Bright Side of Business: Community steps up to support Little Ray’s

Even the smallest donations can have the biggest impact
Paul Goulet
Paul “Little Ray” Goulet with an alligator, Lady Chomps-A-Lot, who has been with the zoo for over 20 years.
Editor's Note

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Ever since he was a kid, Paul “Little Ray” Goulet loved reptiles. Which is just as well, because today he’s the founder and CEO of Little Ray’s Nature Centre, the largest exotic animal rescue in Canada. 

With locations in Ottawa, Hamilton and in the US, Little Ray’s offers a wide range of animal education and outreach programs, as well as rescuing, sheltering, rehabilitating, releasing or rehoming animals across Canada. 

Back in 2000, Goulet launched Little Ray’s alongside his wife, Sheri. Before that, Goulet worked in banking and Sheri was a restaurant manager. “We really did make this incredible one-two punch,” Goulet says of their partnership. 

Two decades later, Little Ray’s has seen huge success, including becoming the Ontario government’s main partner for the placement of seized and unwanted reptiles. 

Despite this, the pandemic has brought with it enormous pressures.

Little Ray’s is home to 900 animals, which means that, unlike other businesses, it can’t simply send its employees home and turn off the lights. In the first five months of the pandemic, the business lost 97 per cent of its revenue. At the same time, Goulet explains, they were only able to shave seven per cent off the nature centre’s operating budget.

Now, with the most recent COVID-19 closures, Little Ray’s has lost its busy season, which accounts for 60 per cent of its annual revenue. 

“All of this weight that you've been carrying, that you thought you got through — (it) all comes flooding back,” Goulet says.

He estimates that Little Ray’s is at around $2.35 million in negative cash flow since the pandemic started. “You can only take so much of that,” Goulet says. 

All is not lost, however. Little Ray’s has a loyal community around it, rallying for its survival. In January 2020, the business ran a bottle drive in which 250,000 bottles were donated, completely covering Little Ray’s 3,000-square-foot warehouse in Ottawa. 

“We looked like a Beer Store after Canada Day,” Goulet jokes. 

Amongst the donors was a young girl whose parents drove her all the way from the Glebe — about an hour round trip — to drop off an empty six-pack, amounting to 60 cents. 

“The gesture — the amount of power — I'm fighting back tears even talking about this,” Goulet says. 

In the end, Little Ray’s raised more than $450,000. Its most recent fundraising campaign, launched in January 2022, has already raised more than $34,000 in public donations. Goulet and his wife have put an additional $200,000 of their own money toward the total. 

Goulet emphasizes that he supports scaling back to control the spread of COVID-19: “I'm not delusional, I understand that this is a health crisis,” he says. 

However, he is extremely frustrated at the lack of support for businesses like his own, saying that there’s not one government program that takes into account the seasonal nature of businesses. 

Despite the continuing hardships, Goulet says he’s very grateful for his community and that “small miracles happen” — like the six empty bottles the young girl brought to him last year. “Hope is a very, very, very, very, very powerful thing,” he says.

The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.

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