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Epiphanies Happen at Farm Sanctuaries

Reflections on National Farm Animals Day

Reflections on National Farm Animals Day

New York State is home to a number of outstanding farm animal sanctuaries, from Farm Sanctuary in the Finger Lakes region to Catskill Animal Sanctuary, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, and Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in the Hudson Valley. It is at these special places that unsuspecting visitors come face to face with affectionate cows, pigs who flop over eagerly for belly rubs, gregarious goats, soulful sheep, and turkeys and chickens who fall asleep in the laps of people disarmed by how “dog-like” our animals are. Epiphanies happen at farm sanctuaries. As the founder of Catskill Animal Sanctuary, I’ve witnessed hundreds of them over twenty years. 

Most of the work at farm sanctuaries is in direct service to our shared mission: we rescue farm animals from desperate situations and offer them space, safety, love, and a chance to thrive. We offer programs that connect the dots between people’s daily choices—for example, a person’s choice to eat meat—and both the enormous suffering inflicted on animals who become that meat as well as the grave consequences for our precious planet. (For example, it takes 15 to 20 times the amount of natural resources—water, land, energy—to feed an omnivore as it does to feed someone whose diet is plant-based). 

Going against the cultural grain is never easy, but it’s work that feeds the soul. To participate in the healing of a broken being is deeply emotionally satisfying, especially when that animal then becomes a game-changing ambassador for thousands of guests who will often look at us through tear filled eyes and utter their version of the words spoken to me by a recent visitor: “I get it now. Please tell me what to do.”

But “sanctuary work” isn’t limited to direct animal care. There’s also the work that we do behind the scenes to support our “clients,” the animals. We network to place animals we can’t accept, and we advise folks who’ve adopted farm animals, as well as new sanctuaries struggling with the same challenges we did in our early years. (For instance, on a recent foray to offer support to a family who’d inherited three potbelly pigs, I discovered that they were feeding the pigs twenty-five times the recommended amount of grain for their size. The pigs were so fat they could barely stand. The well-meaning folks were surprised, but grateful.) 

On the legal front, you’ll find sanctuary staff testifying as expert witnesses, or intervening on behalf of farm animals in urgent need of assistance. We are often “hand-holders” for folks who want to file legal complaints of gross neglect but need either the encouragement or the expertise in how to do so. Just as often, though, we’re on the other side of the fence, helping well-meaning people whose unfortunate circumstances make caring for their animals a challenge. 

And finally there are the thousands of individual “Can you help me?” requests that clog our inboxes: My chicken seems depressed: what do I do? Is it time to euthanize my old goat? My son needs community service or he won’t graduate. My neighbor’s rooster won’t shut up. My horse is going blind. My wife wants a pet cow even though she can’t take care of a houseplant. Because “loving care” is how we roll, the public reaches out for a little of their own, and we oblige as best as we’re able. 

So whether farm animal sanctuaries are doing what we do best—saving farm animals from desperate situations and offering them space, safety, love and a chance to thrive—or working behind the scenes to help those we have no room for—we’re all united in the why of our work. Animals want their lives as much as you and I want ours. Their emotional lives mirror ours as well, as does their delightful individuality: ten chickens are as individual as ten children. Finally: pain, suffering, and fear feel no different to a pig than they do to a person. We may live in a world that doesn’t want us to consider these truths...but that doesn’t make them untrue.

Sunday, April 10 is National Farm Animals Day, a holiday intended to promote the compassionate care of animals grown to become our food. But for “sanctuary folks,” today is a day to bellow from the hilltops (at least metaphorically) to well-meaning animal lovers who don’t intend to cause harm when they sit down to breakfast, lunch and dinner: In the ways that truly matter, we are all the same. For the animals, for the planet, and for humanity, please go vegan. 

Catskill Animal Sanctuary opens on Saturday, May 7, and will be open on weekends through November. 

Come see what I mean.