Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What It's Like to Run an Animal Sanctuary

By Kathy Stevens

Last Tuesday, I hopped three planes, picked up a rental car and drove several hours to meet a woman whose farm in a remote part of the Midwest is in trouble. While I'm not at liberty to disclose the specific details, I can say that some 200 animals, mostly horses, are in desperate need of placement, and the clock is running out.

I first learned of the situation from through postings from other sanctuaries. In e-mail exchanges over the following days, the owner hinted at her desperation. Her hay supply was running low. She was out of funds. She had no community support, and "Farm Services" was threatening to send her animals to auction (i.e., to slaughter) to recoup some of the money she owed them for leased farm equipment. And yes: she was singlehandedly responsible for the care of 200 or more animals.

I let out a deep sigh. The scenario was all too familiar.

In the ten years since Catskill Animal Sanctuary opened its doors, we've received animals from a over a dozen cases like this. Among the more notorious were:

a. Eighteen sheep and goats locked in a filthy, rat-infested stall and fed moldy bagels. A decomposing cow carcass was in the stall. Outside the fetid barn, dozens of dogs were chained to a fence without food, water, or shelter
b. Twenty-two animals living on an abandoned property with a woman whose arrests for cruel practices associated with hoarding dated back to the 1970s. Dozens of dead animals were on the property. Though not a non-profit, she considered herself a rescuer
c. Twenty horses removed from a woman who had a pile of dead bodies in the woods and numerous complaints on record
d. Four horses removed from a "rescue" whose volunteers complained only after horses were dying from starvation
e. Potbelly pigs removed from a "rescue" that had dozens of dogs stacked in crates inside a house no one was allowed to enter.

Mind you, I hardly relished the thought of a trek to a remote part of the country to deal with animals in crisis. It was a tough time to be away from CAS: I was juggling everything from construction projects and fundraising to staffing issues and a speaking schedule for my newly-released book.

But several factors governed my decision. First of all, the woman's attorney was advising her not to surrender any animals to shelters in her home state, which obviously limited the assistance she would receive from reputable organizations. Further, she claimed to be out of money, and winter was fast approaching. Both factors pointed to the likelihood of enormous suffering unless someone stepped in. Finally, she was actively seeking help, something I've never seen from folks in this kind of trouble..." More

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