Home » Finding Sanctuary
Young person with goat

Finding Sanctuary

By Bob Schwalb

It’s hard to imagine a category of animals more in need of sanctuary than farmed animals. According to the New Roots Institute, “Ten billion animals are slaughtered each year in the US. 99% of them are raised on factory farms.”

Farmed animals are some of the most abused animals on the planet. According to The Humane Society of the United States, “[M]uch of the abuse these animals endure is completely legal. There are no federal animal welfare laws regulating the treatment of the billions of ‘food animals’ while they’re on the farm. Further, while all 50 states have cruelty statutes, most explicitly exempt common farming practices, no matter how abusive.”

Occasionally, a lucky few farmed animals have the good fortune of being rescued, rehomed, and given lifelong care at sanctuaries around the world. Last year, a friend of mine who is also a fellow animal advocate expressed an interest in learning more about farmed animal sanctuaries and their residents, so while I was on a family vacation in the southwest U.S., I took the opportunity to visit three of them so I could share my experiences with her. Below are a few especially memorable ones that highlight the animals’ endearing personalities and the remarkable dedication of their caretakers.

When we visited the first sanctuary on our itinerary, its founder and our guide welcomed us warmly. It was a hot day and the five volunteers we saw working wore sweat-soaked shirts and friendly smiles. At the time of our visit, they were caring for more than 70 animals, many with special needs requiring surgeries and ongoing medication administration. The sanctuary is home to sheep, goats, cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, horses, and even an alpaca (a very protective alpaca).

One particular animal, with whom we all fell in love, was a sweet, gentle pig named Juniper. She narrowly escaped being roasted on a spit at a church picnic when, fortunately, the event was canceled. This turn of events allowed a compassionate family to intervene and secure Juniper a permanent place of sanctuary. She experienced seizures during her initial months there, stemming from the mistreatment she endured on the farm where she was raised. Slowly but surely with the help of the sanctuary staff, Juniper began to heal, and she is now happy and healthy and an amazing ambassador for the organization.

Figure 1- Juniper getting some brushes

Driven by her firsthand experiences witnessing instances of both intentional cruelty and unintentional neglect, the sanctuary’s founder expressed to us her desire to provide educational programs on farmed animal husbandry for community members who care for farmed animals. It is her hope that through education, the number of animal abuse cases will decrease and, as a result, animals needing sanctuary will decrease as well.Top of FormBottom of Form

The second sanctuary we visited provides forever homes for approximately 200 animals, which include pigs, sheep, goats, alpaca, cows, donkeys, chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. Perhaps one of the most amazing things was that one of the sanctuary’s co-founders knew from memory the name of each resident animal!

The highlight of our tour was the time we spent with Ghost, a darling white silky rooster. Ghost had been unspeakably abused, used as a bait rooster for cockfighting in Hawaii. Both of his eyes had been completely pecked out of his head. When he was rescued, his injuries were so severe that the veterinarian who treated him said it would be inhumane to try to keep him alive because he was so unlikely to recover. But not only was he kept alive, he was transported all the way from Hawaii to the sanctuary, where he now thrives. He has two special-needs hens whom he fusses over and cares for as best he can. He loves to be held and snuggled and listen to violin music. My stepson played a violin song on his iPhone while I held Ghost. He nestled deeper into my arms, and it was clear that he was listening intently. He repeatedly made the facial expression that we were told meant he was utterly content and happy. Trying to hold back our tears was futile.

Figure 2 – Ghost snuggling in

The sanctuary’s co-founder said they try to meet all visitors where they are when it comes to sharing information on what they can do to help farmed animals. She is not judgmental or pushy, and at the same time does not shy away from letting people know that reducing or eliminating animal products from their diet is the best way to reduce the suffering of farmed animals.

The third sanctuary we visited had been providing a safe haven and lifetime home for abused and unwanted farmed animals for nearly a decade when the founders first opened their doors. It is home to more than 125 residents, including chickens, ducks, turkeys, cows, goats, pigs, sheep, horses, and donkeys. Every single animal we met there was special, but there were two in particular who positively stole our hearts – a pig named Felix and a cow named Maybell.

Felix is a sweet pig who instantly brings a smile to everyone who meets him. He has a condition known as macroglossia, which causes his tongue to permanently stick out of his mouth. Felix was born and raised at a ”historical” ranch and was destined to be slaughtered and butchered in front of a paying audience. Fortunately, someone fell in love with him and mounted a public campaign to spare him and send him to the sanctuary.

Figure 3 – Sweet Felix

Maybell is a giant caramel-colored cow with the gentlest spirit. She loves meeting people and getting back scratches. If you decide to stop scratching her, she will follow you and insist that you change your mind. Her story, before she arrived at the sanctuary, was very sad. She was a dairy cow who could no longer produce offspring, so the “owner” wanted to sell her for meat. The sanctuary was able to rescue her and she now lives a very happy life there.

Figure 4 – Maybell demanding attention

Most people have little to no contact with farmed animals while the animals are alive. People best know them as cuts of meat that end up on their plate. Unfortunately, farmed animals have very few allies. Farmed animal sanctuaries are some of their best.

I believe Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY – with whom HEART partnered on creating Exploring the Lives of Farm Animals, a curriculum for grades K-3 that is available for free download — summed it up best when they said, “While we can’t rescue all the animals in animal agriculture, we know that Sanctuary can heal the animals who have been rescued, and fundamentally impact — often with lasting change — the people who hear these messages of hope, healing, compassion, and love.”

Figure 5 – Ophelia and an infant bonding

If you ever have the chance to visit a farmed animal sanctuary, you may find it to be, as I did, one of the most transformational experiences you will ever have.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top