Charlotte’s Freedom Farm Recovers After Fire
Story by Michael Seguin
Lauren Had a Little Lamb
It all started with a lamb named Charlotte. Lauren Edwards is Windsor and Essex County’s own personal Doctor Dolittle. A whirling bundle of energy, she divides her time between her three local pet stores and her two different nonprofits, Moggy’s Mission, a cat rescue centre, and, as of 2017, Charlotte’s Freedom Farm.
Which, Lauren explains, all started when she took in a lost four-day old lamb named Charlotte.
“Charlotte came from a local farmer out in Harrow,” Lauren recalls. “The farmer actually thought she had passed away and had thrown her into a pile with the other carcasses before realizing that she was still alive.”
At the time, Lauren had moved out to a farm in Chatham, with the intention of rescuing chickens.
“I reached out to him looking for chickens,” Lauren states. “After I told him about myself and what I do, he said, ‘Oh! I’ve got this little lamb here that you should take!’ As soon as he said that, I jumped into my car and sped over to Harrow. That’s where Charlotte’s Freedom Farm started.”
However, as it turns out, Charlotte came with some strings attached.
“Lambs are herd animals,” Lauren explains. “You can’t have just one sheep or goat roaming around. When I was taking her in, I knew it meant I’d be taking in more. That was the plan.”
Before long, Charlotte’s Freedom Farm had grown from a hobby farm to Windsor and Essex County’s first official animal sanctuary.
“Charlotte’s Freedom Farm grew out of necessity,” Lauren states. “It was the only place for animals to go. I started getting countless calls for owner surrenders. Sheep and goats and ducks and pigs. Farm animals in Windsor and Essex County and Chatham-Kent—and all across Ontario!—started flocking to us.”
Over the last three years, Charlotte’s Freedom Farm has accumulated close to 150 animals.
“We’ve taken in animals from the Windsor and Chatham Humane Society,” Lauren states. “I have farmers call. I have vets call. We’ve taken in everything—even peacocks and pheasants. This week alone, I’ve had requests for three ducks, two pigs and a horse. It’s nonstop. But, we want to help rescue every single animal that we can.”
Christine Rettig, Charlotte Freedom Farm’s live-in caretaker, was awakened at midnight on Canada Day when Bernard, an aging donkey, started braying outside her bedroom window.
“Bernard is an older donkey,” Lauren explains. “We allow him to wander the premises. And donkeys are very protective animals. They’re known for sounding the alarm at any sign of danger.”
After investigating the barn, Christine noticed a hellish red glow emanating out from the door. That could only mean one thing: fire.
When Christine arrived, only a small area of the barn was in flames. Within six minutes, the entire structure was ablaze. During that tiny window of time, Christine made four trips into the burning barn, rescuing over 80 animals.
“We had a big stall with most of the animals in it,” Lauren states. “Christine jumped in and kicked the wall down so that they could escape. She carried out a couple goats and a pig. She ripped apart bird cages. She was just sprinting in and out of that burning building. She went above and beyond the call of duty. She risked her own life several times over saving those animals.”
Unfortunately, not all the animals were able to be saved. Attached to the barn was a small apartment, containing five cats and one dog—who all perished from the smoke. One of the ponies panicked and refused to leave his stall. Five chickens and four ducks also didn’t make it.
“There was a lot of loss,” Lauren admits. “I know it could have been so much worse. But, I almost feel like saying that downplays the loss that did happen. It was the worst thing that has ever happened to me, personally. I don’t think it’s something we’ll ever totally get over—losing those animals that way. But, all you can do is move forward.”
The firefighters were able to determine the cause of the catastrophic fire: a three-week old bale of hay.
“Sometimes, when you bale hay off the field there’s a hidden damp spot in the middle,” Lauren states. “And then, if it sits in the heat, it can create a chemical reaction that can—under certain circumstances—spontaneously burst into flames.”
It took days for Lauren and her team to fully catalog all the damage and track down the animals. However, as Lauren states, in the face of such unprecedented tragedy, all you can do is move forward.
After the fire, Charlotte’s Freedom Farm received an abundance of support.
“I met a million new people because of this tragedy,” Lauren states. “All these people reached out. A local couple had a barn fire a few years ago,” Lauren recalls. “They just threw hay in their truck, drove over and said, ‘Hey, we know what you’re going through. We want to donate some hay for your animals!’ Another farmer from Dresden—who I’d never spoken to—drove over with some cages. It really showed me that, when tragedy strikes, people being there gets you through the hard times. It really is amazing.”
And the generosity even extended beyond the community. Four animal sanctuaries, Twist of Fate, Ranch Relaxo, Goats of Anarchy and the Enchanted Farm Sanctuary started a GoFundMe to help Charlotte’s Freedom Farm cover the damages. The page hit its $10,000 goal within a day. After a few days, donations reached over $25,000.
“We had people reaching out and showing their support from Japan, Germany, Australia, Europe, South America,” Lauren states. “The PayPal page was showing me currencies that I had to Google! It really was overwhelming.”
In addition, Lauren’s friends at Pet Valu Head Office surprised her with a $5,000 cheque.
Thanks to the rapid influx of donations, construction on the new barn was able to begin the Monday after the old one was demolished.
“The new barn is 70% completed,” Lauren estimates. “It has a roof, it has walls. The cement floor was poured last week. All the posts are up for the new stalls. And the new barn was designed as the most fireproof building in history. Everything is covered in metal. The electricians are installing heat sensors running straight to my SecurityOne panel. If a fire happens now, in the 10 minutes it would take help to arrive, it wouldn’t do any real damage.”
Fundraising efforts on the new barn continue. Charlotte’s Freedom Farm is currently hosting community events like Goat Yoga and Virtual Dinners to cover the expense of the new facility. “We’re doing different things,” Lauren states. “We’re still trying to cover everything.”
Recovery remains an ongoing process. However, according to Lauren, no one embodies the indomitable spirit of Charlotte’s Freedom Farm quite like Meg the Pig.
“We have a pig that was burned pretty badly,” Lauren states. “Worse than we realized that night. She lost most of her ears, and some skin around her snout and mouth. She had fourth and fifth degree burns along the back. The vets even sent her home, thinking she wasn’t going to make it. They were shocked that she was still alive. But this pig never gave up.”
Miraculously, Meg just kept getting better and better.
“After a week, she started yelling at us for food,” Lauren laughs. “Now, she’s completely back to normal. She’s out tearing up mattresses and getting tangled in her blankets. When it’s dinner time, you can hear her from the house. And that’s amazing.”
For more information about Charlotte’s Freedom Farm visit charlottesfarm.ca.