A new program to extend relief to animals and their owners in the hardest-hit areas of the Florida Panhandle in the wake of Hurricane Michael was recently announced by Laurie Hood, president and founder of Alaqua Animal Refuge.

Located about 70 miles from the coastline where the hurricane made landfall, the refuge’s 350 animals made it through the emergency in good shape.

“Our property suffered only minimal damage. Most importantly, our animals are safe and well,” Hood said. “We’re blessed, so we’re turning our focus to help others.”

The threefold program is underway and includes these focus areas:

Rescue and Safe Housing

Alaqua has permission from agencies in the area to search for lost, abandoned and injured animals in devastated communities. In addition to refuge for pets, temporary placement has been secured for displaced horses and farm animals. Alaqua’s team will bring supplies, search for animals and transport them, including larger animals as able, to the refuge or other locations. Alaqua’s veterinary staff, along with a team of local vets, are on stand-by to provide medical treatment.

“Losing a pet during this time adds more strain to people who are already over-stressed and have little or no resources,” Hood said. “We take the animals out, provide medical treatment and keep them safe, with the goal to eventually reunite them with their owners. We work with appropriate agencies, manage the process in an organized manner, and know how to handle frightened and injured animals.”

Individuals are asked to stay away from affected areas to search for animals.

How to Report Abandoned or Injured Animals

Leave the message at 850-880-6694 or send an email to LHood@alaqua.org. The following information is required to coordinate with authorities and start a search:

• Caller’s name

• Best number to contact the caller

• Caller’s email address

• Exact location of animals and how many are there

• Additional details, i.e., is the animal injured, abandoned, restrained or running loose.

Collection Point

The refuge is taking donations of urgently needed items: bottled water, dog and cat food, litter, linens, cleaning products such as bleach, soap and topical cleaners. Items will be distributed to the hardest-hit areas as soon as collected and will continue until further notice. Dog and cat crates are also needed to transport animals out safely.

Monetary donations collected online will be used to fund the rescue, housing and medical treatment of animals.

For full information on Alaqua’s program, visit www.alaqua.org/michael/.