Canadian craft creature comforts for animals affected by Australian wildfires

When Debbie Parry saw a video of a woman taking the shirt off her own back to rescue a burned koala from an Australian bushfire, the sound of the animal’s cries broke her heart.

Sitting on the other side of the world in Toronto, Parry searched online for ways she could help. She discovered that legions of volunteers were doing their part with an unlikely set of tools — scissors, needles and thread.

Canadian crafters are on a stitching spree to make creature comforts for animals that have been impacted by the wildfires ravaging Australia.

Creations include mittens for koalas with burned paws, snuggly pouches for orphaned baby kangaroos, crocheted nests for homeless birds and makeshift hammocks for possums who have lost their hangouts.

“I’ve been a volunteer for 45 years, and I have never seen anything like this,” said Parry, who has traversed Toronto collecting contributions to send to Australia. “It restores my faith in humanity.”

With more than half a billion animals believed to have perished in the fires, the Animal Rescue Craft Guild put out a call for handmade items to soothe and swaddle the countless others critters that have been wounded or displaced.

Canadians whipped out their sewing kits and knitting needles to join the global grassroots effort, and soon, the Canadian Animal Rescue Craft Guild was formed.

Five days later, the Facebook group is roughly 8,000 members strong with dozens of donation drop-off sites across the country.

“Everybody helps in the way that they can,” said Calgary crafter Michelle Short. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a wobbly sewer, or if your edges are weird, or if your stitches are straight. You just lend a hand.”

Short has enlisted her whole family in the creative cause.

Her eight-year-old son Alexander Short-Fernyc got a sewing machine for Christmas. Now, he’s using the gift to turn flowery fabrics into joey pouches lined with his dad’s old T-shirts, while his six-year-old sister LuLu Short-Fernyc plays tutorial videos.

“We’ve been doing this because it will change all animals’ lives,” the young tailor said. “It makes me feel warm inside.”

Bonnie Beach, an organizer with Canadian Animal Rescue Craft Guild, said what began as an altruistic craft project has evolved into a nationwide operation.

Volunteers in every province have set up “hubs” to receive donations, but Beach said the struggle has been finding a cost-effective way to get them to their partners on the ground in Australia.

With postage costs running in the hundreds of dollars, she said co-ordinators have recruited Australia-bound travellers to stuff their suitcases with crafts, but they’re limited by excess baggage fees.

Beach said the group is lobbying airlines, courier companies and corporate sponsors to help shuttle donations to the Southern Hemisphere.

Air Canada confirmed Thursday that it has received two such requests and plans to work with local organizations to facilitate the transport of handmade goods and materials.

The airline said it’s finalizing the first shipment from Halifax set for later this month.

From cross-stitching to arranging cross-continental travel, Beach said Canadians have stepped up to build a movement with their own hands — and show no signs of stopping.

“Canadians, I think, are just the sort of individuals that when a need arises, we roll up our sleeves — or in our case, we roll out our scissors and our needles — and we just do.”

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