JONESVILLE, Michigan — Brendan Finerty loves working with animals: ponies and pigs, tortoises and alligators, a chinchilla and a hedgehog.
He runs Wild World, an exotic animal education program that travels to schools and nursing homes across the state.
But, when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, it put him out of work.
Then, on Dec. 15, there was a fire.
“As we came over the hill, we kind of just saw firefighters standing over where our barn had been only four or so hours ago,” Finerty said.
The supply barn on his Jonesville property caught fire, which spread to the second barn. Eight years of hard work was going up in flames.
No animals were hurt, but Brendan lost nearly $60,000 in equipment. The supply barn has a small chance to be salvaged, but the other entire structure likely will need to be replaced.
The past year has felt like a double whammy for the Finerty family.
"We went from being in survival mode to dire survival mode,” Finerty said.
Finerty and his wife, Ashley, have two children, a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter. Although Ashley works full-time at a nursing home, the animal education program was their primary source of income and it was going quite well.
Then came March.
“The week that COVID started, we had 175 working days planned out through December from March on and then we just kind of watched everything fall apart,” Brendan said.
“We went everywhere from schools to nursing homes. We did fairs. We did festivals. We did private gatherings. You name it we did it...." he said. "We probably did anywhere from 200 to 300 events in a single year.”
Brendan’s insurance company wouldn't cover the losses from the fire because his barns were listed as non-farm other out buildings.
The 33-year-old turned instead to a GoFundMe campaign.
"We have had a massive amount of support from people. We have had a lot of donations coming in. If we’re able to raise enough money, if we’re able to work with the banks, we’re going to rebuild the barns and that should help us.”
With animals being the lifeblood of his business was there any danger of losing them?
No, Brendan said.
“The ones that we have left were mostly off-site as it was. Our horses are staying at a friend's property down the road. Our pigs have another unit in the house.”
He is still hopeful for the future of his business. If he can raise enough money, the plan is to acquire a bigger piece of land and open it up to the public as a sanctuary. He hopes he can start by spring.
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