Meet your Neighbour: Laurie Ristmae of ARF Ontario and EVAH
LONDON, ONT. -- Speak with any pet owner and they’ll have a story to share. A pet can be rewarding, challenging, and heartbreaking rolled into one huge bundle of emotion. It takes a special kind of person to dedicate their life to rehoming neglected, unwanted, or misplaced animals. Laurie Ristmae is one of those people.
Laurie, the founder of ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation) Ontario , Executive Director of EVAH (East Village Animal Hospital), co-founder of Pawlooza, and President of the Ontario Canine Spay Neuter Task Force is one of the strongest voices an animal in need could wish for.
Her dedication to helping animals began when she and her husband purchased their first home in Calgary.
"I opened the paper one morning to see an ad in the pet section and saw ‘BIG dogs to adopt’... I had zero knowledge of rescue dogs or adoption groups, but I knew I wanted a big dog, so I called the number," she recalls.
It was during that visit that Laurie met Dahl, a 95-pound German Shepherd mix. Although sweet in nature, Dahl had a history of abuse that Laurie still finds painful to speak about.
Not only did Laurie leave with Dahl, the experience left her with a desire to find a volunteer group for animals in need when she relocated to London sometime later.
In her search, she found that little was being offered to build relationships with local First Nation Communities to help with rehoming, financial difficulties, veterinary care and vaccination clinics for pets.
"After a lot of soul searching, I decided ‘if not me, then who’? Armed with my husband's VISA I started ARF."
ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation), based in London, works with First Nation communities and rural areas, to help locate ‘forever homes’ for stray animals found in those areas.
Their vision, as it states on their website, reads, "To promote humane treatment, compassion, and respect towards all companion animals."
As if rehoming strays and unwanted animals wasn’t enough, her vision to help didn’t stop there.
"EVAH is the dream of one of my best friends, Dr. Martha Harding."
Harding, recognizing a lack of accessible veterinary services for low income pet owners in Ontario, approached Laurie to see if she thought the rescue community could benefit from a spay/neuter clinic.
With that, and a lot of work, EVAH, a 'humane alliance-partnered high volume spay/neuter clinic' for pets cared by low-income individuals was born.
"London (EVAH) is six-years-old, Kitchener is over two years, and we have a mobile license allowing us to do wonderful low-income services in our Indigenous communities for wellness clinics; in Northern Ontario too."
Of course, it’s not always easy working with animals. Laurie suggests that while 999 out of 1000 are success stories, it’s that one that wakes her up in the middle of the night.
"I rage internally, shake, suffer headaches, take long showers in which I can sob and no one can hear. Then, I breathe in...out...repeat and decide if it's worth it to put myself and anyone else severely impacted by the loss through it again."
Of course, the losses aren’t just work related when it comes to animals.
"I've been incredibly lucky to have had four companions for many years and they're now in their senior years. Seniors are so difficult to manage emotionally, expensive, and heart breaking…We recently lost my son's soul dog, Hufflepuff to cancer in her senior years."
At the moment, Laurie’s animal family includes her dog Matisse and her cats, SuperNova and Benchley.
Interested in helping? Laurie says foster homes for large adult dogs are always in need. Cleaning supplies are in desperate need at EVAH, especially due to COVID-19 and cleaning protocols. Donations are always welcome.
"Our cabinetry in our London location is literally falling apart and we just can’t justify taking funds from our programs or raising prices in order to replace or repair them."
With everything Laurie’s accomplished, she had difficulty talking about herself and not her team, which she describes as an 'awesome core team'.
It may not always be easy, but it seems her passion, love, and determination keep her going. For that, our furry friends and their humans are forever grateful.
If you know someone with a story to tell, or have a story yourself, I would love to hear from you. Send an email (Tamara.Heisel@bellmedia.ca) with a brief description of your idea. I look forward to 'meeting' you!