I Love Moo: Tales From A N.Y. Animal Sanctuary

Watkins Glen
By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 15, 2008

Moo had a little crush on me, and I could all but return his affections.

The brown-haired boy possessed saucer-size eyes, a sturdy build and a sweet disposition. But what really tugged at my heart was his story of survival. The super-friendly bull, who had trailed me through the pasture like a lovelorn teen, had been found tied to a car during his calfhood. He was saved by one animal shelter, then recently relocated to another, Farm Sanctuary near Watkins Glen, N.Y.

Moo is not alone -- here, at the country's largest farm animal-rescue facility, or with his grim history. The safe haven takes in hundreds of farm animals, who, if they could talk, would tell similar stories. There's Morgan, a snow-white rooster discovered in a Brooklyn pet store dyed like an Easter egg; Mayfly, an experiment in a school hatching project; and Winnie, a 500-pound pig who escaped a backyard barbecue (featuring her) in Connecticut. She now is the alpha pig of the pen.

"The biggest thing we want to impress upon people is that animals have their own lives and personalities," said Liz Pichaud, the spirited 23-year-old tour guide who led our six-person group around the property last month. "They are living as they were intended to live."

Farm Sanctuary is more sanctuary than farm. In 1986, Californian Gene Baur (who, ironically, appeared in McDonald's commercials as teenager) and his then-wife founded the grass-roots operation in an effort to expose the dark side of factory farming. Funded in part by selling veggie hot dogs at Grateful Dead shows, the group made its first save in a Pennsylvania stockyard. Hilda the sheep was the sole survivor in a room of doom; she spent the last 11 years of her life grazing greener fields in New York.

Since those pie-eyed hippie days, the organization has expanded at corporate speed. It now runs a 300-acre property in central California and the 175-acre spread in the Finger Lakes region, about 25 miles west of Ithaca, N.Y. (Talks are in the works about opening another center closer to an urban area, such as New York City.)

The Upstate New York facility holds in-depth tours May through October, but those who want more animal face time can overnight at the on-site B&B. Personally, I couldn't wait to rise with the roosters -- specifically, Morgan, Mayfly and the rest of the boys -- and watch Moo jump over the moon.

* * *

Unlike those on working farms, sanctuary animals are on permanent holiday, a retirement with full benefits. Sanctuaries around the country vary between caring for a specific species and taking in anything with zero to four legs. Jungle Friends in Gainesville, Fla., for example, specializes in monkeys, while Rikki's Refuge in Orange, Va., resembles Doctor Dolittle's waiting room.

Farm Sanctuary focuses mainly on barnyard animals, such as goats, pigs, cows, ducks and chickens. The refuge houses about 750 creatures, in addition to 30-odd cats that happened by and never left.

"Animal sanctuaries are a place where abused or ill animals can live out the rest of their lives," said Denise Sproul, executive director of the Animal Rescue Association of America. "Sanctuaries deal with the animals that maybe no one wants to see."

Many of the facilities run daily tours, allowing visitors to greet the animals, learn about the cause and witness firsthand the caretaking efforts. Only a few allow guests to tuck down among the beasts. With its on-site B&B, Animal Sanctuary is a rare bird.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company