Volunteer and yoga and fitness instructor Stacey Bowman is a Georgian Bay resident who makes the trip down to Bradford every week to donate her time and services to Wishing Well Sanctuary on Line 10, providing yoga classes with the farm’s goats and llamas.
Bowman grew up on farms where both her parents were farmers. She recalls riding on a horse before she could even walk, and at age 15, did her high school co-op program at the Barrie SPCA.
So, it was no surprise when she pivoted from her former profession as a dancer to a job at an animal hospital in Barrie during the pandemic.
“I think my body needed a break, but I was sad,” she shares about the pandemic shutting down her business. “My dances are very empowering.”
For the past six years (up until Covid), Bowman was offering yoga classes on the sanctuary’s property where the goats and llamas are free to roam around. All payments collected from the yogis are donated back to the sanctuary with zero fees collected by Bowman.
“My parents knew from day one I was going to be working with animals,” she shares. “And I have been now for the last 30 years.”
Bowman originally became involved with the sanctuary six years ago when a friend who volunteered at the sanctuary, brought Bowman along one day.
“I was hooked forever," she said.
As a volunteer, she has her pick of a morning or evening shift which includes meal prepping for the animals, set-up, and clean-up of all the food bowls and putting the animals to bed. She shares that most Fridays after her volunteering, she does not get home until 11 p.m. or midnight.
In her spare time, she has organized a collection of spoiled produce from grocery stores in Barrie which she brings down to the sanctuary each week.
“It’s fun! I call it my food truck,” she says about her Jeep where the food is kept. “I just throw in squash, apples, watermelon… they know when they see my Jeep, they know what fun stuff is coming!”
A couple of years ago while volunteering, Bowman became particularly attached to a rescue llama name ‘Lightning’ who Bowman and the owner of the Wishing Well, Brenda Bronfman, rescued from a petting zoo.
“They house animals during tour season only, then send them to slaughter [houses] in the winter and get new ones for the spring,” explains Bowman about some of the places they rescue animals from.
Sadly, Lightning eventually passed away from cancer. In his honour, Bowman had a tattoo placed on her foot of a lightning bolt.
“There were no signs except he was a little thin one summer, so we put out extra food. Then, one day we put him out for lunch and he was just gone,” she said.
This year, the centre rescued another llama from a ‘hoarding situation’, and Bowman decided to name him ‘Thunder’. For the first few months, however, Thunder was timid around Bowman and the other volunteers, but eventually, came around.
“Thunder was missing a tooth,” she says, noting that when they rescued him, he had been tangled up in a wire fence. “After four months, what a difference! They know the difference and are so grateful. We teach them not all humans are 'like that' and this is your second chance.”
Bowman is a fur-mama herself and has five rescue animals; two German Shepherds and three cats.
She was the recipient of an award last year from Bronfman called the ‘Visionary Award’, recognizing her ‘leading edge’ and ‘spiritual and creative approach’ with the animals at the centre.
In addition to her duties at Wishing Well, Bowman is also a ‘turtle taxi’ for the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre where she has successfully rescued and driven injured turtles to the centre, as well as helped new turtles reach their destination to the water edge after their eggs hatch.
“We live near a marsh in Midland, so I have turtle protectors on my property so the raccoons and birds don’t eat the [turtle] eggs,” she explained. “Turtles have been around since pre-historic, the biggest threat to them is us [and] our cars. There’s only a two percent chance of survival, so we need to be saving them because once they are gone, they’re gone – they are literally the size of a loonie when born!”
Over the years, Bowman shares she has also helped fundraise for COPE service dogs centres (Canine Opportunity, People Empowerment programs) by offering her yoga sessions for charity. She also has two certificates from a course she took in Guelph called ‘Interspecies Communication’ which involves communicating with animals telepathically.
“You can look at your animal and give a non-verbal queue,” she explains. “Animals are the most vulnerable. [There is] a lot less organizations to help them and they are silent, we are their voices.”
Bowman adds that animals also grieve and can sometimes grieve harder than humans when they lose their own partner.
“They don’t have the distractions like we do, they only have themselves and their thoughts,” she says. “So, we’ve seen the grieving process when we have to let one of them go.”
She adds, “I lose sleep sometimes at night with this work, but someone has to do it! Someone has to be the voice for these animals. If everyone’s attitude is ‘I don’t want to hear about it’, how can we evoke change?”
Bowman is an official sponsor of ‘Thunder’ (llama) and encourages anyone wishing to sponsor an animal at Wishing Well Sanctuary, to contact the centre through their website.
“Volunteering is a way to unplug from the world,” she added. “[Put] your phone in the car, the world keeps going on and you’re loving innocent animals and playing.”