Aussie sanctuary races to shelter animals ahead of grim summer

A woman running an animal sanctuary in northern NSW is already concerned about another wet summer, fearing more than 60 animals in her care might not make it.

Five years ago, B Starbright opened The Owl & The PussyCat Farm Animal Sanctuary along with her husband and the other permanent caretakers.

About a little over a year ago, serious discussions were had about building a barn for the animals.

The sanctuary looks after farm animals — the "least cared about, most mistreated animals on the planet" — Ms Starbright told Yahoo News Australia.

"At the moment in our care, we've got cows, chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, horses, and we might have two pigs coming," she said.

The Owl & The PussyCat Farm Animal Sanctuary is home to over 60 farm animals. Source: Supplied
The Owl & The PussyCat Farm Animal Sanctuary is home to over 60 farm animals. Source: Supplied

It would come at an enormous cost for the self-funded sanctuary near the Byron Bay Area on the NSW north coast, and Ms Starbright eventually and reluctantly decided to ask for donations.

She told Yahoo News Australia someone said to her she wasn’t asking money for herself, but the animals.

“We needed a barn to be able to house animals in bad weather, to be able to have a stable for sick, larger animals, and importantly, some way to store our hay,” she explained.

Floods obliterate animal sanctuary

After the bushfires in 2019 and early 2020, Covid-19 hit, and then came the rain.

At the start of the year, the Northern Rivers region was completely inundated, as was the sanctuary.

Ms Starbright says one of the caretakers likened the flood in February to a “land tsunami”, with water flowing in from two different directions.

When the first downpour hit at the start of the year, Ms Starbright and her team actually had Covid.

“Normally, at least one of us would be at the sanctuary along with Pixie and Benji, our two caretakers, so there's more people on the ground if we get flooded in, but we were really sick,” she said.

Ms Starbright’s home, which is about 10 minutes away from the sanctuary, also flooded. She and her husband were moving things from downstairs while battling a fever.

Along with everything stored in their home and garage, all the hay that was stored in their cars was also lost.

The animal sanctuary was completely inundated earlier this year. Source: The Owl & The PussyCat Farm Animal Sanctuary
The animal sanctuary was completely inundated earlier this year. Source: The Owl & The PussyCat Farm Animal Sanctuary

At the sanctuary, the water swept up everything in its path. One of the cars ended up 400 metres down the road in a tree. Fencing was destroyed, two roads were gone, the driveway was obliterated and the entrance to the sanctuary was a sinkhole.

“We have two dams on the property, our dam, it’s no longer,” she said,

“So much debris and like rocks and rubble got washed down from the hills, that it filled the dam with rocks, and there's no dam anymore.“

Being completely off the grid, the sanctuary was without reception and wi-fi for a week, the septic tank was also damaged.

The good news is, the more than 60 animals at the sanctuary were completely fine, despite not having a barn to hide away from the weather.

However, for days they couldn’t get to the horses, as the water formed a river and split the property in two.

“That was the most important thing for us,” she said.

For a month, the workers did what they could to repair the sanctuary and then all their work was undone by another catastrophic flooding event.

“It's been a year, and then we got flooded two more times after that, though nowhere near as bad as the first two times” she sighed.

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Stress sets in as more rain expected

The stress started to kick in once again when the Bureau of Metrology announced yet another La Niña season.

“Even just the day-to-day tasks in the pouring rain with the mud and the muck everywhere is quite physically and emotionally exhausting,” she said.

However, with wet weather and humidity come amid health concerns for the animals and the chance of hay getting mouldy.

Their best chance at making it through the warmer months is building a barn, which will cost roughly around $100,000.

"That's one of the best things we can do to prepare is to ensure that we've got shelter, dry, safe spaces for everybody," she said.

They're also hoping to get some big hay stores on the property, as the paddocks are completely ruined, so the cost of feeding the animals has become astronomical.

"Our feed bill this year has been six times higher than it would at this time normally because they can't graze," she said.

So far the sanctuary has raised over $16,000, though it is also accepting donations through their website.

While the past few years have been challenging and the forecast for the summer is looking grim, Ms Starbright is eager to push forward.

"I'd love to say if I had my time over, I wouldn't do it again. But I don't think that's entirely true," she said.

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