'Death row': Animal rescue sanctuary facing bleak fight in coronavirus crisis

A “death row” animal sanctuary in Queensland is facing the prospect of having to close down its operation and take on the near impossible task of re-homing its animals amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Brisbane farm takes in an eclectic mix of misfit animals from abandoned cats and dogs to a wide variety of “non viable” farm animals.

If a farmer in Queensland can’t make any money from an animal and it’s headed for slaughter, there’s a chance it will end up at Death Row Unchained Animal Rescue.

“We are only last options – death row, neglect and abuse cases,” says founder and director Kate Eleena.

“We take in animals that aren’t a profit to farmers.”

Kate Eleena (left) and farm volunteers are worried about the future of the animals. Source: Supplied

The kind of animals that end up at the rescue are bobby calves which are born so the mother can continue to produce milk, but are separated at birth and are considered surplus to the dairy industry with hundreds of thousands killed each year. The same happens for male dairy goats.

“We really only take in the animals that the farmer can’t use,” Ms Eleena told Yahoo News Australia.

In other cases, animals with certain disabilities might put them outside the regulation of the Department of Primary Industries, making them a burden to farmers.

“One of the superstars here is Aurora, she is a cow that was born with no eyes, no tail and is deaf in one ear,” Ms Eleena said. “Under DPI regulations farmers are not allowed to send a blind cow on a truck.”

The group also takes in animals from the RSPCA as well as private surrenders which can include former race horses, which are often slaughtered once they no longer perform well enough at the track.

According to Ms Eleena, the 35-acre property is currently home to about 124 animals, including the little ones such as ducks and chickens. 

However those animals could face an uncertain future as the coronavirus pandemic has caused the farm’s funding to almost completely dry up.

The animal rescue takes in all sorts of discarded and abandoned animals. Source: Supplied
The animal rescue would hold fortnightly events for the public. Source: Supplied

Coronavirus affect takes hold

Death Row Unchained is completely run by volunteers which number about 120 from the core managerial team to its network of foster carers. It pays its considerable bills for rent, veterinary services and animal feed with revenue from public walkthroughs and events.

“Every fortnight a couple hundred people come through the door, we sell food, we put on live music ... Kids meet the animals,” Ms Eleena explained.

The farm also generates some income through merchandise and public sponsorship of animals, however without the events those funding channels have slowed dramatically.

“All the money raised goes to the sanctuary and the animals,” she said. “(But) our sponsorships are dropping by the hour.”

The flow-on effects of the current coronavirus restrictions – which the prime minister says could last for six months – have had a secondary impact on the farm as surrounding businesses which it relies on have also slowed down.

A local farmers’ market supports the animal rescue and in normal times would supply about 160 kilos of fruit and vegetable wastage a day to help feed the pigs, Ms Eleena said. “That saves us a huge amount. We still get from them but it’s so much smaller now.”

‘We’re really worried’

The animal rescue farm is hoping to raise funds to help it through the down time as it looks for a way to keep feeding and care for the animals

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to stop all Open Days, Private Tours and Sanctuary Events. These important events fund our sanctuary and without them we will find it impossible to survive the next six months,” the group says in a current GoFundMe campaign.

“We need to secure feed, medical care and equipment, animal bedding and rent in order for us to stay afloat.”

Ms Eleena plans to speak to the landlord to hopefully reduce the rent but is unsure what will ultimately happen to the animals in her care.

“We don’t know, we’re not giving up but we’re worried. We’re really worried,” she said.

“I would hate to imagine, I try not to think about it but we’d have to re-home the animals.” However that, she said, would likely be “an impossible task.”

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