Destin's Jodie Kelly has always been a horse person. So when Alaqua Animal Refuge asked for help for horse owners in the areas affected by Hurricane Michael, it was an easy decision.
“There’s so many dog and cat people in the area, so we try to be the horse team for them,” Kelly said.
The day after Hurricane Michael hit, Kelly and a team of volunteers headed over to see the destruction and check on some acquaintances.
One of her friends, Joe, had a tree fall through his roof and destroy half of his house in the Panama City area.
“He had these big steel barns, beautiful construction, and they were completely flattened,” Kelly said.
Joe had about 30 horses on his property but his generator wasn’t working and they had gone without water for two days.
“My dad was the hero of the day because he was able to re-wire Joe’s generator so he could use his water pump again,” Kelly said.
Kelly said their main priority for the first few days was making sure the horses and their owners had food, water and shelter. On the second day, the team went to a fellow dressage rider’s farm, Sarah, who had a mile long driveway covered with trees.
“The driveway literally looked like a box of matchsticks had been dropped on it, only it was a bunch of trees that were hundreds of years old,” she said.
It took two days, four tractors and 17 chainsaws to clear out Sarah’s driveway and the path to her barn. Within the next day, Sarah was out getting supplies to help other people.
Kelly said she was amazed at how many people wanted to hold onto their animals. Kelly and her team said they do everything they can to make that possible.
“If I lost everything I had and had to sleep in a tent, I’d want to sleep in the tent with my dog,” she said. “It’s our bigger goal to keep them with their owners so it’s more that we have helped to clear driveways and get them resources, rather than pull them (the horses) out of there.”
To date, Kelly estimates they’ve helped a total of about 200 horses. While most owners chose to keep their livestock, there are some who needed time to rebuild first. When that happens, Kelly reaches out to her contacts to find temporary foster homes for the animals until their owners are ready to take them back.
“We use our network and connections to find people that I know will take good care of them and we trust,” she said.
In addition to her teams rescue efforts, Kelly is also a full-time dressage rider and instructor at Jodi Kelly Dressage and is training to be an Olympic equestrian. But despite her busy schedule, Kelly said she will keep helping rescue and foster horses for as long as it’s necessary.
“Alaqua just doesn’t say no, even when it seems impossible, Laurie figures out a way to make it work and that’s so inspiring,” Kelly said. “As long as they don’t say no, we won’t say no.”