One of Quebec's only farm animal sanctuaries is fighting for survival
Refuge owner is getting creative, offering guided tours, to raise funds for rescued animals
For the past two years, Catherine Gagnieux has been caring for farm animals destined for the slaughterhouse.
The Eastern Townships resident and animal lover recalls a day last September when she got a call from a local farmer, who told her he was about to euthanize a newborn male calf, unless she came for it right away.
"I drove over, put him in my car and brought him home," she said, explaining that Nemoo, now a jersey bull, which are often put down at birth because they don't produce enough meat to be valuable.
Gagnieux has built the Sanctuaire des animaux de la ferme de l'Estrie, SAFE, from the ground up, with the help of donations and some of her own money.
But she says she's struggling to make ends meet and is looking to the public for help.
This weekend, Gagnieux is offering guided tours of the refuge in the hope it will help boost donations.
"We're in survival mode. It's like the boat has capsized and now we're doing everything we can so it doesn't sink," she said.
On top of the guided tours, she and some volunteers are launching a crowd-funding initiative. She's also hoping to offer field trips to local schools.
Gagnieux has also listed two of the rooms in her house on Airbnb, offering a clean space for people who want to come and volunteer.
Lots of mouths to feed
Gagnieux has 14 farm animals, including two steers, as well as ponies, goats, a sheep and four pigs — two which tip the scale at nearly 1,000 pounds.
Her food cost alone sets her back about $1,000 a month. Then there is the vet bills, which can average anywhere between $150 to $200 a month.
"The barn had to be insulated, and electricity and plumbing had to be put in — that was out of pocket," she said.
"We have 64 acres, but we need fencing and fences are pretty expensive and an effort to build," she said.
Gagnieux said she needs to raise about $10,000 before the winter to keep SAFE alive.
"We need to finish the barn for the steers, and move the pig pen into the forest," she said.
"Some people would say I've put in too much for this, but I didn't want them to suffer for anything."
Alternative not pretty
Gagnieux has thought about what will happen if she has to close SAFE.
"It's the harsh reality of farm animals in sanctuaries," she said.
"Some may find homes but most would probably have to be euthanized, especially the pigs Matilda and Pumba —nobody is going to take in those huge animals."
But Gagnieux is desperately hoping it doesn't come to that.
Guided visits of SAFE run Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and again at the same time on May 26. For more information, visit the Sanctuaire pour animaux de ferme de l'Estrie Facebook page.
With files from Claude Rivest