As Sarnia’s Children’s Animal Farm prepares to reopen in a few days, its staff has had to contend with some unforeseen challenges.
Most recently, vandals broke in and cut a door lock, releasing more than 40 peacocks, pheasants, ducks, geese, turkeys and chickens the morning of July 18.
“Everybody was pretty upset about it,” said city Coun. George Vandenberg, a Humane Society board member who headed straight to the farm.
“Our big fear was that the animals may be hurt, that a coyote or mink could attack them.”
Most of the birds were rounded up by staff but the pheasants disappeared and were feared dead.
“We are so fortunate to have an animal farm in Sarnia that we can all visit for free,” said Vandenberg. “It’s distressing that people can be so cruel and do something like that.”
But the pheasants eventually showed up looking for food, and all birds were accounted for. Heavier locks and chains have been installed on gates and cages, and security ramped up.
Police are patrolling that area of Canatara Park more frequently. And Vandenberg said he would appeal to city staff and council, if necessary, for additional measures.
“We ask that if members of the public see anything suspicious while they’re walking in the park, to report it right away,” said Shannon Jacques, one of two full-time farmworkers who keep the 100 or so animals fed and watered.
The farm, which normally attracts 500 to 700 people daily in summer, was scheduled at press time re-open to the public in late July or early August.
“It will be a challenge,” said Donna Pyette, executive director of the Sarnia & District Humane Society. “We’ll have to man the gate, so there will be fewer people in there at any one time.”
The barn will be closed, social distancing required, and masks encouraged.
“We know everyone loves those animals and wants to go see them,” added Pyette. “We’re counting on parents to be responsible and the voice of reason.”
Early in the pandemic the most pressing concern was getting enough fresh produce for the animals.
Sarnia covers the cost of hay and feed but not fresh food. That’s normally provided by the visitors, who bring more than enough lettuce, carrots and other vegetables to keep the animals happy and healthy.
When the farm was forced to close the animals were suddenly without produce, Pyette said.
Local resident Tara Daly stepped up to help by appealing to the community on social media.
“She knew we were struggling,” said Jacques. “Some of the animals like the rabbits and guinea pigs require produce every day. For others it’s a treat.”
Daly asked on Facebook for donations to an Animal Farm’s account at Sarnia Produce, and more than $1,200 poured in by May. Donations are still being accepted by calling Dean at Sarnia Produce.
Frank Scarpelli, manager of the London Road Metro store, has also donated slightly wilted produce during the pandemic.
“He’s given us a tremendous amount, including a 40-pound bag of carrots,” said Jacques. “I’m really thankful and so are the animals.”