Louanne Shropshire, owner/operator of the Free to Be Me animal sanctuary just west of Moose Jaw, said that while the sanctuary has struggled with volunteers post-COVID, the animals remain happy and well-cared-for. 

“I’ve been doing this close to 20 years,” Shropshire said during a June 6 visit to the sanctuary. “We accept all kinds of farm animals, even the handicapped ones, specials needs ones. 

“About 55-60 animals call this place home right now. I’ve put a hold on accepting new ones since COVID, because we lost a lot of volunteers during COVID and haven’t been able to get as many back as I would like.” 

There are five volunteers at Free to Be Me at the moment — some of them pretty much fulltime. They are essential to providing a good quality of life at the sanctuary. They form bonds with the animals and become part of the family. 

Free to Be Me volunteer Nick has been at the sanctuary longer than any other volunteer and is a big helpNick has been volunteering at the sanctuary longer than any other person (Facebook/Free to Be Me)

Shropshire’s sanctuary has llamas, alpacas, Sevastopol ducks, turkeys, cows, pigs, horses, sheep, a (very tall) ostrich, emus, lots of cats, and more. Casper, a big, friendly Pyrenees, is the livestock protection dog, roaming the property at will and chasing off any predators that get too close. 

Animals are typically dropped off at Free to Be Me, like the recent batch of eight-week-old kittens growing up in the main barn right now, or Shropshire takes a call from someone who knows about her work. 

Shropshire knows every single animal’s story and individual care needs. They all have a name and a personality, and co-habit as much as possible. The ostrich can be ornery, for example, except with the smallest of the emus. Since the other emus pick on the little one anyway, the two birds share a pen together. 

Bugsy the donkey turns 55 this year. He moves slowly, but still enjoys his days, including the morning's apple snackBugsy the donkey turns 55 this year. He moves slowly, but still enjoys his days, including the morning's apple snack (photo by Gordon Edgar)
Shropshire looks out at the fields behind the sanctuary, where some of the animals have already wandered for the day (photo by Gordon Edgar)Shropshire looks out at the fields behind the sanctuary. Some of the animals have already wandered out to spend the day (photo by Gordon Edgar)

Asked to pick just one story to share, Shropshire chose Ella, who was eating breakfast in a paddock next to the sheep, llamas, horses, and other cows. (After they’ve eaten, they all go out to roam on the acres of fields behind the farm buildings.) 

“We have Ella. She’s a cow and she was born with no eyes,” Shropshire explained. “She came from a farmer who just couldn’t take care of her. He had too many animals and it was a difficult task because she is blind. 

“So, then we got Tommy the sheep and they stayed together. And they play and play and play, and if Ella gets upset, Tommy goes and looks for her and settles her down, so it’s a really nice combination.” 

It is not always straightforward to care for the residents. For example, Shropshire is currently looking for a new farrier to provide the frequent hoof care many of the animals need. Sometimes, animals are so injured or neglected when they arrive that the only ethical choice is to end their suffering. 

“We have to assess them when they come,” Shropshire said. “We usually get one of the veterinarians from town, and they help us in our assessment, and if we can manage their pain and they can live a good quality of life, we will work with them on that, and the vets will help. 

“We don’t get any funding. We work on donations and tours. If people want to come out, we just ask for a small donation, and it goes 100 per cent towards the animals. We have no paid people here.” 

Much of their food comes from the Moose Jaw Co-op, which is an ‘immense’ help, Shropshire noted. 

“The animals love it, we pick it up every day and get it ready for them, a big wheelbarrow-full. ... Once they’re here, it’s forever. That’s my promise, that this is home until the end of their lives, and we take care of them as long as they have a good quality of life.” 

Anyone interested in volunteering or donating food or money can contact Louanne Shropshire at 684-2231, at lou_shropshire@hotmail.com, or on the Free to Be Me Facebook page.