If I had to choose a place that I love spending time just as much as being in the garden, it would probably be Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS). This 150-acre refuge in New York’s Hudson Valley welcomed its first rescue in 2001 and has opened its barn doors to thousands of farm animals since. The animals residing at the sanctuary include 11 different species rescued from neglect, cruelty, and abandonment. Some animals come from hoarding situations, others from agribusiness, but they all arrive needing compassion, respect, and loving care. From the moment a rescued animal steps foot on the property, they are told, “You are safe, you are loved, and you matter.”
Whenever I visit CAS, the love and compassion that envelopes the property are palpable. You can feel it surround you as you tour the grounds, interact with the animals, and talk to the staff, who treat the animals residing there as individuals. There is a strong belief at the sanctuary that “in the ways that matter, we are the same.” I couldn’t agree more.
We first started visiting the sanctuary in 2009, attending one of their educational fundraising events. My husband and I, animal lovers that had become vegan and animal advocates in 2001, felt that the sanctuary’s mission to rescue farmed animals, ignite social change to end their exploitation, and champion vegan living was in line with our beliefs. We wanted to support them and their work. We took my son, who was two years old at the time, and introduced him to the many farm animal residents. The animals at the sanctuary become ambassadors in a way, creating awareness of the plight of their species within agribusiness. They offer an opportunity for visitors to meet them and see them as the individuals that they are.
It was at this first visit that we met Romeo, a rescued steer who gave me my first cow kiss. The experience was transformative, firmly cementing why a vegan lifestyle is a right choice for us. After that experience, we became Romeo’s sponsors, helping to fund his care and medical needs. In the years since we have sponsored many animals at the sanctuary. Some have sadly passed, others joyously were adopted into loving homes. We loved all.
When the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of New York in March, the sanctuary also closed it’s doors to visitors for the safety of the animals, staff, and visitors. In August, they started to allow guided, individual visits for sponsors. We couldn’t give up the opportunity to visit our three sponsored animals: rescued steers Amos and Tucker, and Arlo, the rescued goat. I felt all the stresses of the past few months melt away as we meandered around the property, chatting happily with our two guides Danielle and Natalie, and catching up on the sanctuary’s residents’ news. Tucker and Amos warmly welcomed our affectionate pats, and head scratches, and Arlo curiously sniffed our masks before following us around the pasture. It felt good to be back at a place that still radiates love and positivity even during this difficult time. For the entirety of our one hour visit, I was at peace, and I was sad when we said our goodbyes.
The work that CAS does, and other organizations like them, is so important. Having worked in the animal care field for seven years, I have seen horrible animal cruelty and successful recoveries. I have held animals as they died in my arms, giving them the only comfort they’ve ever received. I have cried silent tears alone at night for those I couldn’t help. I have also seen miraculous healing, witnessing animals learning to trust and accept affection when all they’ve known is cruelty. I’ve seen the power of compassion, hope, and healing and the difference that even a single person can make.
I am thankful for all of my animal experiences, as they have molded me into who I am and have touched many aspects of my life. My visits to CAS were the inspiration for my third children’s book, Have You Ever Been Kissed By a Cow? I can honestly say that through my involvement with Catskill Animal Sanctuary, yes, I have been kissed by a cow, nuzzled by goats, and hugged by chickens. All animals that, just like me, are happy to be at peace.
Please consider supporting Catskill Animal Sanctuary and other animal rescue organizations; their work is vital to animals in need.
***All photos in this post were taken at Catskill Animal Sanctuary and feature rescued residents of the sanctuary.***