When I received a message from Farm Sanctuary, located in Orland, California, that they would be closing and moving their rescued farmed animals to their other sanctuaries, I was heartbroken! I had been a supporter since moving to California in late 2011 but my love of the Sanctuary began years earlier.
After learning about the practice of vivisection on defenseless little animals used by manufacturers to craft my cosmetics & beauty products, I made a pledge. My promise to all of the bunnies, mice & rats was that I would only use cruelty-free products from that day forward! But it wasn’t long before I realized that I continued to support suffering by keeping animals on my plate. So on January 1st, 2008, I became an ovo-lacto vegetarian. I happily went about my life continuing to occasionally eat cheese and sometimes bake with eggs. I didn’t eat much cheese, just when it was the only option at a party or event. I never much liked eggs anyway & only bought them once in a while when I had a craving to bake cupcakes. I had even transitioned from dairy to soy milk prior to becoming a vegetarian. But eventually I began to feel conflicted about my continued support of the egg & dairy industry and to realize that happy cows were a myth! Most of these extraordinary life changes were happening when I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina. With North Carolina being one of the top producers of pigs, chickens & turkeys to be raised & killed for food, there was little support there and no sanctuaries near me to build relationships with farmed animals. But this new little invention called Facebook was beginning to take over the world. Through Facebook, I began to be exposed to…everything. I was able to see the lies told by the egg and dairy industries. But I also began to be exposed to really positive things too. One of those things was Farm Sanctuary. I was soon following their website and receiving their newsletters and updates. In 2011, Steve and I took the Farm Sanctuary vegan pledge and we haven’t looked back since. Because of Farm Sanctuary, my life as a vegan advocating for animal’s rights began! It was disappointing that their Sanctuaries were so far away – one in Watkins Glen, NY and one in Orland, Northern California – but knowing they were saving the animals that needed the help most brought me so much joy. And then something incredible happened. Steve got a job offer in Fairfield, California. We had no idea where that was other then somewhere in or near the Bay Area. It wasn’t long before I learned that our new home in Napa was but a 2.5 hour drive from the Sanctuary in Orland. It felt a bit like destiny!
In 2012, I took my first tour of the peaceful 300-acre Sanctuary overlooking the breathtaking Black Butte Lake and began to make many furry friends. In 2013, I volunteered for their annual Hoe Down and got to spend several hours with hundreds of chickens who had recently been rescued by Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary when they learned of the plight of 50,000 suffering hens. These hens had been abandoned on an egg factory farm in Turlock, California and were starving or already dead. Farm Sanctuary was able to help and took in 300 hens in need. When I met them they had recovered nicely and were happily pecking away! I also had the extraordinary opportunity to meet Peter the Piglet for the first time. He had been found near Sacramento on a construction site. The good Samaritan who found him named him Peter and took on the role of guardian. It wasn’t long before he realized that raising a partly feral pig in the city wasn’t any good for him or Peter! When I met Peter he was a 30 pound piglet who wanted me to play in the mud with him. And not knowing I wasn’t also a piglet, he enjoyed jumping on me and head butting me every chance he got! I left the farm grinning ear to ear but definitely bruised. The following year, my husband Steve and I returned to the Hoe Down as patrons instead of volunteers. By then, Peter was a strapping 160 pounds and had earned himself a reputation of being a bit naughty. I was given the opportunity to spend about 15 minutes of one-on-one time with him. He remembered me from the year before and was a perfect gentleman. I didn’t get a single bruise this time…just lots of love! So you can understand my disappointment when I learned that the Sanctuary had run its course and all of the animals that I had fallen in love with would be moved to either Watkins Glen or their Southern California Sanctuary.
Of course, none of my sadness dampened my joy at being back at the Sanctuary. Steve and I had 2 hours to wander through the barns and fields to reconnect. It was a typically hot and sunny day in Orland so the pigs were snoozing in the barn & the cows were lazing around under shade trees. I also learned that Peter had been adopted and was spending the rest of his days on a Sanctuary in Texas with a band of other semi-feral pigs. As much as I wanted to see him, it was hard to be sad about that! I spent the whole time getting down and dirty with these amazing animals and creating memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
When founder, Gene Baur spoke about the changes, it was impossible to not get emotional. Just writing about it is bringing tears to my eyes! I could hear the combination of joy he felt for all of the wonderful memories and a deep sadness that this leg of the journey is over. But it was National Shelter Director, Susie Coston, who really helped me see the joy in this move & realize that my sadness was just me being selfish. They recently purchased another 96 acres to expand the size of Watkins Glen. The animals will have more space, trees for shade, cooler weather (because of the intense sunshine in Orland, many of the light pigs get skin cancer). They have a very collaborative relationship with Cornell University which will give these animals access to the best veterinary health care in the country. And the reality is because of the location of the Orland Sanctuary, they just don’t get many visitors. This will allow the Farm Sanctuary team to reach so many more people. And the sister Sanctuary located in New Jersey and owned by Jon & Tracey Stewart will be opening next year. This move will allow the entire staff to work much more closely together. This helped dry up my tears and allowed me to experience real joy for the animals and their new adventure!
Do you have a favorite Sanctuary near you? Please share with us what you love about it! If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit a farmed animal Sanctuary yet, stop what you are doing and make plans to do so right now! Opening my heart to these animals has changed my life forever! So let’s explore the world together and as always…eat, drink & be vegan!