Cold Noses, Warm Hearts. Catskill Animal Sanctuary Reminds Us That Farm Animals are Thinking, Feeling Beings.
Sanctuary animals offer life-changing lessons
Tucker, a Guernsey steer, was purchased by a petting zoo operator shortly after birth. He had been visited often by a mother and daughter, who were shocked one day to see him being loaded on a truck that was headed to auction. It’s a common practice for petting zoos to purchase baby animals and then send them to slaughter at the end of one season: zoo owners don’t want the expense or effort of caring for the animals over the winter; and they don’t think the animals will be as cuddly the next season as they were as babies. The mother purchased Tucker on the spot and turned him over to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS) in Saugerties, New York eight years ago. (CAS is one of three regional farm animal sanctuaries the Spiral House supports along with Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls, New York, and Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York.)
Today, Tucker is thriving on the sanctuary’s 110-acre main farm. At one point he was transferred with several bovine friends to a new 32-acre CAS parcel nearby. But Tucker is a party animal, and he let the staff know in no uncertain terms that he was not getting enough attention at the new and much quieter site. When he was returned to the main property, Tucker gave CAS co-founder and executive director Kathy Stevens what she calls “the biggest cow hug ever” in the sanctuary’s 15-year history.
In addition to emergency rescue, CAS and other farm animal sanctuaries provide programs to educate the public that farm animals are thinking and feeling beings with individual personalities, natures, and charms — just like their human counterparts. And like humans, they want to live in a joyful environment free from pain, deprivation, and cruelty.
Stevens calls the sanctuary’s animals “teachers offering life-changing lessons.” Consider Bobby, a forty-seven-year-old donkey who could barely walk when the elderly couple who had rescued him from neglect surrendered him to CAS four years ago. “At least the donkey will experience some comfort in the final weeks of his life,” Stevens recalls thinking at the time. Bobby had other ideas.
After receiving care from a farrier, including supplements, a healthy diet, and a custom-molded plastic insert for one of his hooves, the donkey rallied. Or more accurately, he blossomed. He began hobbling around the sanctuary visiting the horses, cows, sheep and humans — making friends everywhere he roamed. Like Tucker, Bobby adored attention. And he got it…for three years. When his time finally came about six months ago, he lay down and died peacefully, surrounded by his buddies, according to Stevens.
Profiles in courage
The stories at CAS and other farm animal sanctuaries are those of courage, survival, contentment, and yes, even humor on the parts of the animals. (Just look at the YouTube videos of one-pound Violet the goat frolicking in one of her brightly-color sweaters.) From the perspective of animal advocates like Stevens, the sanctuary’s members and donors, and the innumerable volunteers who are the bedrock and heart of these nonprofit organizations, the stories convey sheer determination and grit.
Located on a sprawling property, CAS is a haven for rescued horses, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, ducks, rabbits, chickens, and other farm animals, who share a dubious claim: most came from backgrounds of extreme cruelty and neglect. In addition to emergency rescue, CAS offers educational programs, cooking lessons, a cooking blog to get the message out that eating a vegan diet is both delicious and easy, a summer camp, and year-round special events, the underlying theme of which is always compassion. It is also in the process of launching a mentoring program to support new vegans through the transition as they change their diets and lifestyles to a more compassionate alternative.
One of the most pleasurable offerings at CAS is a guided tour, when visitors can get up close and personal with animals — animals that could just as easily have been dinner on someone’s plate. (Numerous animals there have been purchased or given sanctuary in place of slaughter: horses have been purchased at auction to prevent them from becoming dog food and goats escaping live kill markets in New York City have been rescued.) Stevens’ used to love telling visitors at the end of a tour that they had to kiss a 1,000-pound pig as part of the visit. But she’s has to dream up other ways to tease them, because most guests are only too happy to oblige.
“Everybody wants love, friendship, joy, and the ability to express their natural behaviors,” says Stevens. “Nobody wants loneliness, deprivation, or confinement and nobody wants to suffer. In ways that matter, we are all the same: a cat is a cow is a pig is a human is a whale is a dog. And just because much of humanity is not ready to accept this premise doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
At any given time, CAS is home to between 250 and 300 animals. Animals are adopted out through a rigorous adoption process, but because so many animals there have special needs, most will live out their lives at the sanctuary as ambassadors of the vegan lifestyle whose bedrock tenet is that one can live a humane, sustainable and healthy life without consuming or using animal products. Apart from the humane issues, living as a vegan is the single most important thing a person can do to reduce his or her footprint on the environment. Raising animals to feed humans is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases and depletes and pollutes precious water supplies.
Sadly, good adoptive homes are rarely found for cows, a 1,000-pound pig, or a 35-year-old horse and Stevens and CAS staff members are keenly aware that these types of animals, once rescued, are likely to live out their lives there. “Right now we have a 41-year-old blind mule and two blind horses, all of whom may be around for a very long time,” she says. “If your primary mission is to rescue animals and provide safe haven, then your choices are simple; but if your mission is to do the greatest good for the greatest number and use these animals for your larger mission of transforming and educating the public, then your decisions are more complicated.”
Lil’ Guy, a special needs calf, is such an example. He came to the sanctuary recently after being released by a beef producer. Lil’ Guy has scoliosis and hip dysplasia, leaving him with a bad leg, which he drags when he walks, and a crooked spine. He has been this way since birth, and when he first arrived, he was unable to stand without being lifted by several humans, an untenable solution in view of his eventual size.
“When we first agreed to accept Lil’ Guy, we imagined that the right thing would be to euthanize him to end what appeared to be enormous suffering,” explains Stevens. But it’s not always that “straightforward,” she adds, noting staff must also consider whether an animal’s condition is likely to improve with proper care. And there’s another matter that must be considered, she emphasizes: “What does the animal want?”
In the case of Lil’ Guy — and in spite of his disabilities — he exhibited what Stevens describes as “a stronger will to live” than almost any animal she had met over the past 15 years. With physical therapy, acupuncture, and applications of Solomon Seal oil to his legs and spine, Lil’ Guy improved enormously.
Stevens can’t be sure that his improvement is due to this intervention “combined with love.” Nor does she have any way of knowing what’s ahead for the growing cow. But she says Lil’ Guy now walks all the way up the steep hill from the barn to the driveway and can switch his tail back and forth. “It seems like he is making progress but the bottom line is, if this 1,200-pound cow is going to live a long life, we have to get him strong enough,” she notes. “It’s a narrow window. Before we met him, we watched a video that showed him dragging himself around with no quality of life. Now, he is filled with life.”
The same can be said of Violet, a tiny goat who was rejected by her mother at birth. “That happens sometimes,” says Stevens. At just one pound, little Violet was hand fed and dressed in a sweater to maintain her body warmth. Half a year later, she weighs 25 pounds, is thriving, and lives with a step-family of goats who have accepted her. Once Violet is a little bigger, the plan is to let her join the “underfoot” animals, who roam the sanctuary grounds freely. After all, Violet has become one of the first animals visitors now ask to see. And, even though it is summer and she has grown, guests who met her when she first arrived seem disappointed to see her without her outfits.
It’s easy and rewarding to support CAS or a sanctuary near you: become a member, make a donation, sponsor an animal or group of abused and neglected arrivals, or attend events. Consider making a gift in honor or memory of a special friend, relative, or animal companion. You might even be able to volunteer and spend time with the animals. There are many ways to contribute. In return, you are sure to feel the love.
With heavy hearts we want to add that CAS decided on August 1, 2016 that it was in Lil’ Guy’s best interests to euthanize him. “When he came here, love came down our driveway,” said CAS founder/executive director Kathy Stevens in a Facebook post about his passing . Surgeons at Tufts Large Animal Hospital had recommended euthanizing him earlier, “but if your job is to be a place that helps every individual thrive, then you have to know that individual and you have to look that individual and the eye and feel what he wants for himself. And Lil’ Guy did not want to check out…”
Continued Stevens, “He wanted to try and so we tried for him. We lifted him many times a day. We used laser, acupuncture, chiropractic, turmeric, and lots of freshly-picked Buffalo grass. And smoothies, because, A, he likes them and, B, he didn’t drink enough water. For three months — despite the fact that when we first saw him we thought we would be taking him to give him a few good days, and then let him go in peace — he kept trying and so it became our obligation to try with him and on his behalf…Then he told us he was done.”
“His little spirit was so powerful that everybody who met him fell in love with him. He was magnetic. He was goofy. He was affectionate. He was so intensely determined to get every breath out of every moment, but then, in the end, it was time.”
“Lil’ Guy taught us a lot of things. He taught us that there’s nobody we can’t help. He has taught us and helped us grow our skills, confidence and resolve. He has helped us grown our love, admiration and respect for this amazing team of people who do this, not for money and not for glory, but do it because they have huge hearts and they believe in a compassionate world for every single one. He also taught us…to always make sure we are looking through the eyes of the being and not through our own lens when we judge a life and when we make those decisions about when to continue.