Animal funds

Myakka Wildlife Sanctuary survives despite extensive damage from Hurricane Ian | Eastern County

It was late September 28 when Hurricane Ian swept through the Farmhouse Animal and Nature Sanctuary in Myakka City, forcing owners Dave and Lisa Burns to brave 100-mile-per-hour winds to check on the sanctuary’s 120 animals.

Lisa Burns looked into a pasture where four horses were huddled together. If a hurricane brings people together, it can do the same for animals.

“The horses were all standing in a semi-circle with their butts close together,” Lisa Burns said.

The next morning, with downed trees and branches all over the grounds and floodwaters still flowing past the barns and home, Lisa Burns looked at the horses again.

This time, three of the horses were trying to enter one of the pastures, but the fourth horse, a 30-year-old quarter horse/Arabian named Danny, wouldn’t let them.

“He knew it was dangerous,” Lisa Burns said. “They were coming to the door and he was pushing them away.”

Then it was time for people to start working together.

Members of the Myakka community know that Lisa and Dave Burns opened the sanctuary to house the abandoned animals. They wanted to protect animals that no one else seemed to want. In 2017, the may receive nonprofit status for the 6-acre sanctuary. Dave Burns started building habitats and Lisa took care of administrative tasks.

The volunteers therefore reacted quickly after the passage of the hurricane.

“After the storm, we had volunteers here every day,” Lisa Burns said. “On the first day, there were six volunteers. On the second day, there were 13 of us.”

Volunteers kept coming.

On October 17, Dave and Lisa Burns and the volunteers were still cleaning up fallen trees and branches.

A goat at the Farmhouse Animal and Nature Sanctuary finds a dry place to stand in the days following Hurricane Ian. Courtesy picture

“We’ve cleaned up a lot since Saturday,” Lisa Burns said. “Half the volunteers are our regulars, but the other half are foreigners.”

Lisa Burns appealed for help on social media and she said many volunteers from the Lakewood Ranch area responded, as well as several from St. Petersburg. Susie Bowie, executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation, was among those who showed up for work.

The Burns estimated the damage at $60,000, which can be tough for a nonprofit living on the edge. However, the two say they have no plans to quit.

“We will definitely continue,” said Lisa Burns. “We will find a way.”

Clearing up the rest of the trees and replacing the fence is the next chore.

“I counted 34 trees, then I stopped counting,” Lisa Burns said.

In a pasture, with felled trees everywhere, a young oak tree was standing. This is the tree they planted in 2018 in honor of Lisa’s late brother, Tony Wakefield, who died that year. Somehow this tree survived.


Dave Burns works day and night cleaning the pastures. Photo by Jay Heater

The Burns weren’t sure they could weather the storm the night Hurricane Ian hit.

“In the middle of the night, we thought about our choice to stay here,” Lisa Burns said. “We didn’t think anything would be standing.”

More than 10 inches of rain flowed through the property like a river as the land had already been saturated from previous rains. Two of the pumps they use in their ponds were submerged and destroyed. A power surge blew up some of their equipment and destroyed a washing machine.

“It hurt my stomach,” Dave Burns said. “It was very scary and we didn’t know what was going to happen. We tagged the animals – horses, goats, turtles – putting Lisa’s phone number on them.”

They didn’t tag their kangaroos because they thought their neighbors would know where they came from.

With downed trees tearing holes or crushing fences, they came out in the worst part of the storm trying to put up kennel panels for temporary fencing. However, the winds threatened to rip them off.

“We were hanging on to those,” Dave Burns said with a grimace.

When they returned home, the water was coming up to the porch, but not entering the house. But then the water flowed through the chimney into the chimney. Dave Burns attempted to wipe it off with towels.


Lisa Burns looks over an 8ft length of the fence which has been destroyed. Photo by Jay Heater

Finally morning came and they had to make some quick temporary repairs so that none of the animals could get out.

“It wasn’t dangerous for people,” Lisa Burns said. “But it would be dangerous for the animals if they came out.”

They also had to make quick repairs so predators wouldn’t enter the facility. Bobcats and coyotes often seek access to pasture.

The property is now secure, but there is still a lot of work ahead of them. Lisa Burns said they could use anyone with heavy machinery, like a backhoe, to help clean up. More volunteers are welcome and they would also accept any donation to help them buy equipment and food for the animals.

They just received a donation of salvaged telephone poles that will help them rebuild the fence.

“Our main barns are in great shape, and really, we’ve been blessed,” Lisa Burns said.

Only one animal was slightly injured. A pig was limping after a fence fell on her.

The Burns applied to FEMA and United Way, but did not receive a decision on their eligibility for funds.

“We had a lot of damage,” Lisa Burns said. “But everything can be replaced.”

Even so, Dave Burns said he hopes to never experience that again.

“But it’s amazing to see people coming together,” he said. “It also wouldn’t happen all the time – people are so nice to each other.”


Dave and Lisa Burns continue to smile despite over $60,000 in damage to the Farmhouse Animal and Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Jay Heater


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