A Safe Haven for Abused Animals

Par Raymond Berthiaume
A Safe Haven for Abused Animals
Penny Lane

One large turkey in particular, Edward, who saw this reporter as a threat, proved a formidable foe, puffing up his feathers, kicking and slapping with his wings. Boswell paid him no mind and quietly asked volunteer Katia Albert to take the self-appointed guard turkey away.

“Edward doesn’t particularly like men,” said Albert, as she hoisted the massive bird into her arms, shuttling him into an enclosure with some ducks.

With Edward’s efforts frustrated, Boswell continued the tour of his family’s farm animal sanctuary.

Penny Lane Farm Sanctuary started in Vars in 2010, rescuing and rehabilitating horses at the wishes of Larry and Nancy Boswell’s daughter, Karyn. Eventually, the sanctuary grew to upwards of 30 horses, then the Montréal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) asked them if they wanted a couple goats as well.

“And then it spread from there,” said Boswell.

Now located on more than 50 acres in Saint-Pascal-Baylon, Penny Lane cares for hundreds of animals. Goats, turkeys, pigs, cows, horses, ducks, donkeys, a llama named Henry and two rare twin geeps, an accidental cross between a goat and a sheep. Most of the animals at Penny Lane were once abused, neglected and destined for slaughter or euthanasia. Through the Boswell’s connections with locals, farmers, the SPCA and a network of animal rescue organizations, these animals live out their lives under the care of Boswell and a lengthy list of more than 30 volunteers.

“The work they do is absolutely critical,” said Tammy Benoit, special placements manager at the SPCA.

The cost of keeping farm animals is often prohibitive, and sanctuaries are underfunded and at or beyond their capacity to take in more animals, according to Benoit. Penny Lane fills a gap in the animal rescue network, often taking animals other sanctuaries cannot or will not house, like roosters or those with expensive medical conditions.

“Karyn is the first person I call when I have an animal. The very first person,’ said Benoit. “Without them we wouldn’t have any resources for these animals.”

Animal celebrities

Some of the more famous animals on the farm include Cowboy, a horse tortured by his previous owners, and a pig named Mango who escaped the slaughterhouse by jumping from a transport truck. Another pig, dumped at the busy corner of Bank Street and Heron Road as a baby, has agoraphobia. There is also Mac, a three-legged goat with a 3D-printed leg he refuses to wear. For Boswell and the team, these animals are great for teaching people the importance of animal welfare and the value of a life.

“The main part of our mission is educating people.”

Though not normally open to the public, the sanctuary periodically organizes open house events, tours and fundraisers to support their mission of compassion and respect for animals. They also welcome groups from Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa to come and help around the farm.

For the volunteers, the animals are also therapeutic. Katia Albert, Edward the turkey’s handler, is an animal rights activist, who often sees animals in distress and exposed to some of the worst conditions animals endure. Coming to Penny Lane and caring for the animals in an environment in which they thrive is a note of positivity in what is normally a pretty dark reality for her as an activist.

“It (Penny Lane) feeds my soul a little bit,” said Albert.

Part of the community

As a committed vegan for over 50 years, converted after working at a slaughterhouse for just two weeks, Boswell knows he has to work with farmers and non-vegans because being part of the community is important to what they do.

“Our hay comes from a beef farmer,” said Boswell. “The idea that vegans can live in a non-vegan world and become a separate little cult doesn’t really work. We couldn’t get by here if we only dealt with vegans.”

Many of the animals at the sanctuary were brought to them by farmers and community members who were concerned for their well-being or could no longer care for them.

That said, being surrounded by farmers in rural Ontario, he knows what they do at Penny Lane is often seen as a curiosity.

“They shake their heads like we are crazy.”

Penny Lane is also run entirely on donations and people-power of their volunteers, another reason to keep close ties with their community. As a not-for-profit family corporation, Boswell proudly states no one draws a salary, not even himself, and all monetary donations go towards caring for the rescued animals.

An open house, originally scheduled for August but rescheduled due to concern over rising COVID numbers, is slated for early October. Penny Lane is looking forward to resuming group tours on the weekends in the coming fall. Those looking to support Penny Lane can visit their website at www.pennylanefarmsanctuary.com/donate for more information on how to donate.

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