When I first met Liz Wheeler in 2021, she was still living in her Ottawa home, selling books on her Instagram page called SecondHand Stories and raising money for rescued farm animals. She greeted me at her door with a warm smile and five gentle cats following her every move.
She showed me her room in the basement filled with books, all donated by community members, ready to be bought. “The goal is to reach $20,000 for the animals,” she told me.
A year after that original meeting, not only was Wheeler able to meet her goal, but she and her partner have started their very own micro farm sanctuary.
It was clear to anyone who knew Wheeler that she had a strong passion for animals. She started her animal-rights work by volunteering with the Ottawa Humane Society. Now, as a recent graduate from the University of Windsor from the anthrozoology program, she works with Faunalytics, a San Francisco-based research centre that helps collect data for animal welfare advocacy.
But her biggest animal-rights project was to start a non-profit that would eventually grow into a farm sanctuary.
It all started during the pandemic. Like many of us, Wheeler was looking to occupy her time and decided to do some cleaning. “I only had 50 books I wanted to sell and those sold within three weeks,” she says.
Still wanting to sell books online, she decided to sell books her friends had given her, but this time she would donate all the proceeds to the Sweet Sanctuary Animal Rescue where she priced the books at $5 each. “It didn’t feel right to keep the money for myself,” Wheeler says.
The Sweet Sanctuary Animal Rescue is a registered Canadian charity dedicated to helping farm animals located in Mississippi Mills, Ontario. “Founded in 2018, the Sweet Sanctuary is built on kindness and compassion for all animals. We provide a permanent home to horses and farmed animals suffering injury, neglect, abuse, or abandonment,” their website explains.
With continuous interest in people buying books, Wheeler saw the opportunity to create a non-profit that helps farm animals. Thus SecondHand Stories was born.
Through Instagram, SecondHand Stories would take donated books and resell them, then give all the profits to the Sweet Sanctuary Animal Rescue.
SecondHand Stories grew quickly. “In December 2020, we just started getting a lot more followers. I believe we grew so much because everything else was closed and no one was taking donations. But we never stopped accepting books and selling books,” says Wheeler.
With such growth, Secondhand Stories needed a bigger platform. Wheller set up a website, and kept the Instagram page for people to follow. So far, the charity has received about 10,000 donated books.
With Secondhand Stories growing exponentially, Wheeler realized she would need more help. In came Mary Hogg.
After retiring, “I really wanted to help in some way the Sweet Sanctuary Animal Rescue since it is my niece’s rescue,” she says.
“In mid-November, Secondhand Stories were looking for volunteers to bring deliveries to customers,” she says. “So it worked out perfectly.” Hogg delivers books once a week to customers. “Every Thursday, I go pick up all the books from Liz and deliver them,” Hogg explains. “I map out my route the night before, so I don’t use up too much gas.”
After two years of SecondHand Stories continuing to grow, it was time for a new chapter. So in July of 2022, they bought land in Lombardy, Ontario to start building a micro farm sanctuary.
“When we were looking at properties, we always knew that we wanted to have our own sanctuary one day,” says Wheeler. “It felt [like it was] meant to be to get this property because the house had a coop and chickens. When we asked if the coop was going to be included they said yes and that the chickens would be ‘taken care of,” as in they would euthanize the chickens. So just at that point, it felt like this is the house we were meant to be in because we had to save the chickens.”
As of now, the sanctuary has 10 hens and two roosters. “We want to make sure we don’t take more animals than we can handle,” Wheeler says.
Because of how much care the 12 chickens take and the maintenance of the sanctuary, Wheeler had to cut ties with Sweet Animal Sanctuary. “Sarah and Steve, the owners of Sweet Animal Sanctuary, knew how much it cost to start an animal sanctuary, so they asked that we keep 100 per cent of the donations,” says Wheeler. “We appreciated that so much. They truly are the sweetest.”
As for SecondHand Stories’ new goal, they are aiming to become a registered charity in 2023. “There is a lot of red tape and hoops you need to go through because rescuing farm animals can be seen as a challenge to the government, since I am saying we shouldn’t be farming animals the way that we do. So we are anticipating a lot of challenges,” Wheeler says. She is optimistic though that it will happen.
While speaking about why SecondHand Stories is so special, she said, “I think the really cool thing about Secondhand Stories is that it brings book lovers and animal lovers together,” she said. “It creates a really interesting partnership and connection where you can start to have conversations about animal welfare.”
SecondHand Stories continues to be active on social media to ensure people know where the money is going.
“Really the $20,000 is them. I am just the middleman. It is their books and I couldn’t have done it without them,” Wheeler says. “It is important for me that I use ‘we’ because, without the community, none of this would be possible.”