Sunday, December 25, 2005

The "Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary"

I owe some talk here about the soup kitchen (next time- promise!) but I want to tell you about something new. This past Thursday, I began volunteering at the "Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary".

The Sanctuary is a non-profit, approximately 20-acre spread (I'm bad at acreage estimates) that provides a home and finds placement for abused farm animals.

Here's who I met and some moments from the day:

Jen and Doug: Jen and Doug are the owners of the Sanctuary. I met Doug briefly but got to spend some extra time talking with Jen about what they're trying to accomplish with the Sanctuary. Besides providing a home and finding placement for abused animals, Doug and Jen plan on opening the sanctuary to the public this coming Summer as not merely a "meet the animals" type of facility, but as a place where the public can receive information on the terrible conditions involved in animal farming and the alternatives that are available regarding the human diet and general lifestyle. Community outreach programs are on the near horizon as well.

Sheila: I spent most of my time at the farm working with Sheila who is a friend of Jen and Doug. Sheila's from Scotland but we were able to talk very well with only occasional subtitles. She is a former teacher and is keenly interested in animals. She's been helping out at the farm for a few weeks and will be helping out for a few more. I get the feeling she returns to the farm now and again to help out.

Morgan: Morgan is a local who helps out at the farm. I only had the chance to talk with him for a few moments but I got the sense that one of his main functions is the building of the fence that's presently going up on part of the property.

Dylan, Stormy, and Olivia: An absolute highlight of the day! After Jen passed me to Sheila, Sheila gave me the tour of the farm. Hen houses, barn, etc. The thing is, as we toured the grounds, we picked up animals along the way and our "duo" shortly became a "band"!

The moment we started the tour, Sheila explained that I shouldn't be too shocked if "Stormy", a pigeon, were to at some point come flying out of nowhere and land on my head. Stormy needs to check out new faces. Sure enough, no sooner had she finished her warning, Stormy fluttered in and landed on my head. He/she stayed for the whole tour alternating between shoulder, head, and hand.

Soon after that, we met up with "Olivia". Olivia is a beautiful tan Goat with the kindest eyes that look straight up at you as if she's trying to make some kind of deeper contact with you. She literally "looks into your face".

Well, Olivia decided she had to get in on the action and took a spot at the end of the line behind Sheila and I (still with Stormy on my head/shoulder!) as we continued our walk.

Next, we met "Dylan".

There's something special about Dylan. Dylan is a calf that started out as a veal calf. Sweet, gentle, inquisitive, one can immediately see Dylan has a soul. And when Dylan looks up at you, you get the sense that he's looking for yours.

Okay, a rather anthropomorphic moment, but I was affected.

You can meet Dylan, as well as much of the rest of the cast, here (

Oh yes, after I was given the "once over" by Dylan, Dylan took a spot in line behind Olivia and followed us all as we worked our way to meet up with Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis.

Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis: Three large, castrated (meaning they're now far more docile than otherwise) bulls all previously saved from veal farms. I didn't enter the pen that they were in but Sheila said that one would be safe to do so. They had some hay to polish off so they remained behind as Sheila, Bob (still w/Stormy on his head/shoulder), Olivia, and Dylan trooped off to see the pigs.

Nine Humongous Pigs: I didn't get any names except Juliet, but each one of these pigs is easily the size of Buick! (Well, you get the idea.) They were all sleeping, grunting, snorting, and turning inside their barn but later on I helped feed them bread, melons, and horse pellets. Sheila said the pigs are fed horse pellets because pig pellets are meant to put massive weight on the pig before slaughtering. Since these pigs will not be going to slaughter, there's no need for them to put on extra weight. Apparently horse pellets give them everything they need.

Somewhere between the pigs and one of the hen houses we lost Olivia and Dylan who returned to their initial areas. Stormy remained on my shoulder for a while longer. We must have looked like quite a sight before that though. It was a wonderful moment.

Okay, now to the rest of the gang.

Nine Roosters and about Three-Dozen Chickens: At the end of the day, many of the Hens and all of the Roosters had to be given a medication by mouth via a syringe. Sheila did that while, umm, the new guy held the flashlight. Anyway, you've never heard such a riot of sound until you've grabbed a sleeping Rooster, among eight other sleeping Roosters, in a 10' x 10' building with the door closed! Half of Ulster County must have woken up thinking it was time for breakfast!

"Pecan" the Hen: If you are new to the property, Pecan has to size you up. Incredible! No different than with any dog. When Sheila first walked me to one of the hen houses, sure enough, out of the pack of Hens walked Pecan straight to me. She walked around me just close enough without touching and kind of settled into the ground in front of me. So funny!

Two Guinea Hens: I forgot the name of one Guinea Hen but the one who tends to fly over the fence is named "Orville".

Three Dogs: Of the three dogs, the only one who's name I remember is "Mae". One of the dogs is somewhat new to the farm and is still a bit skittish around the animals. Sheila thinks he'll get the hang of it all soon.

One dog has a "no petting allowed" policy (at least with me as the new guy). As Jen and Doug advise on their website "If a large black dog charges toward you looking like the hound from hell, don't be afraid. Just let him smell you, and don't pet him".

As expected, he came roaring to the door the moment I knocked.

And yes, he did and I didn't. It all worked out.

Moby: Moby is a very large white cat who is also deaf. I only had a moment to meet Moby at the end of the day but it was long enough to get both front paws kneaded into my leg for a brief "hello". Jen said that owing to Moby's deafness, he's highly sensitive to vibrations and I had the feeling that I was being "listened" to through both paws. I'm sure we'll be trudging around the grounds together in no time.

So, amidst the introductions of the day, I helped muck out a hen house, unloaded bags of feed for storage, helped while Sheila wrangled the chickens for meds, helped feed the pigs, and waited for the hay truck that never came. All good stuff. As with my dairy farm pursuit, I've been looking for somewhere to work with animals and to get a little dirty. This was a terrific day.

More to follow soon.


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