Ontario animal sanctuary donkey crashes Zoom meetings around the world

The pandemic has forced businesses and organizations to rethink operations, but a unique idea from an animal sanctuary near Toronto garnered international attention.

Farmhouse Garden Animal Home, an animal sanctuary in Uxbridge, about an hour north-east of Toronto, had to rethink fundraising — pivoting from their nearly monthly in-person events to online ventures, said the farm’s executive director Edith Barabash.

Along with virtual tours and online education came Buckwheat the donkey, a Zoom meeting crasher. Buckwheat joins meetings by invitation.

She makes funny noises and generally adds fun to meetings, Barabash, told blogTO.

“In many cases, these are formal business meetings and then all of the sudden a donkey shows up,” she said.

The donkey has been crashing meetings since April and has recently attracted attention from as far away as Bangkok, Thailand.

The requests keep coming making it a successful fundraiser for the sanctuary. The cost for a 10-minute Zoom session is $75.

“We have had callers from all over the world — in Europe, in the States,” said Barabash. “That was probably our most popular campaign to date. It got us a lot of international attention.”

The campaign raised more than $10,000, she added.

Farmhouse Garden Animal Home started about four years ago, after Mike Lanigan, a multigenerational farmer and cattle rancher spent a lot of time with a new-born calf and decided to stop raising animals for slaughter.

The extra funds from the Zoom appearances are needed to feed the animals and keep up with requests to rescue farm animals.

The Toronto pandemic trend to foster ducklings has led to an increase in requests from upset families learning their ducklings are slated to become dinner.

“Unfortunately a lot of these ducks do end up going to slaughter because people don’t realize what they are getting into with these foster programs,” Barabash said.

People become attached the ducklings and then call sanctuaries to save them, said Barabash who regularly gets calls for help.

“In the past two days, I just got four requests,” she said.

She also gets requests to take on backyard chickens.

“Now that people are home a lot more maybe they felt they could take something like that on and then realize it is more of a responsibility than they initially thought,” she said.

The sanctuary has 28 cows, nine chickens, two ducks, a horse and, of course, Buckwheat the donkey. They can’t take on much more.

“There is only so much we can do because we are limited in terms of space and finances,” Barabash said

In addition to Zoom calls, the sanctuary is hoping their first fundraising run in October, the Sanctuary Stride, now virtual, will help.

Barabash hopes to return to in-person fundraising when it is safe.

“We love to have people, especially from the city, come out and meet the animals,” said Barabash.

They recently started opening for small group tours but because there is an organic farm attached to the sanctuary, they have to be cautious.

“Our priority is keeping the farmworkers safe,” she said.

The pandemic has opened their eyes to new opportunities.

“It hasn’t all been bad,” said Barabash. “We have still been able to fundraise and we are learning more about technology and the way that it can help us with fundraising and education outreach efforts — lots of good has come out it.”

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