Lisa Rowlands pets Caru, a riding horse she rescued as a baby. Caru has been at the farm for the last 5 years. (Photo: Clark McGillis)

‘Giving back’: Large animal rescue at Cedarbank Farm

What’s the difference between a Holstein cow and your average household cat? According to Lisa Rowlands, not as much as you might expect.

“They really are just like big cats once you get to know them,” she says. Coming from someone with as much experience with animals as Rowlands has, it’s difficult not to take her word for it.

In her day job, Lisa Rowlands owns and operates Cedarbank Pet Boarding, providing people a place to house their dogs, cats, and other household pets when they’re away from home. It’s fulfilling work, Lisa says, but it’s only her day job. On the side, Lisa moonlights in a separate (although not completely unrelated) venture—large animal rescue.

Rowlands to the rescue

Rowlands has been rescuing animals for more than 15 years, volunteering her time and her farm as an annex for Refuge RR in Alexandria, one of the oldest and largest animal refuges in Ontario.

Her farm has seen many animals pass through its pens and fields during that time.

“Altogether we’ve probably placed a few thousand horses… hundreds of dogs… this past week we placed 16 cats from a hoarding situation,” she says.  The refuge is 100% funded through donations and all work is done on a volunteer basis.

With contacts across multiple provinces and the United States, Rowlands and her team are always on the lookout for animals in need of shelter and protection. Sometimes, it’s an animal abandoned on the side of the highway, or a family pet needing a new home after the death of its owner. Other times, it’s an old riding horse about to be sold to slaughter.

In all cases, the goal is to find somewhere the animals can live in comfort and safety. To make sure that happens, Lisa and her fellow volunteers (usually five in number) must coordinate with the owner or sanctuary to bring the animal into their care. They then house and feed the animal until they’re able to find a suitable home.

Time is often of the essence.

This means that Rowlands and her team must have full control of the situation as soon as possible. To that end,  they require owners and sanctuaries to sign a release when transferring an animal into their care. Rowlands says this helps to prevent the animal from being sold to slaughter or to other places that might do the animal harm—all for the chance to make a quick buck.

The rewards of rescue

Animal rescue is undoubtedly stressful work, Lisa says; complications are part of the territory.

For instance, last year, Refugee RR had a shortage of water and hay during a drought. Just when they had found an outside farm to supply the hay, the farm burned down.

Another instance involved a calf named Kelso, whose hip was dislocated at birth. Left to die and requiring three surgeries in Saint-Hyacinthe and a titanium hip to save his life, Kelso pulled through, and now lives happily at Refuge RR.

It seems like a lot of hardship to endure, especially for a project done on a purely volunteer basis. So why does she do it, then?

“If you make a living with animals, you have to give back,” she says, petting Caru, one of the seven rescued horses living on the farm. Caru came to Lisa as a baby with a badly damaged leg and has been with her ever since.

While Caru is busy taking in the attention from Lisa, another horse, Mara, a Standardbred former family-pet stands back a few feet from the fence, keeping a more distant eye on the situation. Lisa says the personality differences between the two couldn’t be more obvious.

Having dealt with so many different animals, Rowlands says seeing them develop their own personality is one of the most rewarding experiences she knows.

“When animals are happy, their personality comes right through,” she explains, “it’s really an amazing thing to see.”