Humans and animals alike mourn the loss of a gentle giant Andy Parent

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by Tom Van Dusen

North Grenville residents are seriously mourning – I mean big time – the loss of one of their favourite people, Andy Parent, who Russell’s Connie Johnston describes as an “unbelievably kind gentle giant.”

Until he passed away at the end of April “after a courageous battle” – no details provided – Andy was a North Grenville animal control officer better known around the region as the founder of a sanctuary for abused and unwanted animals south-east of Kemptville. Donations in Andy’s name have been requested to his Big Sky Ranch or the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation.

A touching obituary says it all: “Most considered him more like a big brother as he was truly a dear friend to all. Andy will be remembered as the founder of Big Sky Ranch Animal Sanctuary where he took animals into his safe haven and gave them the opportunity to recover as well as restore their trust and faith in humans”… not always an easy task! The ranch figures it has rescued more than 3,000 animals.

Russell’s Trivia Night fundraising queen, Johnston in the past raised about $16,400 with two events for the Big Sky initiative. With Trivia Nights on hiatus due to COVID-19, she’s appealing on Facebook for donations in Andy’s name to his ongoing labour of love.

As much a people lover as an animal lover, Andy was held in such high esteem that flags at the NG Municipal Centre and Fire Station were lowered to half-mast. “We’re deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague,” said John Okum, Director of Emergency and Protective Services. Mayor Nancy Peckford expressed heartfelt condolences on behalf of the municipality.

Connie Johnston and Andy Parent.

The mayor referred to Big Sky as an “invaluable animal sanctuary”, home to unwanted domestic animals with nowhere else to go, serving the local community and much of Eastern Ontario… a description wholeheartedly endorsed by Johnston.

I have to express some remorse at this point, not just at the two-young death of a great contributor to regional community life through his caring and concern for abandoned animals, but about never having met him over the close to 20 years he operated his safe haven.

Of course, I meant to. I’ve driven past the Big Sky turn at least 100 times and not detoured because I convinced myself I was in too much of a hurry to get somewhere else. I always promised to stop there someday and still intend to do that… but now without the chance to encounter Andy other than in spirit.
They say it was as much a healing place for some humans as for animals. Right now, like so many other services and facilities, the ranch is closed to visits due to the pandemic. Arrangements can be made to deliver animals needing shelter.

Big Sky is a no-kill sanctuary on 25 acres for everything from cows, pigs and horses, to all manner of poultry, emus and llamas, along with cats and dogs. In addition to fostering and finding new homes for abandoned animals, Big Sky strives to educate humans as to issues facing animals while improving relations between the two groups.

There are no fees for admission or to drop off an animal; Big Sky relies entirely on donations, which is where Johnston and her Trivia Night volunteers came in.

Andy was exactly Connie’s kind of guy: Animal lover and protector, rural activist, self-effacing, a family man with four children, and a go-getter. She had a couple of stories to pass on:

There was the dog that he heard about stuck in an apartment for a week after his owner died of an overdose. Andy drove over to get the dog and discovered burn marks on it where the late owner had butted out his cigarettes: “Andy kept the dog… he didn’t put it up for adoption.” Another time he was contacted by Kingston Police that a puppy had been found in a ditch off Highway 401: “Of course Andy drove down to get it.”

As the obituary states, Andy’s dream to give all animals a second chance in a safe environment will live on: “Even though he leaves big shoes to fill, they’re pointed in the right direction.”

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