Area sanctuary helps abused animals, nurtures the soul

After enduring years of neglect and abuse, the adorable farm animals find a warm haven at Ralphy’s Retreat Animal Sanctuary near Waverley

After enduring years of neglect and abuse, Penelope, Valentino and Rudy are finally home.

The trio now live on beautiful, tranquil land near Waverley which has wide open spaces to roam freely and plenty of trees when they need a break from the summer sun.

Ralphy’s Retreat Animal Sanctuary has become a welcome refuge for these adorable farm animals who haven’t always experienced humanity at its best.

There’s Darryl the Alpaca who has plenty of character, horses, goats, turkeys, ducks, cows (Valentino and Hartley) and, of course, a wide array of friendly piggies like Rudy and Penelope.

There are also a few old donkeys.

Apple Jack is 25 and shows no signs of slowing down while Radar, 35, was born without eyes but finds his way easily as he plods along the large grassy field under Simpsonesque skies.

Some of the animals like Valentino and Hartley were seized by animal control for being neglected or abused, while others like Charlie, an adorable little black and white pig, were found wandering the streets of cities like Toronto and Bradford after being abandoned and forced. fend for themselves.

“Penelope lived in a laundry room for nine years, Shannon Leguizamon says, giving the flat-bellied black pig a welcome scratch behind the ears.

Burt, another carefree pig, who greets strangers visiting the sanctuary like an old friend), came from a situation of domestic violence.

Leguizamon adds: “The family had to find new accommodation and had no place for him.

The story of Ralphy’s Retreat dates back to 2003 when Kara Burrows rescued 18-year-old Winnie, a former show horse destined for the slaughterhouse.

While the retreat began to save 150 equines, including donkeys and ponies over the next six years, it was not until 2010 that it welcomed its first pig pair.

Gordon and Cosmo, pot-bellied pig brothers, were in danger of losing their lives, so the retreat agreed to take them in and began the steep learning curve since Burrows and the volunteers at the retreat knew next to nothing about how to take care of the pigs.

And while the retirement eventually settled on a farm in Norfolk County, health issues prevented Burrows from managing it.

It could have closed permanently if it hadn’t been for the kind hearts of the Shannon and Bernardo Leguizamon. They told Burrows they could take a pig to their smaller animal rescue farm.

“He loves animals as much as I do,” says Shannon Leguizamon.

It was last September. In December, the rest of the menagerie arrived and they didn’t look back.

“We have about 75 animals, 48 ​​of which are pigs,” Leguizamon says, noting that some people have piglets as pets, but once they get past the “cute teacup stage,” they don’t. are more interested in caring for them.

She suspects that was the case with Charlie, who was abandoned on a street in Bradford last April and forced to fend for himself before kindly strangers stepped in and made sure he received the care he needed. needed.

“He arrived weighing 10 pounds and was emaciated,” she said. “But he has a heart of gold, which is amazing considering what he’s been through.

“We have a lot of difficult cases that come to us that sometimes other sanctuaries are not able to accommodate. We probably get about four calls a week to pick up hogs. Many of these animals were at risk of being euthanized.

On this particular afternoon in mid-July, several volunteers are helping out at the sanctuary as well as three summer students hired through a government grant and two veterinary students from University College Dublin, who are due to work on a pig farm in the framework of their studies. .

“We have a lot of great volunteers,” says Leguizamon, noting that Burrows remains the nonprofit sanctuary’s president.

“We have people who come to read to the pigs, we have a lady who plays the harp for them. Pigs are super smart animals. They get rich a lot. We are always looking for dedicated volunteers.

One of these volunteers is Alice Keith.

Keith, who lives in Orillia, is in the middle of a toy drive to collect toys for animals. Toy donations for items such as Kongs can be picked up by calling or texting Keith at (705) 305-6500 or dropped off at 164 Diana Drive.

“I can’t go out to shop, I can do that too,” says Keith. “What I do is get the e-transfer, buy some toys, then text or email a picture of the items and your receipt with the date. Let’s keep the giving going.”

The sanctuary is named after a little pig who died far too young.

Ralphy was just nine months old when he joined the sanctuary in 2013.

“He was happy, playful, affectionate and all the wonderful things a pig should be!” the sanctuary notes on its website.

“He helped us realize the plight of the pot-bellied pig, and when he died we decided to rename the sanctuary in his honor and specifically help pot-bellied pigs. Although we still have other species of animals living at Ralphy, today we devote our time and resources almost exclusively to the pot-bellied pig.

And although the retreat is located on the Leguizamon’s property and therefore remains a private sanctuary, they do offer group tours during the summer months.

“We wanted to do community events, but with COVID it’s difficult,” says Leguizamon, noting that they still hope to offer bigger events in the future.

They also hold a number of fundraisers, including one where donors can have their names engraved on posts used to build a much-needed new fence. Additionally, they shear the wool-bearing animals to make hats and other items with the funds that will help run the sanctuary. And then there’s alpaca manure, which is sold as an effective fertilizer.

A chiropractor also comes by regularly to help animals like Penelope, who could barely walk when she arrived.

As for the Leguizamons, they met in Haiti where Bernardo, originally from Argentina, worked for the United Nations and Shannon, originally from Walkerton, did missionary work.

They have two children who are now in college and have lived in many parts of the world. They decided to settle in Simcoe County a few years ago.

“I work full-time for the Children’s Aid Society,” says Shannon Leguizamon, noting that she hopes to start employing some of the animals in her work since the children would benefit from visiting the friendly group.

“It’s good for the mental health of children. You can teach empathy and kindness through animals.

There is also a section of the website dedicated to Ralphy’s Angelsextinct animals with words by Suzanne Clothier Bones would rain from the sky.

“There is a cycle of love and death that shapes the lives of those who choose to travel in the company of animals,” it read. “It’s a cycle like no other.

“To those who have never experienced its twists or walked its rocky path, our willingness to give our hearts in the full knowledge that they will be broken seems incomprehensible. Only we know what a small price we pay for what we receive. our grief, however powerful, is an insufficient measure of the joy that has been given to us.”

And Leguizamon knows these words well and does not regret having undertaken what, for some, would be an impressive project.

“They contacted me first to take a pig and help me,” she says. “And we ended up with a sanctuary.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for my soul.”