Rasine MacMichael, 8, has sponsored a goat, a mule and this chicken at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, Md. (family photo/family photo)

If you’ve always wanted a pet but never been able to have one, you might be in luck this holiday season. Instead of asking for an animal from a pet store or animal shelter, ask to become a sponsor of a needy farm animal through a local sanctuary.

Sponsorship donations provide food, water, snuggly winter bedding and, most important, medical help to rescue animals. Sponsoring also lets you help take care of an animal without worrying about the mess and responsibility of in-home pet ownership.

Andy the lamb, for example, was bought to be cooked for a barbecue and was left in a box to die once he became sick. Luckily, someone found him and brought him to the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland. He can’t walk on his own, but money from sponsors enabled the sanctuary to buy him a wheelchair cart.

“He wheels around in his cart with his back legs hanging, but he can use his front legs to go all over the farm,” said Terry Cummings, Poplar Spring’s director. “He really has expanded his quality of life from this.”

Cummings’s farm has piglets that were just born, and she said they are in desperate need of sponsors. Their mama was rescued from a broken-down pen where she had been left to starve. She gave birth to seven little pigs right around the time she was rescued.

Andy was sick and abandoned. Now he lives at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary and has a special cart that helps him get around. (Maureen McGowan)

Anne Shroeder, president of Star Gazing Farm in Boyds, Maryland, another rescue organization, said all of her animals “are promised a bright future, no matter what has happened to them in the past.”

Rasine MacMichael likes sponsoring animals “because it does good for the animals and will help them stay alive.” The 8-year-old from Leesburg, Virginia, has spent the past three years sponsoring animals from Poplar Spring, including a goat named Rocky, a chicken named Alina and her favorite, Gloria the mule.

“She’s really sweet and always is careful near me,” Rasine said of Gloria.

Huyen MacMichael, Rasine’s mom, said Rasine “likes picking and choosing the type of animal to sponsor each year.”

The real gift of the sponsorship is letting kids see how wonderful farm animals are, Shroeder said. Coming to the farm is also a great way to find out what it’s like to be around animals, especially for kids who have never owned a pet.

“They can come and hold a chicken and feel that live body and see how beautiful it is,” Shroeder said.

Lucas Farina, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, loves dogs, but he has never owned one because his dad is allergic. The 10-year-old now sponsors a dog named Sam at Star Gazing Farm.

“I love animals,” Lucas said. “You just try to take care of them any way you can.” He hopes to be a marine biologist when he grows up and said sponsoring is a good way to learn how to take care of animals.

Madison O’Brien, a 7-year-old from Middleway, West Virginia, has always loved horses, but she isn’t able to have one where she lives. Her mother, April O’Brien, gave her the gift of sponsoring a horse, Spooks Journey, at PIGS Animal Sanctuary in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for her birthday.

Madison tries to go to the farm every other Saturday to brush Journey, feed her treats and clean out her hooves.

Madison said she was a bit scared of some of the rescue animals when she started sponsoring, but she learned that “they are sweet once you get to know them.”

MacMichael said her daughter likes that she gets to meet the animal she’s helping and see how her donation makes a difference in another life.

“A lot of times when you donate to a place, you don’t know where it goes,” she said. “It definitely makes it more real.”

As a sponsor, you can come and visit for as long as your animal is at the farm.

“It’s really the gift that keeps on giving,” Cummings said.

O’Brien said that sponsoring animals — and visiting them — gives her daughter something to look forward to.

“We have to do a countdown for when she can see the animals again,” she joked.

Get involved

For more information on adopting an animal, contact any of the organizations below. Always ask a parent before going online.

Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, 15200 Mount Nebo Road, Poolesville, Maryland. Starting at $5 a month for chickens, increasing with the size of the animal. There is a three-month minimum to sponsor. www.animalsanctuary.org/sponsor/index.html.

Star Gazing Farm, 16760 Whites Store Road, Boyds, Maryland. Starting at $25 a year for chickens, increasing with animal size. www.stargazingfarm.org/animals/sponsor-an-animal.

PIGS Animal Sanctuary, 1112 Persimmon Lane, Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Starting at $5 a month for a chicken. www.pigs.org/ways-to-give.html.

Maymont, 1700 Hampton Street, Richmond, Virginia. You can choose how much to donate and which animal to support. Minimum donation is $25. www.maymont.org/adopt.

Sarah Polus