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'Win-win all around': Animal sanctuary helping kids at Christmas

Animal sponsorship is an 'awesome Christmas gift for kids,' says Ralphy's Retreat manager Shannon Leguizamon
Ralphy's Retreat Animal Sanctuary has collected 300 stocking stuffers to be distributed to children through Linda's Gifting Project. Volunteers include Alice Keith, left, sanctuary manager Shannon Leguizamon with pot-bellied pig Ari, Debbie Sutton and Debbie Conrad.

You know it's love that drives Ralphy's Retreat Animal Sanctuary to donate more than 300 stocking stuffers to Linda's Gifting Project when they are in need of donations themselves.

"The community gives to us, so we thought we would give back to the community," said Alice Keith, a volunteer with Ralphy's Retreat, a registered non-profit organization.

Linda Pearce, from Washago, has been putting together up to 2,000 gift packages for children and women in the shelter system at Christmas and Easter for more than 20 years.

"(She) and her husband support the program off their own pension, so we thought we'd give back to another non-profit. It makes the community go in full circle," Keith said.

A rooster crowed in the background, as if in agreement.

Ralphy's Retreat is located on a five-acre farm near Waverley. It's at maximum capacity with 120 animals. At the same time, it's seeing a decrease in monthly donations.

It costs about $100,000 a year to keep the animals fed, housed and receiving veterinary care, said Shannon Leguizamon, property owner and rescue manager.

"Unfortunately, this last year has been really difficult due to the economic climate. Our monthly sponsorships are really low right now. That's absolutely our big need," she said.

Ralphy's is running a Christmas fundraiser where an animal is profiled daily on its social-media pages. Sponsors get a photo of the animal, updates and an invitation to the upcoming supporter appreciation day.

"People can sign up to sponsor them for as little as $10 a month," said Leguizamon. "It's an awesome Christmas gift for kids to teach compassion and kindness. It's good for the kids. It's good for the animals. It's a win-win all around."

On the farm are 80 pigs — 78 pot-bellied and two full-sized — as well as horses, donkeys, alpacas, goats, chickens, roosters, rabbits, cats and dogs. They all have a story.

Pot-bellied pig Charlie was found wandering the streets of Bradford, emaciated and full of mange. At six months old, he weighed only 10 pounds. Another pot-bellied pig, Forest, was found by a farmer wandering a local wooded area. He was clearly an abandoned pet.

"Abuse and abandonment of pot-bellied pigs is huge," said Keith.

Ralphy's gets animals from the public, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the People's Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) of Toronto. They also collaborate with other rescues and sanctuaries.

"The work Shannon does is phenomenal," said Keith. "Our animals get amazing care. We make sure they live their best lives."

Ralphy's animals see veterinarians from North Simcoe Veterinary Services, where they receive spaying or neutering, hoof trim, laser and chiropractic care.

The sanctuary has been operating for 20 years, originally in Norfolk County but the founder had to sell due to illness. It moved to Wyevale in December 2021. 

"I offered to take one pig and I ended up with the sanctuary," said Leguizamon.

"We weren't prepared to run an animal sanctuary, so we've been gradually renovating and building buildings as our funds and volunteers allow. All of our funds come from donations and fundraisers. We receive no government funding.

"Sixty per cent of the animals are aged or have a disability, so we need to ensure we have enough funds to take care of the residents that we currently have."

A can and bottle drive fundraiser is running until Jan. 15, with the following drop-off locations:

  • 39 Darby Rd., Wyebridge (donation bin at top of drive)
  • 164 Diana Dr., Orillia
  • 62 Marchand Rd., Lafontaine, Tiny Beaches
  • 30 Jeffrey St., Barrie
  • 87 Warminster Sideroad (between Line 7 and Line 8), Warminster
  • 388 Keller Dr., Midland
  • 1131/1137 Mosley St., Wasaga Beach

Ralphy's offers animal education through on-site tours and outreach and they are always looking for more volunteers.

For more information, to make a donation or to volunteer, email [email protected], call 705-817-3757 or visit The sanctuary can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.

Gisele Winton Sarvis

About the Author: Gisele Winton Sarvis

Gisele Winton Sarvis is an award winning journalist and photographer who has focused on telling the stories of the people of Simcoe County for more than 25 years
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