November 14, 2013

My Sanctuary Story + Support Animal Sanctuaries This Holiday Season

It was late September 2012. The leaves were flecked with gold and crimson. I turned to give J a cheerful smile before returning my gaze to the countryside. I stared intently out the car window, eagerly anticipating the first glimpse of the red barns. It had been 13 years since I acknowledged that voice of compassion inside of me and began my transition to veganism. Now, I was on my way to see animals that were saved by people who were driven by that same compassion. I was on the road to Farm Sanctuary.

A year prior, still in the infancy of my illness, I was reading 4-5 books a month. It brought me great pleasure to step away from my struggles and enter the worlds of others, both fictional and real. One book that I picked up was Farm Sanctuary by Gene Baur. I was so moved by his gentle yet steadfast approach to vegan ethics, and I was incredibly inspired by his work for animals.

"Don't go yet! Let's play!" This little buddy nudged me from behind as I was leaving.

At the time, my dad was becoming more sensitive to what befell the animals on his plate. I noticed that he paid more attention to my stories about animal suffering, intelligence, and emotion, and I saw that flicker of connection in his eyes. Because of his interest, I started to share more things about veganism with him, and at Christmastime, I bought him Baur's book, Farm Sanctuary. Inside the front cover I wrote a proposition: Let's read this together and then plan to visit the sanctuary next year. He accepted!

Soon after the holidays, J decided that he wanted to eat more healthfully and include more vegan meals in his diet. He gave himself one cheat day a week, but ate vegan the rest of the time. (Spoiler alert: when he left the sanctuary, he left his cheat days, too.) Because of his piquing interest in animals, my dad and I suggested he come along with us. And then we were three!

When we started planning our trip the following summer, I came up with another proposition for my dad:"Let's sponsor an animal together so we can visit them on the trip!" There were so many great organizations that I wanted to support, but I had the limitations of not being able to do volunteer work (too sick) or donate (too broke). But with my dad's growing affection for farmed animals, I saw an opportunity. He, again, agreed to my proposition, and we now sponsor a goat at the Watkins Glen shelter named Jake.

Jake and I, happy as can be

Once at the sanctuary, I fully expected to start crying at some point of the tour (not just because it's an emotional experience but also because with adrenal fatigue often comes heightened emotional responses), but I didn't. These animals that I met were so happy and calm, that I couldn't help but be happy and calm, too. Love overfloweth. It wasn't until after the tour was over that I got a more pronounced emotional response. No tears, but plenty of intensity.

After the people on the tour trickled away, I had a chance to really soak in my surroundings. It was just me and the animals. I listened and heard nothing, felt nothing but peace in the stillness. The stark contrast of the horrific situations all of these beautiful beings came from and the utopia in which they will live out their lives really choked me up. What horrors did their eyes see? What torture did their bodies endure? What atrocities did their noses smell? What pain did their hearts feel? How many children are they mourning? Did they ever know their mother's warmth? Surely, these images and sounds in my head could only be fiction, a sadist's sci-fi fantasy. Surely, I thought, looking at the serene, sweeping hills around me, those evils cannot exist when this peacefulness does.

Of course, those evils do exist, but not in these magical places. People are creating spaces for rescued animals, so that they have a safe haven to live out the rest of their days, whether their lives stretch 8 more days or 8 more years. They will learn to trust again, they will form loving bonds, they will be happy, they will be free, and for the first time in their lives, their individual needs will be above the need greed of human beings.

Yes, it took me 13 years of the veg life to visit an animal sanctuary, but in those 13 years my compassion was blossoming (isn't it always?). My visit to Farm Sanctuary served that path further, and stretched my heart so wide open that I felt like I was letting the whole world inside. It was such a powerful experience that it's now becoming a yearly tradition. Last month, we took our second sanctuary trip, and we're already anticipating our return.

You can sponsor Turpentine this Thanksgiving!
During the holiday season, we are bombarded with images of dead animal bodies on platters. At our family dinners, the lifeless bodies of turkeys, chickens, and pigs are displayed as the table centerpiece, their own histories erased. They die for tradition. I have nothing against tradition itself, but when it is used as an excuse to perpetuate the killing of living creatures then it's time for some new traditions, am I right?

Last year, half of the dinner guests at my family's Thanksgiving ate a vegan meal. I feel good about that, but this year I wanted to do something more. I've just adopted Tulip through Farm Sanctuary's Adopt-a-Turkey program, and her picture will be displayed at my Thanksgiving table this year. Check out this awesome program, and adopt a turkey this holiday season.

I also encourage you to seek out sanctuaries near your home. Find one and plan a visit! Be aware that some of them do not do tours in the winter. While you're waiting for them to start up again, look into other ways that you can show your support, like donating supplies or sponsoring an animal. If you're in or near the Pittsburgh area, there is a new sanctuary called Hope Haven just north of the city. I can't wait to visit there (and maybe sponsor an animal there, too!). You can find more information about Hope Haven on their website.

Shannon welcoming us to her abode. She loved eating grass from my hand.

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