By: Shriya Swaminathan
Growing up surrounded by farmed animals, living among them like they were family, while also grappling with the inconsistencies of exploiting them for human use, Kathy Stevens says that animals have always been “part of her DNA.” After a decade as a high school English teacher, she wanted to combine her passion for teaching and her love for animals, and co-founded Catskill Animal Sanctuary with aspirations of educating the community with the most transformative and important life lessons—respect, compassion, and love for all life on Earth.
Pioneering Farmed Animal Rescue Movement
Among the first to create a safe, forever home for abused, abandoned, and discarded animals, Kathy wondered how the animals she rescued would be ambassadors to sanctuary guests. “When a cow licks your face, when a pig runs to you when you call her name and then flops over for a belly rub, when a turkey falls asleep in your lap….humans don’t have to say a whole lot in moments like these,” she says. Twenty years later, people are still falling in love with animals they’ve eaten throughout their lives. Kathy says these are moments of profound opportunity: after all, most of us love animals. None of us are intending to harm. “Meeting a chicken or pig or sheep face-to-face changes people,” Kathy explains.
The Challenges and Joys of Running a Sanctuary
Kathy acknowledges that operating a sanctuary that provides solace to countless animals is no easy undertaking: there’s the emotional toll of having to turn away animals due to space constraints and of saying goodbye to residents—many of whom have lived at the Sanctuary for 15 years or more—as they leave their physical bodies. Well-meaning folks who show up unannounced with rescued animals also pose a challenge, as does fundraising, especially since Covid has reduced sanctuary income for two years by 30%. But all this is not to deny the joy and sense of purpose that comes when witnessing animals learning to trust the safety and love that is unconditional, and forever theirs to cherish.
A Heartwarming Story of Resilience and Recovery
Catskill Animal Sanctuary was one of the first sanctuaries that welcomed unwanted and abandoned horses, as well as dozens of horses rescued from animal hoarders. The first resident was a tiny pony named Dino, who was the sole survivor of a horrific arson. “He was the saddest boy I had ever met,” recalls Kathy. However, when a new blind horse joined the Catskill Animal Sanctuary family, Dino made an instant connection. His listlessness evolved into an unexpected, trusting bond. Kathy fondly recollects how Dino trotted over to the new horse, whinnied, and began his journey back to life. While we may never understand how these bonds come to be, Kathy’s sanctuary stories are reminders of the power of love that grows from heartbreak and the powerful truth that non-human animals are “just like us in all the ways that truly matter.”
Words of Wisdom for Future Sanctuary Founders
Kathy enjoys offering wisdom and lessons learned from her journey to new and prospective sanctuary founders. “Do your homework, be aware of your strengths but more importantly your weaknesses, and stay small for your first few years”: this is some of her key advice. But most importantly, seek community involvement, and champion the connection between all living creatures: these should be guiding principles.
A Future Coexisting With Animals
What does it look like to live among animals who have been bred and domesticated by humans? Do we foresee a future where they remain in sanctuaries in the outskirts of cities? Do the animals integrate themselves into the bustling city life? It’s hard to envision a non-exploitative coexistence with farmed animals. Regardless of what that compassionate world ends up looking like, Kathy is certain that sanctuaries will have their place in that world and are imperative in our journey to achieve it.
About Catskill Sanctuary
Catskill Animal Sanctuary is a 150-acre property nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley. Since their founding in 2001, they have offered a loving haven to 11 species of farmed animals rescued from cruelty, neglect, abandonment, and the farming system. The team feels privileged to help every rescued animal understand “what love feels like.” Rooted in their ethos is the concept of our oneness with all life on earth and the belief that all of us have inherent worth—no matter our species. Each year, thousands of visitors come to meet the animals and learn about the impact of the human diet and lifestyle on animals, human health, and the planet. It is in these powerful moments of connection with individual, often larger-than-life chickens, pigs, cows and others that epiphanies, and even profound transformations, happen. In fact, Sanctuary surveys reveal that 94% of non-vegan visitors plan to reduce or eliminate animal products from their diet after meeting the sanctuary residents!
To further support humanity on its vital journey to plant-based living, the Catskill team offers vegan culinary classes, their Compassionate Cuisine cookbook and online recipes, Kathy’s weekly podcast, —Herd Around the Barn, customized Sanctuary tours, educational programs for kids, and more!
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