Island farmers step up and offer to accept animal refugees

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ONTARIO—With fires raging through the bone-dry forests of Northeastern Ontario, the plight of those farmers and their livestock whose pastures lie in the path of the flames has touched the hearts of fellow livestock owners across the North, including Manitoulin. A Facebook page, Northern Ontario Wildfire Livestock Re-Location, has been set up to assist in connecting those in need of a safe haven for their livestock with those who have room.

“I offered on the Facebook page,” admitted Dave McDowell, who operates McDowell Farms with his wife Theresa. “My cattle are all out on the grass, so I have an empty barn available,” he said.

Mr. McDowell noted that although he has space, also thanks largely to the bone-dry conditions, his feed is limited. “I am pretty sure we could find some neighbours to help out if with that if need be,” said the Assiginack farmer, adding that he understands the pressures a crisis like this can place on a farm. “When your farm goes in something like this, you lose all your pasture and your stored feed.”

Mr. McDowell said that once that happens, as a farmer you are faced with some hard decisions. “If you don’t have the pasture or the feed, you will probably have to decide to send them to market.”

So far there have been no takers on his offer, however, and he thinks that might be a combination of things playing a role there. “There have been a lot of people offering to help,” he said. “You would probably want to take up an offer further south as that is closer to markets.”

“Most of the need seems to be for horses,” said Mr. McDowell.

The site coordinators have put together a list of those offering refuge to the displaced livestock which includes whether the location can accept horses, cattle, dogs, cats and whether there is trailering available. Some are also offering to put up human refugees as well, offering space for RVs and campers on their property.