Laurie Hood, founder of Alaqua Animal Refuge, recently set up a fundraiser to help a family rebuild their lives after a hurricane destroyed their farm and home.

FREEPORT — This past October, Laurie Hood, founder of Alaqua Animal Refuge, traveled to Grand Bahama Island on a mission with Animal Wellness Action (AWA).


Hood’s goal was to assess three farms that were almost completely demolished by Hurricane Dorian in August, according to a press release from the shelter, and check on their surviving animals.


The category 5 hurricane wrought havoc across the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island with rain and wind gusts up to 220 miles per hour.


Hood, the Florida State Director for AWA, and fellow members initially visited two farms that had surviving owners and animals, but needed assistance with supplies and rebuilding.


The release said AWA was able to help, but it was the third farm that Hood would never forget.


“Ol’ Freetown Farm was about 30 minutes outside the town of Freeport,” Hood said. “We traveled over bridges that were not structurally safe and down a road with literally nothing left on either side. 90% of the island had gone under water. When we finally arrived on the property, my heart just sank. I just stood there in sheer awe of the destruction.”


The entire farm, formerly a tourist destination on the east end of Grand Bahama Island, was destroyed.


Sissel and George Johnson had operated Ol’ Freetown Farm for 10 years and had accumulated goats, donkeys, horses, chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, guineas and peacocks. It was previously a lush property that also supplied fruits, vegetables, and wellness classes for the island, the release said.


With no place to evacuate at the time, George and his family decided to ride out the storm in their home. His mother-in-law Virginia, who was in a wheelchair, was also unable to leave.


The release said that as the eye of the storm passed through, George looked outside to check on the barn and could see a wall of water headed their way. With water already rising in his house, he punched a hole in the ceiling and hoisted two of his dogs and wife up to the attic. Unfortunately, with the water rising, he was forced to leave two cats and three dogs in the bedroom so he could figure out a way to help Virginia.


Thinking quickly, George used cables from the attic’s roof truss to make a harness for her and secured her to the cabinets.


The release said that a 20-foot surge of water hit their home and the farm. Hundreds of animals drowned, as well as their longtime 41-year-old employee who tended to them.


Three days later, rescue workers came when they spotted a plea for help on the deck by the pool. Prior to the water rushing in, George had taken siding off the house and spelled out the word “help” in hopes they would be rescued (not knowing how large the waves were).


George, Sissel, Virginia and the animals inside the house all survived.


“We could hear the dogs crying the whole time throughout the storm,” George said. “I pushed down the attic ceiling in a couple of rooms so I could see the animals. The cats stayed on a bed’s mattress the whole time, and the dogs were swimming around. I didn’t think they could swim.”


Months later, Virginia is still recovering from her wounds and infection, while George and Sissel are trying to piece their lives back together.


They returned to the farm to remove debris, but rebuilding is not an option.


“One day we will figure things out. It is very tough going through photographs and memories, but in the end very inspirational,” George said.


“I think what hits me so hard about this story is that this was literally Alaqua Animal Refuge in the Bahamas,” Hood said. “This could happen to us one day, so I wanted to do something to help them.”


The release said that in an effort that comes straight from her heart and a strong desire to help this family rebound, Hood set up a fundraising page for the Johnson family and their farm.


All donations will go to help them rebuild their lives. Contributions can be made at www.alaqua.org/bahamas.