Pitch perfect trio hit the right note to rescue animals
Interview by Melanie Dziengo
Three best friends, two shared passions, and a cat started an unforgettable journey.
How did your rescue start?
We are the Ladybirds – Lisa Winn, Melissa McClelland and Janine Stoll; best friends who have spent over a decade sharing in each other’s music. Through recording as the Ladybird Sideshow project, touring Canada or simply singing three part harmonies in each other’s living rooms over a bottle of wine, our collective passion for music has always been the glue to our friendship. As our music careers veered in different directions over the years, our friendship held strong and our shared ‘other’ passion for animal welfare eventually helped us conceive of Ladybird Animal Sanctuary, bonding the three of us even closer.
It all started with a cat named Oliver, who was abandoned at a local shelter. After spending a year in a cage, and some time not being able to shake what seemed like a cold, he was diagnosed with feline leukaemia (FeLV). In some shelters, this is a death sentence, even though FeLV cats can live long, healthy lives, despite the diagnosis. Oliver was snuggly, affectionate, full of life and certainly did not deserve death just because of his diagnoses. Lisa brought him home, and spent months trying to find him a suitable home, as she already had her share of rescue animals.
With one foster home, one rescue cat, a website design and some serious word of mouth, we watched Ladybird grow from one simple idea to a registered Canadian charity with a system of 40+ volunteer foster homes, and hundreds of domestic animals rescued from shelters. Each animal is eventually adopted out to a loving forever home, or becomes a “Permanent Resident” when they are unsuitable for adoption.
How do you decide which animals to rescue?
It all depends on what an available foster home is comfortable fostering. Some only want adult cats, some are exclusively dog homes, some can only foster small animals.
On occasion, we've been at a shelter we rescue from, and because of health/medical urgency, we've taken an animal who did not have a foster home readily available. Thankfully, the vet clinics we work with are very accommodating, and can fit in an appointment for an unplanned rescue, and board the animal temporarily until we find a foster placement.
We've come to be known as the "bleeding heart" rescue. Shelter staff will bring tougher cases to our attention in hopes that we can take in animals other rescues declined. These are usually senior animals and animals who need extra medical attention. We're suckers for the "underdog" or cat....or rabbit... :).
How large is the area you do your rescue work in?
Ladybird does not have a central shelter or office currently, as we do all work from our respective homes, in our cars, at any number of vets we’re affiliated with, and in our foster homes.
How many foster homes do you currently have?
25 foster homes currently have animals. There are more who regularly foster for us, but are on hiatus due to vacations, etc.
What is your favourite rescue story?
A week before Christmas in 2017, Mary Jane - a very sweet senior yellow lab - was surrendered to Hamilton animal control by her owner because her owner was moving. At 12.5-years-old, after being with one owner since she was a puppy, Mary Jane was understandably confused, stressed and upset about being left in a cage in a noisy shelter instead of at home with her family. You can read Mary Jane’s full story here.
How do you give the animals their names? What was the most unusual name?
Because our animals come from the shelter system, many already have names. Often they are given names by shelter staff, or our foster homes. When Ladybird names animals, they often come from popular culture references or a name is chosen that perfectly suits an animal.
On average, how long do you have the animals before they’re adopted?
It can be a month or a year. It's different every time.
What is the best piece of advice you can give to someone looking to adopt a pet?
Research, research, research! The majority of animals who are abandoned are a result of the owner not researching the proper housing, training, care, and medical needs the animal requires. When the animal isn't perfectly behaved, the young children aren't looking after the animal, or it will cost the owner money to take the animal to the vet, the animal is left at a shelter, or released outside. If more people did their research about the animal they are interested in, there would be fewer homeless animals in our shelter systems.
Always adopt! Never shop!
Pets are for life! "Forever home" means forever...not just until the animal becomes an inconvenience or a financial burden. Sign up for pet insurance or have a savings account just for your pet. Vet care is expensive, and when emergencies happen, pet owners must be prepared.
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What have you learned from rescuing animals?
We have learned that animals are incredibly resilient and trusting, when they’re given the safe space to heal, and the loving attention of people who care. We’ve learned that animals often give us way more than we give them. We’ve also learned that community is an incredibly powerful force when a worthy cause comes along, and that there are wonderful and generous people in the most unexpected places.
Is there anything else you wanted to add?
We’re very proud of the impact we’ve made as a rescue and foster network, but our long-term goals are much bigger! We are working hard towards our dream of opening a physical sanctuary in southern Ontario. This will be a safe haven for animals, where we can continue with our rescue/foster team, and we can house permanent resident animals including seniors, hospice cases, cats with feline immunodeficiency virus, FeLV and feral cats, and farm animals. This will also be a place for our Ladybird community to gather and grow. We welcome anyone who is willing to help, learn, engage and celebrate the lives of these wonderful creatures.
As three individuals with jobs and busy lives apart from Ladybird, we find ourselves as the co-founders of a fully functioning and thriving charity. There are steep learning curves at every turn, but we are up for the challenge because there is an important task at hand. With every success story, every rescue mission, every grateful furry little face, we know we are doing our jobs as animal defenders.
We could not, and cannot possibly do this alone, so please join us on our Ladybird journey!