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A & E MUSIC | Birds of a Feather

The Ladybird Animal Sanctuary's resident rebels with a furry, and fantastic, cause

BY David McPherson


Photo by Mishafotos

On average, Hamilton Animal Services euthanizes approximately 3,000 cats and 300 dogs annually.

Unlike Oliver Twist, Dickens' classic orphan boy— who had the gall to ask for more—all Oliver the cat could do was plea for help with sad, emerald eyes. Enter Lisa Winn. The Hamilton singer heeded the cat's call. You see, Oliver has Feline Leukemia, a contagious disease, and a local shelter was set to euthanize him until Winn stepped in. The animal's plight tugged at her heart. Later, Oliver's story inspired the artist to establish a virtual haven—Ladybird Animal Sanctuary — to save other forlorn felines and abandoned pets.

"I wouldn't call myself an activist … not in the 'protester' sense anyway," says Winn. "I do what I can to be kind to animals: being a long-time vegetarian, not using products containing animal ingredients or that were tested on animals, not wearing leather, not attending zoos, etc."

Ladybird Animal Sanctuary officially took flight last year. A pair of musical mates, Melissa McClelland and Janine Stoll, joined Winn in this crusade. Since its formation, the registered charity has rescued 91 animals — mostly from the local area.

I caught up with these three lovely ladies on a late August night at Toronto's Dakota Tavern. The venue hosted a CD release party for McClelland's latest project: the sophomore disc from Whitehorse (see sidebar). At the door, donations for Ladybird Animal Sanctuary were collected, and more than $1,300 was raised. After the show, we sat down to chat about how this sanctuary came to fruition and what's planned for its future.

Ladybird Animal Sanctuary is an extension of Winn's personal beliefs. She hopes the organization can help educate people about being a responsible pet owner. All three ladybirds volunteer their time; the sanctuary does not get any grants from the government and relies solely on donations and private funders.

"We want to raise awareness about why it's important to spay and neuter animals and get them proper vet care," she explains. "Exercising compassion for animals is important because it reflects on how you treat each other."

The women explain to me that people sometimes acquire an animal, then find that they "don't jive" with their lifestyle, so they try to abandon them. According to Winn — in Hamilton specifically — animal neglect is a problem. And, it's usually due to irresponsible pet ownership, and a failure to spay or neuter. Ladybird constantly receives emails from people who want to get rid of their pets; basically, they did not know what they were getting themselves into when they bought or adopted that cuddly furball, and the pet is not considered a permanent part of the family. Appeals for help with strays are also a frequent email request. The sad reality of this situation is that once these abandoned animals are picked up by Hamilton Animal Services (HAS) their survival rate drops. According to recent statistics Winn shares, on average, HAS euthanizes approximately 3,000 cats and 300 dogs annually. The good news is "euth" days are going down thanks to the increase in the number of rescue organizations like Ladybird, and other animal shelters who are stepping in to save more animals.

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In the Fall of 2001, Winn, McClelland and Stoll started a band (Ladybird Sideshow), along with Erin Smith. When asked about the origins of the Ladybird label, Stoll recounts the tale.

"We were driving through the country and wondering what a good name for our band would be, and Melissa said, 'we are ladies and we are kind of like birds'; it felt right and it stuck."

Besides a love of music, these songbirds share a love of giving back to their communities. While Stoll and McClelland continue to follow their muses, Winn is the main cog in the Ladybird's fund-raising machine.

"Lisa is the official bleeding heart of the charity," McClelland says. "She has years of experience working with animals and rescue groups and she has taught us so much about what the reality is and what needs to be done. She is willing to put herself out there and do it. She physically goes to the shelters and picks up the animals that she thinks are a really good fit for what we do.

"She also manages our foster network, setting up appointments for potential adopters," McClelland adds. "Lisa is really good with these people and gets these animals into permanent homes. I can't imagine how much time she spends between running animals back and forth between appointments, sending emails and just following up … it's a massive job."

Stoll's job is to help with promotion; she does all the graphic design work, including posters for events, brochures and maintaining the website, ladybirdanimalsanctuary.com. She concurs with Winn however, that without McClelland, this sanctuary would not exist.

"She has a lot of access to important people, along with an infinite bank of great ideas," Stoll comments. "Melissa's an innovator and really good at writing proposals … she's what gets us to an audience that normally wouldn't know about our organization."

Winn runs the charitable organization in between working a full-time job. Animals rescued by the Ladybird Animal Sanctuary are placed into foster homes , and remain in foster care until they are adopted. Looking to the future, Ladybird Animal Sanctuary plans to open a rural refuge in Southern Ontario where all abandoned animals can find a temporary home before they are adopted. Animals considered "unadoptable" will also find a permanent place to stay at the new facility.

"We want to create a really beautiful, environmentally friendly, sustainable place where Lisa will live full-time," says Stoll. Adds McClelland: "We have big plans... .We want to invite the community in and make it really inclusive, creative, fun and filled with music."

Winn says the plan is to slowly build the sanctuary. "We don't want to move faster than we should," she concludes. "We want to focus on raising money so we can find the right location for a property and get a mortgage."

The $1,300 raised at the Dakota is certainly not enough for a downpayment, but it was a good start with more fundraisers planned this fall.

As I bid adieu to the trio, a smile crept across my face. It's hard not to feel good about how these three artists are making a difference so cats like Oliver can stave off their death sentence and find a loving home.



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