By Sarah Ryeland
It’s in Michelle Ainsworth’s nature to help.
From a very young age, Ainsworth knew she wanted to devote her time to helping people and animals live the best life possible. Now, she puts her considerable skills to work in Muskoka to do just that.
Two years ago, having recently moved to Muskoka from Toronto, Ainsworth saw a need for an animal rescue organization in the area. With colonies of feral cats causing problems in Muskoka’s neighbourhoods and pet owners abandoning and mistreating their animals, Ainsworth knew she had to step in and take action.
That’s when the Muskoka Parry Sound Independent Animal Rescue (MPSIAR) was born.
Ainsworth, a certified animal care worker and former employee at Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, gathered a small group of volunteers who commit their time and energy to helping animals – and pet owners – in need.
Growing up, Ainsworth was inspired by the strong and compassionate women in her family.
“My grandmother was a Wiccan,” she says. “She really inspired me. She was from Latvia and was always focused on respecting nature – on recognizing our place in nature and treating all animals and living things with respect.”
Her grandmother’s last name was Ozols – a name that translates to mean ‘oak tree.’ To Ainsworth, the name symbolizes a long-standing family connection to nature and respect for all living things.
At the age of 11, Ainsworth began volunteering her time to help seniors and adults with intellectual disabilities. It was through that experience that she found her calling. She started her career as a social services worker in Toronto, and for 10 years worked in the social services industry, until the need for change redirected her focus.
“I always knew I wanted to work with people,” says Ainsworth. “But I loved animals, too. I grew up with pets and rescued animals.”
So she decided to shift gears and enrolled in the Animal Care Worker program at Georgian College. Specializing in wildlife studies, Ainsworth completed her course work and moved on to take an internship position with Aspen Valley, which was how she was introduced to Muskoka.
When the internship was over, she headed back to the city – but not for long. She soon contacted the wildlife sanctuary, secured a full-time job and moved to Muskoka for good.
While she loved working with animals, Ainsworth eventually found that she missed the human element of her work in social services. And so, in the spirit of staying true to herself, she shifted gears again and took a position with Community Living Huntsville.
While compassion, understanding and lack of judgment come into play in both animal rescue and social services, Ainsworth finds she’s most at peace when she can incorporate both animals and people into her daily life.
“When I was working only with animals, I found that it wasn’t for me,” she said. “I needed more balance.”
Now she’s got that balance.
Ainsworth is currently a supported employment program worker and job developer with Community Living, assisting people with intellectual disabilities to find meaningful employment. She runs courses and workshops outlining coping techniques and workplace modifications, and knows she’s on the right track professionally.
In her personal time, she focuses on the animals.
“I work really closely with the Animal Shelter for Huntsville,” she says.
When the animal shelter hears of rescue situations, they refer people to Ainsworth and her team of dedicated volunteers. Anytime someone needs help with coping with a pet, tips and advice for living with an animal, or to surrender it altogether, they can call MPSIAR for support.
The organization doesn’t have a centralized location – volunteers work out of their homes – and does not foster animals directly. It simply acts as a go-between, finding food, foster homes and ultimately forever homes for animals in need of rescue.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
MPSIAR’s team offers unique services to residents in the area. In the past two years, they’ve trapped, spayed/neutered and released an entire colony of feral cats and are working on others.
They work with nearby dog pounds that euthanize, to find homes for dogs that are about to be put down.
Through education, they help reduce the number of ‘chained dogs’ left outdoors year-round, inhumanely chained or roped up.
They reduce the number of surrendered or abandoned pets by providing free advice, training tips and referrals, enabling owners to keep their animals in a safe environment.
They provide a judgment-free environment where people can ask questions, surrender animals or voice concerns without fear of reproach.
Above all, the focus always stays on the animal – no matter what kind of animal it is.
“It’s not just dogs and cats,” Ainsworth says. “We’ve adopted out pot-bellied pigs, rabbits, and others. We don’t do livestock, but we once helped find homes for rescued sheep.”
No matter what kind of animal is being adopted, the process is always thorough and always the same.
“We don’t adopt to just anyone,” says Ainsworth. “If someone is interested in adopting one of our rescue animals, they first have to go through a telephone questionnaire. The next step is a home visit and a vet reference check if applicable. If the new home is approved, we provide transportation for the animal.”
There is also an adoption agreement form to fill out. Ainsworth and her group of about five consistent volunteers want to be sure that the homes they’re finding for these pets are good ones – and permanent, too.
As for the future, Ainsworth says she just wants MPSIAR to keep doing what it’s doing.
“We want to continue working closely with the shelter,” she says. “I don’t want MPSIAR to get too big, or to become a shelter itself.”
She says that working closely with the community and local veterinarians is what will benefit everyone. Creating community spay and neuter clinics is one of her main goals, as is providing training for neighbourhoods and families dealing with specific pet problems.
If you’d like to learn more about the Muskoka Parry Sound Independent Animal Rescue, check out their website at mpsiar.com, or find them on Facebook at Muskoka Rescue.