Donations pour in for victims of Puslinch, Ont. horse barn fire

Donors have already given more than half of the $100,000 goal set on a GoFundMe page in just 24 hours.

More than $75,000 donated to help owners, horse trainers

An aerial shot of the aftermath of the barn fire taken from a drone. (David Ritchie/CBC)

An online fundraising campaign set up Tuesday to help those affected by a massive horse barn fire in Puslinch, Ont., has already surged past the halfway point of its $100,000 goal.

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, more than $77,500 had been pledged to help everyone involved in the fire at Classy Lane Stables Training Centre, located 15 kilometres east of Cambridge. A neighbour spotted the fire around 11 p.m. Monday night and called 911. The blaze killed more than 40 horses and completely destroyed Barn One at the facility.

The money from the GoFundMe page was set up by the Central Ontario Standardbred Association and will go towards all those affected by the tragedy, including the owners of Classy Lane, and the horse owners, trainers and caretakers.

Preliminary estimates peg the damages at between $4 million and $6 million, the GoFundMe page says.

Help from others in the industry

Many of those supporting the fundraising effort are involved in the racing industry, including the Erin, Ont.-based Ideal Training Centre, which donated $5,000.

Association president Bill O'Donnell said he is not surprised people have been quick to donate, even though many of the trainers, drivers and owners are regularly in competition with each other on race nights.

"These horse people, they can sure come together in a hurry when they have to. They might hate one another the rest of the time, but when it comes time to pull together, I think the common denominator we have is the animals," he said.

The association wanted to start a fund after seeing other people had set up GoFundMe pages.

"My fear was people would be setting them up that weren't doing it for the right reasons," O'Donnell said, although he added the ones they saw were legitimate efforts.

Three of those initiatives are mentioned on the association's fundraising page and the organizers have agreed to turn the money they raise over to the association, he said.

This is one of the best training centres in Canada.- Kelly Spencer, Grand River Raceway

Facility 'one of the best'

The fire will send ripples throughout the entire industry, said Kelly Spencer, the manager of marketing and communications of Grand River Raceway.

"This is one of the best training centres in Canada. It is, as its name suggests, a very highly regarded facility. It's a real shame," Spencer said in an interview with The Morning Edition.

O'Donnell agreed, adding if a fire could happen at Classy Lane, "it can happen any place in the world. That's a first class operation there, state of the art."

Whole industry affected

Spencer said it is unlikely the raceways will be affected by the fire directly with fewer horses racing, but the people at the tracks will still be feeling sympathy for those who lost their livelihoods in the fire.

"Several thousand horses would race at Grand River over the course of our season, so there isn't going to be an impact to us specifically, or any raceway specifically, but there will be a very marked impact for those people, those trainers that were affected, the people who owned the horses that they trained, and the caretakers that worked alongside the horses every day and obviously the people who own the Classy Lane Training Centre," she said.

"The trainers and the people connected to them are basically coaches, the horses are athletes, so they work with them every day. Every day they're a part of their lives and they are their livelihood," she said, adding Wellington County and Waterloo Region is considered the `hotbed or horse farms in all of Canada.

O'Donnell, who was a harness racing driver for 30 years, said everyone in the industry will be affected.

"The barn you can rebuild, the equipment you can replace, but those horses, the good ones all the way to the bad ones, you have compassion for them," he said.

"We get very attached to these animals. They're not like walking into an office and shutting your computer off at the end of the day. It's seven days a week, 24 hours a day you think about them. It's devastating to the whole industry to have something like that happen."


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