My wife and I were married in September of 2001, but since she was in graduate school, our honeymoon was limited to a weekend at a local bed and breakfast. So, in December we took a delayed honeymoon to the Finger Lakes in New York. We started in Geneva, spent some time in Ithaca, and finished in Watkins Glen. While we were in Watkins Glen, we decided to take a day and volunteer at the Farm Sanctuary, a farm animal shelter established in 1986 for rescued “food production” animals.
Many of the pigs, cows, turkeys, and other farm animals at the sanctuary were once downed animals, left for dead by slaughterhouses or meat delivery trucks, or escaped food production lines (in well-known cases like Queenie‘s). The animals get to live out their lives on one of two clean, spacious farms (one in New York and one in California) and are cared for by a loving, understanding staff.
We arrived in the late morning and met with Michelle, who works in the education division. She gave us a choice of working on the farm or helping out with some envelope-stuffing. We wanted to a little of both, so Huyen and I started with some farmwork.
I wonderered what kinds of things the Sanctuary folks had one-day volunteers do. Would they go easy on us since neither of us had ever been on a farm before? Turns out (thankfully): nope. In the three hours we helped outside, we helped clean the rabbit pen (a relatively easy job), the turkey pen (a little more intensive), and the chicken coop (a messy, but necessary job). What amazed me is that the barns and pens the animals live in are cleaned out daily. Keep in mind that on most factory farms, cages and stalls are rarely cleaned, but here, where animals are truly “free range,” their living quarters are kept nearly spotless. All the old hay is removed and new hay is spread. Droppings are cleaned up and cages are emptied out. It really is quite amazing, and touching, to see how well these formerly neglected and abused farm animals get to live their lives.
After we came back from lunch, we decided we’d help out in the campaign office of the Sanctuary, helping to stuff envelopes, but first we made the rounds of the farm to visit some of the animals we didn’t get a chance to work with. The cows were grazing and didn’t seem to interested in us, but the real experience was visiting the pigs. The staff was cleaning out the barn, so the pigs were all put outside. We stood at the gates and pet some of the pigs while talking with one of the Sanctuary workers. The pigs seemed quite anxious to get inside… the hogs sounded angry and many of the females were in heat. Still, there was something very cute about them… I got a sense of the individual personalities. I wasn’t looking at the source of bacon and sausage, I was looking at sentient beings with feelings like any other farm animal or pet.
As we were leaving the barn, we spotted a pig laying in the hay by himself. The worker guessed that this particular pig was “Boots,” a 1500-pound animal that was the sole survivor of a fire in the pig’s barn a number of years back. Boots was happy for the attention he got when we leaned down to pet him and talk to him. Huyen and I both swear that he smiled at us. The sad thing about Boots and a lot of the other pigs at the Farm Sanctuary is their size: many pigs are genetically engineered to grow quickly and to a greater size than nature ever intended. The reason, of course, is for a greater food yield per animal. After all, if you can get more bacon and sausage from an animal by giving it hormones, why not? Boots was one reason “why not.” He had a difficult time supporting his own weight, having trouble just standing up. When animals are engineered to exceed their natural growth pattern, the people doing the engineering don’t take into account what happens if the animal doesn’t become a side dish at breakfast.
After visiting the goats, we took a short drive down the road to the office where the farm’s various campaigns are headed. There, Huyen and I took an hour or two to help address and stuff envelopes as part of their new mailing campaign. They were writing to restaurants in New Jersey, asking the proprietors to pledge not to serve veal in support of the state’s anti-cruelty laws. I read the letter that was going out, and it wasn’t pushy or aggressive, but rather, professional and informative.
Before we left for the evening, we had a chance to meet Gene Bauston, who founded the Farm Sanctuary in 1986 with his wife, Lorri. After meeting Gene, we were convinced he must have founded the place when he was 13. He’s a friendly, incredibly young looking guy that doesn’t look a day over 28. He thanked us for helping out but it would have been more appropriate if I had thanked him for all the time, effort, and love he’s put into the farm over the last 15 years.
I truly can’t say enough about the work the Farm Sanctuary does. Every person that we met there enjoyed what they were doing had a respect for the animals that I’ve never seen before. Whether it was a farmhand cleaning the chicken coop or an intern in the campaign office keeping the place clean, they believed with a passion in the common goal of better treatment for farm animals.
With factory farming such a huge industry in the United States, the Farm Sanctuary is clearly “the little guy” working against often unethical big businesses that treat their animals as objects rather than sentient beings with feelings and personalities. If you’re in Watkins Glen, make sure you take some time to stop by and visit or volunteer.
Sometimes it seems that everyone is out to make gobs of money in the business of exploitation, but a day at the Farm Sanctuary is an experience that will remind you of the good in people’s hearts.
The Farm Sanctuary
The Sanctuary’s main site.
The Sanctuary’s site devoted to information about cruelty of factory farming.
The Sanctuary’s site about downed animals, “animals so diseased or badly injured that they cannot even walk.”
Another Sanctuary site, this one focusing on the poultry industry.
Farm Animal Shelters
Here, the Farm Sanctuary has set up a resource for individuals and organizations interested in providing a similar service for abused farm animals.
Free Farm Animals from the Cruelty of Confinement
A Sanctuary site focusing specfically on confinement of factory farm animals.
A Farm Sanctuary campaign to make people aware of agribusiness exploitation of animals, treating them as “tools of production” rather than sentient beings.
Of all the stories of confinement and cruelty, there is none worse than the every day treatment of cows that become veal (if this picture doesn’t bother you…). This is the central site for the Sanctuary’s “Say No to Veal” campaign.
Ban Cruel Farms
A campaign to get rid of gestation crates for pigs.
Animal Rights Law Project
From the Rutgers University School of Law, a very through site with all sorts of animal rights-related info.