FREEPORT, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Ten years ago, Laurie Hood took her dream of opening up a refuge for animals and made it a reality.
Now, that reality has grown bigger than she could have ever imagined.
Alaqua Animal Refuge is known for taking in mistreated and unwanted animals and soon it will have a bigger and better place to call home.
"We will be moving from around nine and a half acres to right at 100 acres," said Laurie's husband and shelter manager, Taylor Hood.
By expanding their facility, Alaqua will have the space to improve the services they already offer.
"[This] is going to give us the opportunity to have some better kennel facilities. There will be an improvement on the climatic control in these areas," Hood said. "It will be large improvements for the birds, the pigs, for the horses, for the dogs, for the cats and as we move forward, even for different types of animals and it's just these animal, especially some of these animals that are accustomed to warmer climates. You have to be very specific as to what kind of climate you keep them in during the summer, during the winter."
From a chapel to a vegetarian cafe, the design for the new facility is similar to a small town while being simple and efficient for everyday functions.
"One of the improvements we'll be working on is the efficiencies of the staff and the volunteers, making it easier for their work. But there will also be a focus on visitation," Hood explained.
Alaqua officials said there will also be a new medical facility that will allow for volunteers and visitors to learn how to treat and care for the variety of animals they house.
"The teaching hospital that is going on the new property will have a place where people can come in and learn more about shelter medicine and in there will be a place for all ages," Hood said. "Where children can come see how to clean ears, and maybe more for adults, you could come have a classroom setting where to learn maybe spay or neuter."
Hood said another portion of the teaching hospital will be a forensics lab.
"A place where we can concentrate on cruelty cases and how they are handled and evidence and teach people about that," he described. "It's important to have a facility for forensics because there is not a lot of places in our area to house something like that as well as teach people how to handle crime scenes, how to handle evidence and we just feel like it will be a benefit for the entire state."
There will also be cabins on site where those visiting can stay and learn about what they do.
"They can pick out particular areas they want to concentrate on or they could learn everything we do and then take that back to where they are from," Hood emphasized. "We are hoping that this will be a stepping stone for people to spread this throughout the nation."
Alaqua officials said they hope to have the groundwork and infrastructure completed by March, but don't have a timeline for when they are expected to move in.
The new location will be on Highway 20, about five miles east of Highway 331 and just east of EO Wilson Biophilia Center.