HUDSON — Lisa Bekiaris strolled around her 4 acres on Kitten Trail, pointing to different spots and firing off ideas with passion so great it's as if they will materialize as she speaks.
"This is perfect," said the founder of Raffle Rescue Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to, as their slogan states, "Helping animals one life at a time."
Bekiaris bought the property last month with plans to establish a pet shelter, a pet food bank and other support for animals in need. Right now her neighbors to the east are mostly goats, and to the west are horses. Her plans are to have a little bit of everything in between, though likely mostly domesticated dogs and cats.
In 2008, as the economy hit the skids, Bekiaris and her husband, Tony, started collecting pet food and donating truckloads to places like the SPCA. She had read stories about families struggling to scrape together money for pet food. Pets were either starving or being surrendered at overcrowded shelters where their days were often numbered.
"We're really trying to keep the pet with you," said Bekiaris, 47, whose part-time day job is delivering for Pasco's Meals on Wheels program.
As word spread and the demand grew for pet food assistance, Bekiaris began delivering kibble and canned goods directly to homes in need. "I've gone as far as Homosassa and St. Pete," said Bekiaris, who estimates her group has provided more than 6,000 pounds of pet food to date.
She brought food to Penny Robinson, who needed help when her husband, Dave, lost his job. The Hudson couple not only had to worry about feeding themselves, but their five cats, too.
"She's wonderful. She's good. I can't say enough good about her," said Robinson, 64, who added she only needed help for a short time. "We were having a really hard time at one point and she brought over all kinds of food."
Bekiaris formally established her nonprofit last year, with pet food drives and raffles to raise money for the cause, hence the name Raffle Rescue. The prizes range from pet care baskets and basic grooming packages at Pet Wash Plus to pricier items on their website, www.raffle rescue.org. They're in the midst of their largest prize yet: For a $5 donation, participants have the chance to win a two-bedroom one-bath home in Port Richey.
And Bekiaris keeps building on the idea, using proceeds to also provide low-cost and no-cost spaying, neutering, vaccinations and grooming to pets in need. She and her husband do all of this without a staff and the help of only one regular volunteer, Fatinah Shaker, 37, of Hudson.
"She is always so giving and does anything she can to help people and their pets," Shaker said.
So setting up her own facility was the natural next step.
Bekiaris searched for a year and a half before finding the site at 10810 Kitten Trail, off of Hicks Road — a piece of country not far from the bustle of U.S. 19. The property has a two-story house where the Bekiarises plan to live, and ample space for lots of furry friends to join them.
The couple is still working on fixing up the property, but already Lisa Bekiaris can envision it: Animals taking a dip in the pool. A shed housing the food collected at pet food drives, ready for distribution. A well-kept mobile home where displaced seniors and their pets can stay as long as they need.
Once fully fenced, most of the remaining woods will be transformed into a free-roam shelter for animals of nearly any kind that lose their home either to abuse or financial reasons, Bekiaris said. There will be separate fenced areas for those animals that can't be mixed with others. Another area might have agility jumps and pet toys. And, Bekiaris hopes, maybe they'll build walk-up treehouses for the smaller animals. They will be invited into the Bekiarises' home so they feel like part of the family.
"This is our love job, not our real job," she said, smiling.
But it's a lot of work, and it comes at a cost. The couple has poured much of their personal savings, mostly from the sale of a restaurant they owned in Maryland, toward Raffle Rescue's efforts.
But the animal-loving couple — who have two rescue dogs of their own, Cheese, a shepherd mix, and Daisy, a terrier mix — have no doubt Raffle Rescue will succeed.
"We'll do whatever it takes to get this place up and running on its own," said Tony Bekiaris, 50, who runs his own handyman business. "We're the kind of people when we have a dream, we shoot high. We shoot for the stars."