by Amanda Dyer
The world has changed.
As I write this review, Melbourne, Australia is in lockdown from Covid19’s second wave of infections and the world is still suffering from this deadly pandemic.
What does this mean for travel? Well for me and my family, it means that we will be focusing on domestic travel with Australia. Like many other Aussies, our focus is now on exploring parts of this gorgeous continent that we would never usually consider. Instead of planning our annual summer trip to Europe this year, we decided to try something completely new. Something a little more meaningful.
My mandate was simple. Find a holiday that is completely off-the-grid (so the kids can take a break from their devices), and one that included a meaningful educational experience. Throw in some tranquillity and stunning landscapes, wrapped with constant sunshine and blue skies.
Sounds simple right? You bet it was.
Our search led us to the breathtaking Owl & Pussycat Rescue Farm in Crabbes Creek (a short drive out from Byron Bay, NSW)
Crabbes Creek is a town located in north-eastern New South Wales, Australia, in the Tweed Shire. A short drive from Byron Bay, this hidden gem of a township is nestled in between rolling hills within a stunning country setting. Supported by a local General Store (with a hell of a wine collection), Crabbes Creek is far enough from the hustle bustle of life for you to get a true sense of isolation, but close enough for you duck into the nearby Ocean Shores for all your necessary supplies.
When driving into Crabbes Creek to find the sanctuary, you drive past some amazing pastures and country homes tucked away in to the hillside. The little country road bends and snakes across stunning creeks while leading you to the the property (literally at the end of the road).
The instructions left for us by our super hosts (on Airbnb) were to the point. We could see by the reviews that our host B was going to be engaged and helpful – and that she was. B and her partner Finn were onsite to greet us and introduce us to their wonderful animal family. Their daughters also become friends with ours instantly and later spent days together playing on the farm and with the animals.
I’ve always said that the true reflection of a holiday is felt a week or two after you get home. When senses are recalibrated and you have time to reflect. In doing so while I write this, I can honestly say the Sanctuary left a lasting impression on me and my family in so many ways.
Firstly, my partner and I have not eaten meat (since the day we checked in to the Sanctuary) and are feeling fantastic. Not sure if we will be rushing back to our carnivorous ways anytime soon.
Secondly, as a family we have learnt so much about animals. Our children especially have a new-found connection with animals and their love for horses is now amplified as they are already planning our next holiday – with animals! This is such a special gift that I feel came about because of our visit to the Sanctuary.
Lastly, I truly feel we have made lifelong friends with our hosts B, Finn and their awesome girls. Mega bonus!
I wanted to write about the wonderful animals (our new friends) but decided that I would let B tell it instead. I feel the world needs to understand the cruel practices that exist out there and how people like B & Finn are making a difference – one animal at a time. It’s a story of courage, persistence and lots of love. I wont do it justice so I decided to interview her instead.
It’s a story of courage, persistence and lots of love.
Hello – can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I own and run a farmed animal sanctuary - The Owl and The PussyCat Farm Animal Sanctuary - in the Byron Bay region of Australia. We provide a loving haven for neglected/starved/unwanted farmed animals. My partner and I are actually graphic designers by trade, and it’s this work that funds the Sanctuary. We’re entirely family-run (we have 2 daughters - 7 and 13 years old) and we’re 100% self-funded… We don't get any funding from anywhere else.
We’re really struggling at the moment due to COVID, but on the bright side, the huge downturn in work has given me more time to work with our rescue animals.
I grew up in Australia and then spent most of the 90s in London working on magazines before returning home in 2001. I met my partner, Finn, when I moved to Melbourne about 18 years ago. we made the move north about 6 years ago, and about 2.5 years ago after 14 failed bank applications and 2 brokers we finally bought the property that has become the Sanctuary.
We are so lucky to live in Australia where dreams really do come true. If you have enough drive, determination and passion I believe you really can achieve anything! I’ve always been a passionate animal lover and I have a special place in my heart for farmed animals, so, I’m so grateful to now be in a position to provide a secure home for all of these amazing beings.
How did the idea of Owl & Pussycat concept come about?
I kind of accidentally started the Sanctuary as soon as we purchased the rural property. I say accidentally because the plan was to wait until the kids were a lot older before I started it, but all of the animals found me! The birth of the Sanctuary has been pretty organic and it happened very quickly, especially during the bushfires when we evacuated a lot of animals (and humans) to the safety of the Sanctuary and then a number of the animals stayed on to become permanent residents due to their owners struggling in the drought.
We actually lost everything in the Black Saturday Bushfires in Kinglake, Vic about 11 years ago.
One of the reasons why we moved north was because every summer I was getting more and more anxious about the bushfire threat. So back in November, when the fires were really bad in the Northern Rivers, I knew we needed to help as much as we could - even just for my own mental health!!!! My favourite evacuation was a donkey family and their humans. Little baby Bonnie (a 3 week old donkey) was too small to safely travel in the horse float, so she rode in the back of our car with me. It was a crazy, intense time, but I was so grateful that we could do something to help.
Every animal that has come through our doors has a unique personality and story to tell. we spend our days juggling paid work, the kids and the residents.
We use the money we earn in the corporate sector to make a difference to as many animal lives as possible. We currently don't live on site but are hoping to move to our off-grid farm in the near future (everything at the Sanctuary is completely off-grid … even our chainsaw is charged by the sun!!!).
Our plan is to eventually be able to spend 100% of our time working on the Sanctuary, both caring for the animals (and the huge task that goes along with managing the pastures, fencing etc), and building the Sanctuary so that we can perhaps access some support (we’re currently applying for charity status). This will allow us to provide a home for even more permanent and foster residents and to build a huge, off-grid barn (next on the wish list!).
What made you chose Crabbe Creek? Why? Can you tell us a little about the area?
We choose Crabbes Creek because it’s an undiscovered coastal paradise that is just up the road from one of Australia’s biggest tourist destinations, Byron Bay, and only 35 mins from both of the closest airports. We also currently live only about 10 minutes away which is very important when caring for our animal family. The property is perfectly located only 10 mins to unspoilt beaches and the drive to the property is along a traditional country road through lush pastureland, creeks and rainforest. Because Crabbes is pretty much undiscovered, it meant that we were able to afford a good sized property to build our dream. Any closer to Byron or the Gold Coast and it would have been completely unattainable for us!
Please tell us a little about the animals on the farm? Any remarkable stories?
Solstice and King Winter were just babies when they were herded onto a truck along with 50 of their pony family members. They were bound for the slaughter yards. And with only 30 minutes to spare before the dog meat traders got their hands on them, enough money was raised to outbid the ‘doggers’ and these little boys were safe. We have a massive overbreeding problem here in Australia (and in most parts of the world) ... with so many beautiful beings ending up unwanted and sent to slaughter.
Another success story is little Jasper, the old Shetland pony. it was only a few short months ago after coming into our care that he wouldn’t let us touch him. in fact, we couldn’t get near him without him kicking with his hind legs! This was because he was living in constant pain. Poor little Jasper had a chronic eye infection in both of his eyes. they were ulcerated and weeping. It must have been so painful for him, but with a lot of patience, love and treats, we were able to gently bathe and treat his eyes. It didn’t take long before they were completely healed, and he was a much happier boy.
Twinkle Toes, and the rest of his 3-generation cow family found their way to the Sanctuary after the macadamia farmer who owned them no longer needed as many “lawn mowers” during the drought last year. The farmer had booked a truck to take these beautiful beings to the slaughter yards, but at the last minute he had a change of heart and asked the driver to bring them to us instead. He was a scared little calf when he first arrived about a year ago, but now he absolutely loves cuddles and massages. He even enjoys his ‘beauty treatments’ We routinely have to pop eye cream around his eyes to protect him from insect bites. Cows are such gentle beings.
Once they feel safe and you gain their trust, they love nothing better than cuddles. They also love to be sung to, especially gentle lullabies.
The youngest resident to arrive so far is little Peppi, who was just a 5-day old 'bobby calf' when he arrived (bobby calves are boy babies and are considered ‘waste products’ by the dairy industry). He came to the Sanctuary along with his cousin, Sunny, and was at death's door due to the negligence of a so-called “animal rescuer”! Peppi and Sunny are big, strong boys now but they are still my babies.
Many of the chickens and ducks who now call the Sanctuary home were rescued from intensive farming situations where they never saw the light of day. A number of the ducks had never even seen a body of water before coming to us, let alone been able to swim, splash and dabble as they are meant to. Nearly all of the chickens arrived with most of their features missing and had chronic health conditions. Now all of our feathered family are in fabulous health and spend their days free ranging and foraging around the paddocks and dams.
When we took over the care of Gemma, a super gentle ex-racehorse, we had to be extremely careful to start feeding her very tiny amounts every couple of hours to get her used to a regular feeding schedule. This was very nerve wracking as she had an extremely damaged digestive system. She also had a huge parasite burden when she arrived. So once she was strong enough, the vet advised that we worm her along with the rest of the herd. But 36 hours after treating her she suffered a terrible bought of ‘colic’ which can be fatal. We think that the treatment must have tipped her fragile system over the edge. It was one of the longest, scariest nights of my life but she pulled through and bounced back well.
Not long after she arrived Gem also had a horsey mani-pedi, her teeth done and a much-needed operation. Bloods were also taken, and they came back all clear so we're super excited that there's no underlying diseases. Healing Gem is like peeling back the layers of an onion - just as we get on top of one thing, something else presents itself.
We are now focusing on keeping her as comfortable as possible in her golden years – she’s in her mid-30s
Dusty is a ‘brumby’, an Australian wild horse. Along with Matilda (who we believe to be her mother), Dusty was rescued from the Mt Kosciuszko National Park where our government undertakes inhumane, aerial ‘culls’ of these beautiful beings. Dusty was just a little foal when she left her mountain home. We can only imagine the fear and confusion she and Matilda must have felt as they were herded onto that truck. They had no way of knowing that they would be safe. And ever since, Dusty had been pretty much terrified of people (scared and sometimes aggressive). Horses are flight (sometimes fight or freeze) animals. They have amazing memories and are incredibly sensitive beings. For many, it takes an extremely long time - and a patient, gentle human to help them to trust again after trauma. But Dusty got there! And so did Matilda!! They finally trust, love and enjoy us. This means we can now provide them with all the care and attention they need, to thrive and live their best lives.
What can visitors expect when they visit the farm? What do you want them to experience?
A visit to the Sanctuary gives guests and tour visitors the opportunity to hear the animal’s stories and to connect with them in really personal ways. Every one of our animals has a unique personality, just like humans, and it’s so amazing watching visitors interact with the animals. Everyone has such a different experience, and many have been quite life changing!
Visitors can also expect to take away a deep sense of peace and tranquillity.
Although only minutes from the highway, the Sanctuary really does feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of life. Fresh sea breezes, super clean water, expansive open spaces, the brightest stars and best moon rises you’ll ever see, and happy, relaxed animals roaming free.
My hope is that visitors can ‘drop-in’ to off-grid sanctuary life and recharge from the daily grind. And that they will take the opportunity to connect with some of our animal family, and maybe even learn a little bit about themselves, too. The horses, especially, are amazing listeners and teachers. They are the best therapists!
Do you have a message you would like to share with our readers around rescue animals?
It’s amazing how few people really understand why so many of these animals need rescuing. Even here in our ‘enlightened’ community, I’m constantly surprised about how little knowledge people have about intensive farming practices and the impact it has on the environment and on animals’ lives, and how people still don’t truly understand the “adopt don’t shop” message. Overbreeding causes so many issues and deaths!
I also want people to think before they buy! To educate themselves so they can be conscious consumers. Even by making small changes to how you choose to eat can make a significant impact to the lives of farmed animals, to the planet and for our children.
3 words to describe the Owl & Pussycat:
Haven. Love. Tranquillity.
Lastly, is there anything new and exciting coming up at the farm you would like to share?
We already offer on-sanctuary accommodation and we have plans to expand our off-grid sanctuary stays and experiences in the near future. These will be largely pitched at adventurers and wilderness-lovers who still like their creature comforts. We are also currently working on a number of events. better sanctuary tours, workshops, day retreats, and live-in retreats. stay tuned!
Do something different for your next holiday and visit the Sanctuary. It will change you for the better and not to mention teach you something new. It will connect you to something very special and I promise you will come out of the experience completely different to when you went in.
We are already planning our next visit.