Cruel drought threatens future of animal sanctuary

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WHISKER Woods, a once thriving animal sanctuary with an abundance of grass to feed the animals, has turned into a dry nightmare, and now its owner Shannon Mortlock urgently needs help. 

Shannon Mortlock… “We took in these animals to give them a safe and loving home and now I’m struggling to feed them.”

When Shannon, 41, opened the not-for-profit animal sanctuary that rescues domestic and wild animals on 48 hectares in Williamsdale, just outside of Canberra, she never thought she would get to a point where she’d struggle to feed the animals.

A decade on and Shannon is living pay-check to pay-check, spending most of her income on feeding them.

“For years the sanctuary would run from my wages, but ever since the drought hit, it’s just not sustainable anymore,” she says. 

Shannon’s been struggling for three years and although she hates asking for help, she’s found herself in a position where she desperately needs it so has set up a GoFundMe page calling for donations.

“We took in these animals to give them a safe and loving home and now I’m struggling to feed them,” she says. 

“We’re not a farm so we can’t just send them off to slaughter. It’s just not an option. And we can’t rehome them because nobody’s taking animals in the drought. I’m getting asked every day to take in sheep, cows and horses because farmers can’t afford to keep them.

“I used to get asked once or twice a week but now it’s every day because of the drought.”

Whisker Woods’ dam before the drought.

Shannon’s even been yelled at recently because she’s had to say “no” to taking in some animals, and says she just can’t afford it, she’s only one person.

“It’s just not sustainable any more and there’s not really a way out with the sanctuary because what do you do with the animals?” she says. 

“When you rescue an animal, you rescue it forever. And unless you can find a really good home for them, there’s no way out. 

“We just can’t keep going like this. There’s only so far my pay goes. 

“I remember thinking last summer that we made it through the summer but the drought just never seems to be ending and with these fires, the amount of wildlife we’ll get coming in with burns, we just can’t say ‘no’.”

Growing up, Shannon always had a love for animals, so much so that she stopped eating meat as a child, which was frowned upon by her parents. 

“I wasn’t vegan at that stage but started to realise what meat was,” she says.

It was more than a decade ago, after volunteering in pounds and seeing lots of cats and dogs being put down, that Shannon became inspired to open a sanctuary.

“All they needed was more time,” she says. 

“I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be good to start up a sanctuary and give these animals some more time’.”

Whisker Woods dam today.

So Shannon did. And now she has about 180 animals that she supports with her public service wages. 

At minimum, Whisker Woods needs $600 a week to provide hay for the animals over the next six months. And then there’s the need for water. 

“[We’re not on town water], we only have rain water but there’s been no rain for three years so we have to get water trucked in now,” she says.

“We need about two truck loads per month, which is $250 per load to keep the place maintained. It’s not even going towards showers. I have to go to my mum’s or my partner’s house to have a shower.”

All together Shannon’s asking for almost $15,000 to get them through until about May. 

She just wants the animals fed and hydrated, and says the eight horses and four dairy cows cost about $600 per week, alone.

“I’m worried about February because the produce just isn’t growing to keep up with the demand,” she says. 

“And we’re stuck a bit as well because we don’t have a storage shed.”

A hay shed, plumbing, electricity and a kitchen was on a list of things that Shannon was saving for before the drought hit. 

“I had about $16,000 saved to get off-grid solar for electricity but once the drought hit it started getting used for hay,” she says. 

With no feed on the ground and a dried up dam, the sanctuary has become more costly than Shannon could have ever imagined when she started it. 

“It makes you think: ‘Is this it now? What if it doesn’t get back to what it used to be?’” she says.

“Unless people don’t start to help sanctuaries more, we’ll start closing.”


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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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