Remembering Andy Parent

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Julia Zipfel, summer camp attendee, counsellor and long time Big Sky Ranch volunteer, presenting Andy with a painting of one of the Sanctuary's llamas, Diesel. Photo provided by Big Sky Ranch Animal Sanctuary
– the Gatekeeper of Big Sky Ranch

North Grenville lost a great man last week who dedicated his life to giving unwanted and abused animals a place to call home.

Andy Parent first established Big Sky Ranch in 2002 as a hobby farm. Originally from Ottawa, he wanted to give his two young sons the opportunity to connect with the land and be around animals. At first, Andy and his family continued to live in Ottawa, visiting the farm at 810 Pelton Road in the evenings and weekends; however, they soon moved out to the farm permanently, looking for a quieter life. On their very first night, they were all outside marveling at the expansiveness of the starry sky. The possibilities of their new home seemed endless. It was then Andy said the farm should be called Big Sky Ranch.

The very first animal that came to Andy was from a friend who had a dog named Bear. Bear was half dog and half wolf, and although he was a very loving, at 125 lbs he was too much for his friend to handle. Andy gladly took him in, and Bear became his first furry companion at the Ranch, setting in motion a chain of events that would lead him to house and provide homes to thousands of animals over the next almost two decades.

To date, Big Sky Ranch has helped over 3500 domestic animals of all kinds and sizes achieve a happy outcome through their rehabilitation and adoption programs. They currently house about 125 abused and unwanted animals including horses, cows, goats, donkeys, llamas, sheep, cats, dogs, rabbits, pot bellied pigs, emus, peacocks and a variety of domestic fowl.

Through his dedication and hard work, and with the support he inspired in so many people, Andy has grown the Ranch into not only a haven for animals, but for people too. Over the years, he has welcomed hundreds of volunteers and visitors to the Ranch of all different backgrounds and abilities “The Sanctuary was established to help animals in need; but Andy soon realized that the animals rescued people right back,” says Pauline Lafleur, Office Manager and long-time volunteer at the Ranch. “It was very important for him, for instance, never to charge admission because he wanted the Sanctuary to be barrier free and accessible to everybody. He wanted no restrictions on people who came to volunteer. The only thing that you needed to walk through the door was love for the animals and the desire to help them.”

Andy was a valued member of the North Grenville community and worked as the municipality’s animal control officer for many years. He loved that aspect of his job and found great joy in reuniting families with their pets, and relocating those who were truly lost.

“We are very appreciative of Mr. Parent’s service to the Municipality through our unique and caring partnership in animal control, not to mention the invaluable sanctuary he established that continues to serve our community and much of Eastern Ontario,” Mayor Nancy Peckford said in a statement.

Andy always felt that this journey had been guided by something bigger than himself, and felt that coming to this area was an amazing gift. His gratitude to the local community for welcoming and supporting the animals over the years was profound, just as he also marveled that supporters would come from all over Ontario and Canada to visit and help. Although the Sanctuary has taken in animals from all over, most of the ones that have been adopted have stayed locally in Eastern Ontario. “People have good hearts and Andy saw the good in everyone,” Pauline says.

Although Andy will always be known and loved as the founder of Big Sky Ranch, Pauline says that over the past few years he started referring to himself as the gatekeeper instead. “When asked what made Big Sky Ranch what it is, Andy felt that, first of all, the animals are the soul of Big Sky Ranch, the volunteers are the heart of Big Sky Ranch, and everybody who supports it in all the other ways are the lifeblood of Big Sky Ranch, and that it is almost a living thing.”

Having struggled with his health for several years, Andy was focused on ensuring that the Sanctuary would continue long after he was gone. “For quite some time his focus was on making sure that, without a shadow of a doubt, Big Sky Ranch, its mission, its purpose, its heart. He put people in place over time to ensure his legacy would continue.”

After many years of illness and a short battle with lung cancer, Andy passed away on April 29, at the age of 62. Despite the pandemic, Andy’s last year was a happy one, with a lot of time spent with the animals at Big Sky Ranch, his family, and a small group of volunteers and friends at his side. “That was maybe one of the unintended blessings of COVID,” Pauline says. “On the one hand, he missed having people here so much- especially the children- but on the other hand it gave him time to simply be with the animals, which is exactly how his journey began.”

Due to the pandemic restrictions, there was no public funeral. Big Sky Ranch will re-open once again to visitors when able to safely do so, so that people can spend time with the animals. Donations to the animals of Big Sky Ranch are gratefully appreciated. To donate visit www.bigskyranch.ca.

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