The legacy of Andy Parent lives on at Big Sky Ranch Animal Sanctuary near Kemptville, Ont.
KEMPTVILLE, ONT. -- When Andy Parent bought the property where Big Sky Ranch Animal Sanctuary now sits, he never dreamed it would help thousands of animals and hundreds of people in almost 20 years.
More than 3,500 adoptions have taken place since the ranch was founded in 2002.
"Part of Andy's genius was recognizing the need for a place like this to help all of the domestic animals that he could," said office manager Pauline LaFleur.
"He had a heart for animals and he just kept on saying yes," LaFleur said. "When people came and helped, he was able to say yes even more often and here we are today with an incredible organization."
Andy passed away on April 29 after a battle with cancer and other health issues.
He made it his life's work to take in any animal facing a bad situation, and give them shelter and the best life he could, two legs or four.
There are approximately 120 animals at the ranch currently, including emus, chickens, goats, llamas, sheep, miniature horses, and cats and dogs.
"If they are not adopted, then they live out the remainder of their days here," LaFleur added. "Usually because they are elderly or they require very specialized continued care."
Francine Charbonneau, who sits on the board of directors and who also volunteers at the ranch, says Andy helped turn her life around.
She remembers her first conversation with him.
"I said 'I want to help animals,' and he said 'you're here for the animals but the animals are going to help you,'" Charbonneau said.
"Within two to three months of being here, I was a changed person," she added. "I would come here and shovel poo all day. I would spend time with the animals and just doing everything I had no experience doing, and Andy just gave me wings to fly and told me to make this place my own too and it really did heal me and it continues to heal me."
For Ottawa native Kyle Brady, he found his forever friend at the ranch just a month ago, after not meeting recommendations from other agencies.
When he inquired about the dog that he thought he wanted, staff at the ranch instead offered him another option.
"They gave me a few reasons as to why I wasn't the perfect fit for that dog and why that dog wasn't a perfect fit for me," Brady said. "And then they pitched me on Panda, they pitched me on the reasons why they thought he was a better fit and invited me to go visit with him 24 hours later."
Panda is an eight-year-old Australian shepherd and border collie mix who loves to play and watch baseball.
"Their process and the time that they took to make sure the fit was appropriate, not just for the owner but for the dog itself, I was impressed," said Brady.
"You could tell they really cared about the animals," he added. "These people and Andy's legacy, it's just giving all these animals a second shot at a good life and I couldn't recommend it any more than I have. They are wonderful people to deal with. They really just want what's best for the animal and I think that's the most important thing when you're considering adoption and which agency you're going through."
The ranch will continue to run as it always has, caring for any animal looking for that second shot at life.
"We made a promise to Andy and his family that this place is going nowhere," said Charbonneau. "There are still so many animals to save and people to help. The community needs us and we need the community."
With Andy's spirit, encouraging everyone to see life for what it could be.
"He was not shy about finding people that shared that vision and that would continue that legacy well into the future," added LaFleur. "Everyone who knows Andy knows how hard he worked and how much he loved life and loved the animals and he saw the best in everybody.
"He would want everybody to continue that generosity, that spirit, and I know that he would want to say thank you, thank you for allowing him to be, first the founder and then the gatekeeper.
"The work itself is not done and the animals still need us and we intend to honour Andy's legacy and love as many animals as we are able to."
For more information on how you can help donate to the ranch, or to search for your forever friend, visit their website http://www.bigskyranch.ca/