16 Years

16 Years

Happy 16th Vegan Birthday to me at Catskill Animal Sanctuary

I’ve been vegan so long. And while every year my passion for vegan food (and vegan food reporting) grows stronger, my reason for going and remaining vegan have nothing to do with food at all. It’s about animals.

It was learning the conditions of factory farming so long ago that steered me towards veganism. What others preferred “not to hear about” I preferred to know and to not accept–because it was in my power to do so. This is as true today as then. To celebrate my love for animals (all animals) and my commitment to living aligned with my values, I spent the day at Catskill Animal Sanctuary with fellow vegan and food lover CandyPenny.

Catskill Animal Sanctuary is a bucolic 110 acres in New York’s Hudson Valley. It’s been a home to over 2,000 rescued farm animals since 2001. Though the expansive grounds are peaceful, the horrific stories of abuse and neglect need to remain forefront.  Sanctuary Founder, Kathy Stevens, and her staff work tirelessly to be the voice of these animals. They provide medical care, legal care, and rehabilitation to the gentle, innocent souls of the farm–who, because of profit and consumer demand, were born to be abused and slaughtered.

We started our tour at these magical mushrooms. They stood tall and proud against the green ground with the scattered foliage. After consulting this interesting website, it seems to be the Shaggy Mane mushroom. Unfortunately only several remained after bulldozing toddler feet.

Here are Jangles and Peggy Sue, two rescue pigs enjoying their time now that they are safe. Nadine is in the background. There are over 100 million pigs killed each year for pork products. These wonderful animal individuals are 3 who survived. [learn more about how life is for most pigs]

Peggy Sue let us give her a belly rub.

What a gorgeous sanctuary for these pigs.

People eat so much chicken. This “healthy alternative” is a living, sentient being. 7 billion chickens are bred and slaughtered every year for food. Conditions for chickens used for food are absolutely despicable. The demand for chicken  has risen tremendously; the average person eats 87 pounds of chicken a year [source]. And that is why conditions are absolutely despicable. The rescue chickens at the farm are franken-chickens. Unnaturally fattened up from being pumped with drugs. They’re now in need of daily medical care and missing feathers.

I really didn’t mean this post to be soapbox-y. But it angers me that so many don’t care what they contribute to with their dietary choices. And seeing these beautifully unique survivors finally at peace and thriving, I’m filled with a lot of emotion. Catskill Animal Sanctuary does such important work.

Each animal on the farm can feel pain, can comunicate, and can develop strong bonds. Each is a unique being. I’m always amazed when others are amazed when they experience an animal’s personality and unique traits. Why do we only extend some animals our appreciation and love (our beloved cats and dogs)? We can learn a thing or two from getting to know a turkey.

I’ve learned that chivalry is not dead. In the bird world at least. I learned that a lot of male birds protect their mates fiercely. Geese congregate to yell at their predators (in this case humans) while their mates  swim safely yards behind them. Our tour guide Rebecca let us know that they have been known to protect their mates passionately, sacrificing their own safety to protect her. Roosters test food in bowls but then spit it out; they don’t eat a bite before the hens get what they need. And this turkey couple above. A cautious male turkey, feathers puffed and making warning noises, revolves around his mate. He was so nervous. And with good reason… come November, 45 million are slaughtered to be holiday centerpieces. [learn more about how life is for most turkeys]

Rebecca explained that a male turkey’s gorgeous neck and head can change color as his moods change. Fascinating!

I was so happy to be able to see some baby cows. These calves were huddled together in the back of a pen. Their beautiful black eyes looked cautiously as the tour group entered slowly. Some tour-goers were more concerned about not stepping in their doo-doo than taking in the sweet, calm energy of these calves. Knowing the heartbreaking cruelty of veal production, it was hard to care about some sh*t on my shoes. Calves are ripped from their mothers at birth and starved in narrow pens to minimize movement to keep their flesh soft and tender for people to eat. I want to live in a world where people care about these babies more than their shoes… which are probably made from the skin of the babies’ mothers.

Close siblings.

This beautiful cow may live out its natural life. 42 million cows, however, suffer horrid conditions on beef and dairy factory farms. It was my learning about how cow moms are inseminated and kept pregnant repeatedly, hooked to painful milking devices and given drugs to increase milk production, and slaughtered when  their bodies give out after these vicious conditions and abuse. That is why I went vegan. As a young woman deciding what kind of woman I wanted to be. Others can have their cheese (that you “can’t give up”) and all of the drugs, pain, and torture that remain in it.

Meet Emmet. Emmet had free range access to the grounds on our visit. He was rescued from a crystal meth facility. The meth heads were using chickens to hide the stench of their illegal activity.

Also on the farm are horses. There is something about horses, isn’t there? Iconic strength and majesty. There is something different about horses’ suffering that gets to me. Maybe it’s their role in history, in the development of our United States. Maybe its their bodies, pinnacles of utility yet sleek and gorgeous.

These special horses were rescued from a mentally ill hoarder. She received a slap on her wrist for her abuse.

There were other animals who are usually out and about that remained in their pens. Rebecca thought this might be Hurricane Sandy-related.

This is the handsome Buddy, one of two blind horses on the farm. I don’t really know what to say about seeing an animal like Buddy. It was a bit overwhelming to me and I’ve welled up many times since thinking about him. I plan to read Kathy’s book Where The Blind Horse Sings to learn more about his life at the farm.

Through the years, folks have asked about why I don’t wear wool. Like most animal related products consumers use, there is indeed suffering involved. But most have a naive image of a gray-beared man gently shearing a massive sheep who “baaa”s lovingly (just as they think their milk comes from a healthy cows grazing on an expanse of grass by an Old McDonald fairy tale farmer). This site depicts the reality of wool production. Sheep are mistreated and abused. And there are tons of fabrics as warm, as stylish and as durable as wool that come from plants. And lest I hear a ridiculous argument that I am abusing plants as a vegetarian, they don’t feel pain, contrary to ridiculous (!) reporting on the New York Times.

A pretty lamb. This shirt says it perfectly: What Kind of an A**hole Eats a Lamb? 

Here is another animal duo with a strong bond, parents to a little pony (below). It was amazing to see these two spring to action, protecting their baby from a loud-mouthed obnoxious human. CP and I suffered the ignorant commentary from this human during the entire tour. Her concern was having her wild toddler pet every animal as if the peaceful sanctuary for abused animals were a carnival petting zoo. She even declared during the tour that she “didn’t like animals.” (It was her toddler who stomped the mushrooms as well.) Anyway, these horses read her well and trotted between her rough hands and the pony as the tour came to an end.

Here is the sweet baby.

CandyPenny feeding the baby some greens.

“Hello there! Thanks for coming.”

The tour was coming to an end and Ozzie wanted to say goodbye. This potbellied pig was rescued from another animal hoarder. I found a bit about the court case here.

Last but not least, Jailbird, a spectacularly sweet best buddy to Emmet. Watch a bit about their story here.

It was a wonderful day at the farm. Having the opportunity to meet so many unique creatures with happy endings was inspiring and seeing the work of the passionate staff, humbling. I look forward to returning to the farm again and visiting my new friends. Please visit Catskill Animal Sanctuary to learn more about how to support their work.

Thank you for reading my thoughts and reflections on my visit. I hope you let at least a little of what you learned shape your actions in some way. I know soapboxing is not the most effective means of initiating change but 1) my veganism is a teenager so you know how that goes and 2) it’s my party and I cry if I want to! Happy Vegan Birthday to me!

Check out my slideshow of lessons learned after my 15th year (2011)…