By Jean Alves
Holiday shopping is, to be sure, a loathsome endeavor. As the substantial glass doors swing open to grant entry into the department store, the olfactory senses are immediately and aggressively attacked by Chanel No. 5 nauseatingly mingled with Cinnamon Stick Yankee Candle. Simultaneously, garish reds and greens, blues and silvers, faux winter flora and formidable snowmen surround you on every front while Clause-clad women ready themselves in pouncing position beside their cosmetic counters. And yes, YES, Nat King Cole, it has been said many times, many ways quite enough already, so PLEASE stop with the relentless “Merry Christmas” wishing in that infuriatingly gentle way!
Though Christmas has become nearly synonymous with consumerism and the ritual gift giving fills most with a level of dread that can only be soothed with some seriously strong ‘nog, do not despair. Far away from the crowds and cacophony, there’s a quiet little farm tucked away in the Catskill Mountains of New York offering the perfect holiday gift: a farm animal sponsorship.
At Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, founders Jenny Brown and Doug Abel have been sheltering abandoned and abused farm animals since 2004. Both formerly filmmakers in Boston, Jenny and Doug decided to dedicate their lives to providing these animals with a loving home after Jenny worked on a film about animal treatment on factory farms.
As an undercover videographer for Farm Sanctuary, she witnessed the appalling living conditions cattle endured at a Texas stockyard. It was a scene she could not forget or ignore. Jenny soon moved to Watkins Glen, New York where she lived and worked at Farm Sanctuary and gained the expertise and the confidence to start a sanctuary of her own.
Now, in addition to educating the public about the inhumane treatment of animals on CAFOs and promoting the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle, Jenny and her husband Doug have adopted hundreds of farm animal refugees at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (WFAS). With a small staff and volunteers, they look after more than 200 animals on their 23-acre farm. That’s from chickens and turkeys, to sheep, goats, pigs and cows.
No longer treated as commodities but as sentient beings deserving of love and respect, the animals are free to roam the fields and chomp to their hearts’ content along grassy pastures. It is a veritable bucolic utopia. The farm “operates on a high level of respect [for the animals],” says Rebecca Moore, administrative assistant and animal caretaker at WFAS.
At WFAS, each animal has a special story and a distinct personality. Olivia, a 10-year-old goat, was once kept as a “pet” goat, but she was abandoned after her owners’ house burnt down. She spent an estimated 3 months living alone in the backyard of the charred home. Although she came to WFAS underweight, with internal parasites and painful hoof neglect, she is now healthy and spry. A very sociable goat, she enjoys the company of people and likes to play tag with her horns.
One of Olivia’s non-human farm friends is Dylan. A couple found him tied to a post and stuck to the ground in his own feces at a neighboring dairy farm. As a male Holstein, Dylan was destined to become veal and was just one day away from being auctioned off, but the couple talked the farmer into selling him and they brought Dylan to WFAS.
Now, Dylan is 4 years old and weighs nearly 3,000 pounds from eating nothing but grass and hay. He is a gentle giant who does very well with the eager, young visitors at WFAS, and he and Olivia often graze side by side.
Julie the pig was rescued from a similar fate. Born on a conventional hog farm, she was bought as a young piglet to participate in “The Running of the Pigs”, an event sponsored by a Denver brewing company where piglets run throughout the town and the one that crosses the finish line first is slaughtered for everyone to eat.
Because so many people in the community objected to the idea, the event was canceled and the brewery owner donated Julie and the other piglets to Wilderness Ranch, an animal sanctuary in Colorado. A few years later, Wilderness Ranch closed its doors and sent the pigs to WFAS. Now Julie and her piggy brethren sleep on straw instead of concrete and enjoy frequent belly-rubs and ear-scratches.
You can meet these and hundreds of other animals at the sanctuary. Tours are offered April 1-October 31. “We think of the animals as ambassadors,” says Moore. Visitors see how happy, kind, and gentle the animals are when they’re treated with compassion and respect. “People feel changed when they come here.”
Rather than getting wrapped up in the commercialized holiday hubbub this year, why not support a mission that matters? Surely peace and good will should not be granted to men alone. According to WFAS, “Peace begins on your plate.”
Animal sponsorships make for unique and thoughtful gifts, and by donating to the farm in Woodstock or other animal sanctuaries, you help provide animals with food, shelter, and veterinary care. At WFAS, you get to choose the animal you’d like to sponsor, and your gift includes a photo of the animal along with his or her rescue story – though they’re all different, they all have the same happy ending. (And who doesn’t love a good goat pic?) Plus, you can order online and avoid the horrific holiday shopping scene altogether: a true gift in and of itself. Visit www.woodstockfas.org for more information.