -- a for-profit group -- traveling to New York … it was a whole different world."
As Hood began taking in a variety of different animals, there have been some she has not been able to give up. Daisy was the first. She found Daisy, a border Collie, through PAWS and fostered her, teaching her social skills, and that cats are her friends. Daisy still lives at the Hood home, along with five other dogs and eight cats, including the original ones she rescued.
Today, Hood has rescued more than 24,000 animals, giving many a new lease on life at a new home of their own.
"Every day somebody calls looking for homes for animals," she said.
But these days she has help in 14 staff workers, and 700 active volunteers who helped out last year as dog walkers, caring for cats, horses, a medical team, in the office, giving tours, administration, grant writing, or grooming.
Taylor helps out also with management on the operational side.
"We've come a long way," Laurie admits in looking back. "It's all boots on the ground."
Which is what it takes to care for and keep up 250 animals on any given day now, consisting mostly of dogs, then cats, horses, farm animals, chickens, birds, pigs, and of course the emus and boars. The current facility needs $70,000 monthly to operate.
And while she finds homes for most, some creatures that she takes in, she knows will live out their lives at the refuge. Such as Loverboy, the bull, who lived at Alaqua for five or six years, and died there. Or, Pocahontas the horse and a goat named Sugar who have been brought up together. The emus and wild boars are also permanent.
"Some animals are difficult to adopt and some don't make good pets so they stay here to be safe," said Hood.
All of those animals are looking to make a move in the not-too-distant future as Hood is working on the plan for 100 acres located on State Road 20 just east of the Biophilia Center that were donated to her by the late M.C. Davis.
"We're moving to a small town," said Hood. "It will have a main street, a chapel, and space for equine-assisted therapy. I want to expand my reach where people can come and learn how to duplicate my model -- a rescue that's different from the concrete that many are. There will be a lot of education going on there. I feel that's the direction we're supposed to be going."
Hood is presently working with the county on the details and she expects ground breaking will take place this year.
As for the man behind the rescue woman, Taylor seems secure in the mission.
"We were living in Destin without a pet," he says with a chuckle when reflecting on their journey. "But we did not have a shelter and it had to be done. I knew early on that I had to get on the boat or get off. I support her 100 percent. The whole family supports her by helping her and standing behind her. It's taught our boys (now aged 10 and 11) so much respect for animals. My role is as CFO, and my role on the board is to support her. She's always ahead of everyone else and it's amazing to watch. But while she's dealing with concerns, cruelty cases, and the legislature, I try to see how much we can take off her."
Saving animals is a team effort for the Hoods.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Hood has been awarded the George H.W. Bush Point of Light Award; she is the district leader for the Humane Society of the U.S. (which addresses legislative issues); she represents Florida on lobby days in Washington; and she was recognized as a local hero at the Red, White and Blue hero recognition in Destin and presented with a key to the city.
If interested in adopting an animal or donating to help the cause, visit www.alaquaanimalrefuge.org.