News Local

Wishing Well Sanctuary opens its doors

Miriam King

For the past few years, Brenda Thomas has had a vision - of an Animal Sanctuary in Bradford West Gwillimbury, that would take in and provide a loving home for rescued farm animals.

"We're taking animals that are typically raised for food, and promoting a vegetarian lifestyle," Thomas says. Wishing Well Sanctuary has 51 acres on the 10th Line of BWG, 9.5 of them fenced - and on October 14, received its first residents, 5 sheep and 9 cows.

The sheep are part of a flock of 32, that had been used for research at the University of Guelph, and rescued by Animal Alliance Canada. Most of the flock was adopted out - except for the five that were brought to Wishing Well.

The cows were purchased from a farmer by Animal Alliance, to save them from the slaughterhouse.

Thomas is hoping that all of the animals will find "joy, and open pasture," at the Sanctuary. "They're going to live out their lives."

The sheep posed a particular challenge. "High Health" sheep, bred to be pathogen-free for research purposes, they had to slowly be acclimatized to their environment, and to pathogens, over a period of months, says Liz White of Animal Alliance. The tricky acclimatization was accomplished with the help of Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary, located near Stratford Ontario, and a skilled sheep farmer.

Since "these sheep have never been outside," Thomas will have to introduce them to pasture slowly - starting with an hour a day.

Besides providing shelter for rescued animals, Thomas has another goal for Wishing Well Sanctuary. Recognizing the connection between humans and animals, she also plans to focus on mental health and healing, using the farm's buildings for seminars and programs geared towards children, youth and their families, with the animals playing a role. As it says in her brochure, "Animals nurture our awareness of the interconnectedness of all and help us in our healing process."

She wants to provide art therapy, music, meditation, yoga, dance, tai chi, as well as horticultural therapy and animal therapy, in a safe and peaceful environment. "I really see it as a sanctuary for all animals, human and non-human," she says, adding, "I'm very into promoting mental health, not treating mental health... There is certainly this big need around here. There are some great things we can do."

Wishing Well Sanctuary has applied for charitable status, and Thomas has been putting together a portfolio of facilitators to work with families and children. "The wheels are in motion," she says.

In the meantime, the truck loaded with the rescued animals rolled slowly up the winding drive, to the barn and fenced paddock that will be their new home. The animals were quickly unloaded - the sheep finding their way into a warm stall, the cattle outside into the field - as Thomas and supporters, including Lesley Sloan, also a member of Wishing Well's Board of Directors, watched.

"It's the happy side of animal protection," Thomas says. "These animals are ambassadors, for all the other animals" - being raised for food, at times in less-than-humane conditions.

"I've visualized this for so long. It's just amazing they're here."

For more information about Wishing Well Sanctuary, call 905-775-9179.

For information about Animal Alliance Canada, their rescue work and political campaigns, see