From selling used books to rescuing farm animals in Eastern Ontario

When everything came to a standstill around her during the COVID-19 pandemic, Liz Wheeler wanted to buy more books to pass the time.

Not so fast, her husband said.

« Craig very kindly suggested that I get rid of some books before picking them up again, » she recalls.

He was right. Books were stacked on his bedside tables, dresser and overflowing shelves in their Ottawa home.

That night in November 2020, Wheeler decided to launch an Instagram account to sell a dozen good reads she owned, in a bid to make room for more.

She dubbed it « Secondhand Stories », a name that made her embarrassed.

She had no idea that her project would be a great success.

A recent batch of used books donated to Secondhand Stories. Wheeler browses her new inventory which she will sell for $5 each with all proceeds going to housing and farm animal rescue. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

« It was a huge hit. Like, they were all bought on the exact same day, » said Wheeler, whose friends and family started giving her books to sell.

« I felt really weird accepting them and taking personal advantage of them, so I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll take them but I’ll give the money. « »

Donations have exploded. Secondhand Stories has become a non-profit bookstore and has held physical distance book sales, even partnering with local cafes to serve as book pick-up and drop-off points.

By selling these books for just a few dollars each, Wheeler raised a whopping $25,000 for Sweet Sanctuary, a local organization near Mississippi Mills, Ontario, which rescues farm animals – a cause dear to the couple’s hearts. .

“It really was a whole community that came together,” Wheeler said. « I still have to pinch myself. »

Buy a house that has become a micro-sanctuary

This summer, the Wheelers moved from Ottawa to a rural home in Lombardy, Ontario, about 85 kilometers southwest of the capital.

Wheeler’s dream of eventually creating his own micro-sanctuary for farm animals came true sooner than expected. The previous owners had seven chickens on the property that were going to be euthanized when the house was sold.

« So right from the start, the very first day we moved, we had been saving chickens, » she said.

A man and a woman are holding a chicken and smiling as they look at it.
Wheeler and her husband Craig hold Georgie, who is described as a social butterfly and the mother hen of the flock who likes to keep everyone in line. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Holding a bowl of mixed vegetables in his hands, Wheeler opens the door to one of two secluded chicken coops in his backyard. Christmas lights drape the animals’ « retirement home, » as she calls it. A sign reads « Chick Inn » and the names of some of her beloved pets are engraved on a pewter plate that hangs on the door.

It’s lunchtime, and while some of his 12 chickens roam freely in their coop and peck at their food, others need to be carefully fed.

« Ellie is our blind baby. He knows how to slide his beak over surfaces and that’s how he knows where his food is, » she explains, petting a black and brown rooster.

A shack with a sign that says
Close-up of one of the secluded chicken hutches at Secondhand Stories micro-sanctuary. Wheeler said it was a learning curve trying to bring electricity to co-ops in their yard measuring over 11 hectares. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Wheeler explained why some animals fall through the cracks and need a micro-sanctuary.

« They can’t go to the Ottawa Humane Society. There’s no humane society for farm animals, » she said. « So it’s up to people like me and Craig and other rescues… [to] give them a forever home. »

She said it’s been a tough learning curve over the past six months – from protecting against predators and powering chicken coops, to slowly integrating chickens together so they don’t hurt each other not (some were adopted by the Montreal SPCA while others went to the Wheelers just a month ago). But thanks to friends at Sweet Sanctuary who are gradually educating them, Wheeler says they’re excited for what’s to come.

Looking at the remaining 11 acres of her yard, Wheeler dreams of saving goats, pigs and turkeys in the years to come. Secondhand Stories will need to continue fundraising to build safe and warm infrastructure to house them, she says.

« [We’re] aware of our capacity. Craig and I both work full time, » Wheeler said. « So we’ll keep things smaller, but our mission will be to provide loving, forever homes for abandoned, abused and neglected farm animals. »

A white and brown chicken.
Rolo was adopted from the Montreal SPCA, after his former owners abandoned him because he was not a laying hen. Rolo is known for his happy dancing every morning, says Wheeler. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

An “evidence”, says a supporter

Tara Lerer says she loves animals and reading. So when she saw a social media post about Secondhand Stories in 2021, she called it « no brainer » to support them.

« I’ve been buying books from him ever since, » Lerer said.

Lerer said she watched Wheeler’s journey from afar and had nothing but admiration for her and the nonprofit.

« It was pretty amazing. It just shows what one person can do, » she said. « Actually, I strive to be more like her. »

A woman stands in front of a bookshelf.
Tara Lerer saw a social media post on Secondhand Stories in 2021 and has been a strong supporter ever since. She stands in front of the books she bought from the non-profit bookstore. (Submitted by Tara Lerer)

Sitting near boxes of recently donated books in her home, Wheeler reflects on their journey of the past two years. She sold around 5,000 books and her donation stack now stands at around 2,500.

« It’s really, honestly, been the greatest joy of my life. I’ve never been more proud of anything that I’ve been a part of, » Wheeler said.

« Even a year ago, if I thought we’d be here with our own sanctuary, I wouldn’t have believed it. »


Back to top button