Nov. 8 (Bloomberg) -- On a barn floor in Saugerties, New York, Barbie the hen is nestled against Rambo the ram’s warm fleecy side. Goats mill about, demanding to be patted and talked to. Turkeys with less clear intentions crowd around visitors and babble.
They’re among the ever-shifting population of rescued beasts at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, 75-plus acres of brooks, weeping willows and verdant pastures in the Hudson Valley.
“Right now we have 28 horses, 20 cows, 20 pigs and ... a hell of a lot of goats,” says Kathy Stevens, the sanctuary’s founder and director.
Since she opened the place in 2003, around 2,000 animals have called this peaceable kingdom home. It serves as a way- station for animals awaiting adoption or retirement village for those lucky enough to remain.
Stevens takes me on a much-interrupted tour, as she pauses to greet every animal we encounter, regardless of species or personal hygiene, with a hug and kind words, gestures that elicit licks, wags and other demonstrations of appreciation.
The sanctuary not only gives asylum to cast-off creatures, it also takes on the trickier task of raising public awareness about the evils of agribusiness. The farm is a perennial stop on the elementary-school field-trip circuit, and Stevens herself speaks at schools and community groups, explaining how factory farms are both cruel and environmentally bankrupt.
This farm, which is powered entirely by solar panels, is as green as they come. While part of its mission is to be an environmental education center, its essential purpose is to bring humans face to face with the living creatures we generally think of as food, when we think of them at all.
Refugee From Brooklyn
The animals all have names, distinct personalities and extremely satisfied appetites. Barbie, the hen who sleeps with Rambo the ram, weighs 17 pounds. Like many of the creatures here, she’s a refugee from New York City. Barbie was found in Brooklyn, quivering under a blue Honda.
Every resident has a back story. A tribe of 18 goats was recently rescued from a Massachusetts woman who had been accumulating animals on her property at a prodigious pace.
Hailing from Kansas City, Missouri, 42 chickens had been unwittingly abetting criminals who “were using chicken manure to disguise the smell of their meth lab,” Stevens says.
Other chickens from Brooklyn narrowly escaped having leading roles in an orthodox Jewish ritual of kapparot, in which they would have been twirled over a rabbi’s head and then slaughtered. Stevens is of two minds about that particular rescue.
Slaughtered by Agribusiness
“I’m happy we took these animals out of there, but I found myself asking, ‘Is this what we really want to be doing?’ she says. “What one isolated organized religion does pales in comparison to the 10 billion chickens abused and slaughtered by agribusiness. I don’t know whether we’ll do that again.”
Stevens says the hardest part of her job is getting people to own up to the consequences of eating animals.
The way to people’s hearts might be through their stomachs. This year the sanctuary brought in Kevin Archer, a vegan chef from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to run a Compassionate Cuisine program, using workshops and cooking classes to promote a meatless diet.
The director’s heart is so wide open to her animal friends that she perceives their emotions in human terms: love, jealousy, sadness, joy and all the rest of it. Just don’t tell her you think she’s projecting.
“I think that ‘anthropomorphism’ is an excuse people use to rationalize what they are doing,” Stevens says. “If people don’t have an emotional connection, they are going to turn a blind eye to what agribusiness is.”
Stevens’ second book on the sanctuary, “Animal Camp: Lessons in Love and Hope From Rescued Farm Animals” (Skyhorse Publishing, $24.95) came out in September. Donate or adopt a refugee through the sanctuary’s website, or better yet visit the place and look a few of its residents in the eye. It is an enlightening experience.
(Mike Di Paola writes on preservation and the environment for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Mike Di Paola at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.