Fired Up for Aussie Animals

by Martha Michael

The months of recent wildfires in Australia destroyed an estimated one billion animals. Citizens of the world watched news reports in horror, paralyzed by feelings of powerlessness. Many donated money but wished there was another form of assistance they could offer.

Some local residents did more than stand by and watch the suffering of animals who lost everything, from their habitat to their limbs. Shawneen Rubay of Agua Dulce spearheaded a creative project to contribute to the care and comfort of wildlife down under.

“I had been looking at pictures of the devastation for quite some time and felt so helpless and sad about what was happening in Australia in general,” said Rubay. “I saw a post on Facebook about people sewing for the animals in Australia and I was curious, so I joined the Rescue Craft Co. Facebook group to learn more. All of the PDF patterns for the products were listed on the ‘files’ tab on their page and they also listed the hubs where you could send products all over the world.”

A lifelong creative artist with a background in sewing, Rubay latched onto the idea and decided to add her talents to the growing network of animal lovers working for the cause.

“Since the patterns were available and there were pictures from other crafters showing their work, it just felt like a fun thing to do that would help,” she said. “I mentioned it to my son’s girlfriend, Tesla Hernandez, who had just started embroidering and was getting really good at it. She had never had any sewing experience before and decided that she wanted to give it a try.”

The young Saugus resident borrowed her mother’s machine and brought it to Rubay’s house for her first sewing lesson.

“She was a natural, and we got busy,” Rubay said. “We decided to make ‘joey pouches’ for the babies that had lost their mothers. We made day pouches with cutouts for their heads to pop out in the daytime and night pouches that had no opening.”

The two began cutting out and stitching the pouches using flannel and cotton.

“We wanted something soft and we were instructed to use only natural fibers,” Rubay said.

It was a first for Hernandez – to join a philanthropic effort reaching across the globe. “I liked how it felt to care for animals who were badly hurt in the fires,” she said. “It gave me a small way to contribute to the healing process.”

Jia Liu, a former exchange student who is now like a daughter to the Rubays, happened to be visiting the family on the weekend they started the project. It was a new idea to her, but she jumped in and helped. She did not have any experience in the craft, but as a child in China she had watched her grandmother sewing.

“The pattern for the joey bags is pretty simple, so most people with just a little bit of sewing knowledge can do just fine,” Rubay said.

Together, the three women made 30 bags.

“We did not get a chance to see ours particularly in use, but there are several photos of similar bags that we made that have been posted to the Facebook group,” Rubay said.

They have also been considering a new project making baby bat bags so the bats that survived the fires have something soft to lie on while they recover. However, while there’s still a need for joey pouches, these talented locals will continue reaching in their pockets to provide for kangaroos.