Kemptville animal sanctuary appeals for help heating barns

The Big Sky Ranch animal sanctuary in Kemptville, Ont., is reaching out for help heating its barns this winter as temperatures plunge and donations slow to a trickle.

Home to more than 100 animals, Big Sky Ranch facing donation shortfall

Andy Parent, founder of the Big Sky Ranch animal rescue, says keeping the heat on has been a challenge this year with donations slowing to a trickle and funds running low. (Radio-Canada)

An animal sanctuary in Kemptville, Ont., is reaching out for help heating its barns this winter as temperatures plunge.

Big Sky Ranch is currently home to over 150 animals, including dogs and cats but also horses, sheep, cows and even emus. 

Andy Parent founded the sanctuary, a no-kill organization, in 2002. He said this winter has been particularly difficult for the charity, with bone-chilling temperatures coupled with a drop in donations.

"We seem to be having a lot of problems in trying to keep our head above the water," he said. "So we're just totally unprepared, and the funds aren't coming in as much as they used to."

The Big Sky Ranch in Kemptville is appealing for help dealing with mounting hydro bills and dropping temperatures. (Radio-Canada)

Doesn't want to close down

On Saturday morning, the temperature in Ottawa dropped to –24 C, feeling like minus 36 with the windchill.

Parent said the shelter's hydro bills amount to nearly $1,500 a month, with propane for the barn's heaters contributing around $1,200 to the total — and with more cold days in the forecast, there isn't much hope for a reprieve.

"We're being proactive to make sure to try to get the funding so we don't go to the point that we have to close down," he said.

"I'll sell my vehicle before these animals will be without a home."

Keeping the barns heated is essential for many of the animals at the Big Sky Ranch animal sanctuary, like this llama. Founder Andy Parent says hydro bills can sometimes run up to $1,500 a month. (Radio-Canada)

Fewer winter donations

Part of the problem may be that January is a slow month for visitors to the sanctuary, said Aubrey Hewett-Hicks, one of around 60 volunteers Big Sky Ranch relies on. 

"There's not as many people coming around, not as many people aware of us being here," she said. "So it is a bit harder in the winter for sure."

The sanctuary has normal visiting hours where members of the public can tour the facilities. Donations are encouraged, but not mandatory. 

But during the colder months, the crowds tend to thin, Hewett-Hicks said, leading to a decrease in awareness about the shelter's needs. 

Smaller animals are particularly vulnerable to cold, like these goats at Big Sky Ranch animal sanctuary. (Radio-Canada)

Despite what appears to be a tough road ahead, Parent said he's not giving up just yet.

Over the past 16 years, the sanctuary has saved over 3,000 unwanted animals, according to statistics from its website — a trend Parent is eager to continue.

When it comes to running a charity, "you learn to do two things," he said.

"One is beg and one is pray. And that's what I'm doing right now."

With files from Martin Robert