It was six years ago when three-year-old Oriah Johnston posed beside Rupert, the big, black Great Dane-lab mix, while a photo was snapped.
That photo has since been seen as the logo for the Semiahmoo Animal League Inc. (SALI), where Oriah, now nine, and her mother, Siobhan, both volunteer.
The animal lovers were among the first volunteers at SALI – a South Surrey organization that pairs at-risk children with rescued farm animals.
“I love animals. Just being near the animals and anything to do with them,” Oriah said, while chasing her wiener dog, Happy, at Dogwood Park.
That passion for animals is what draws the Chantrell Creek Elementary student to the farm to help out with any tasks – whether it’s baking cookies or shovelling horse manure with SALI executive director Keryn Denroche.
“Keryn will phone her up… and she’s the one who puts on her rubber boots and says ‘pick me up, I’m coming to shovel horse manure,’” Siobhan laughed. “Oriah has always been around animals and I really believe in starting volunteering at a young age.”
She noted that while Oriah has been given the option of volunteering for any organization she wants, her love of her four-legged – and hoofed – friends keeps her coming back to SALI.
Early last month, a SALI news release dubbed her the organization’s biggest supporter, and with good reason. For her last three birthdays, Oriah has asked for donations to SALI in lieu or presents, and every Christmas, she can be found making crafts and baking goodies for the school craft fair, with all proceeds going to SALI.
The animal rescue was even the subject of Oriah’s “expert talk” for school, Siobhan noted.
“She’s always thinking of ways to help, and it’s all on her own, she thinks of it on her own,” Siobhan said. “For her birthday, we always do an Evite, which says that instead of gifts to please donate. For Oriah, she’s thinking, OK, you have $25 per gift and there are 10 kids coming. That adds up really fast, and that money can be used to feed animals for months.”
For Oriah’s last birthday donation, she was hoping the money could help pay the bus driver who shuttles the at-risk children to and from SALI, she added.
And, when the time is right, Oriah plans to take her passion and turn it into a career.
“I’m going to be a vet,” she said smiling, while quickly adding that Olympic rider will also be on the list. “I’ve been riding horses for five years.”
Close in stature to a horse, Rupert, the Great Dane mix that Oriah first met when taking the picture, has been a frequent visitor, Siobhan noted.
“I know Rupert’s owner and he’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s wonderful to get them both together and see how they’ve aged.”
For more information on SALI, visit www.sali.ca