In this second installment of this blog article featuring Hope Haven Farm Sanctuary, we’ll get to know some of the current and temporarily displaced residents of Hope Haven, and get a glimpse of what’s to come in 2013.
It’s a cold, sunny January day when I set out to meet Karen at the Sanctuary. I’m presenting her with a check that she’s won in a contest WearWoof has held. Though several of the animals have had to be relocated back to her house in Ingomar, I’ve insisted on meeting her at the farm. I want to see it for myself, for partly selfish reasons. Soon I will begin renovation on the store, and I could use the punch of encouragement that comes from seeing someone else accomplish a similar goal.
“You’ll have to park at the bottom,” she warns me, “and walk up the hill. It’s a sheet of ice.” When I arrive, she is apologetic about the condition of the driveway, and as we trudge up the hill in the chill, stepping into patches of snow to anchor our steps, she frets about parking and the long walk to the house and whether the public will be put off by this extra effort to reach their destination. “My plow guy got stuck,” she remarks, and I sense that this latest problem is one more in a growing list of set-backs and obstacles keeping her awake at night.
Passing her beautiful new red-roofed barn, which sits halfway up the hill, she laments that it was flooded during Hurricane Sandy and so all of the pigs had to be moved back to her house, including Isaac, who is now 300 pounds. Her builder came out to install French drains, but installed them incorrectly, and the drainage is still a mess. She paid him, and now he isn’t returning her calls.
We crest the hill, pass a shanty of a shed, and arrive at the bird coop, a converted garage. She has created a lovely fenced atrium – an aviary for the birds, which currently consist of two roosters and several peafowl. Frank, the larger of the two black and white speckled Plymouth Rock roosters, struts forward to greet her.
“If you’re okay with getting poop on your boots, come on in,” she says, and we step through the door into the coop. The floor is covered in curled wood shavings and she’s installed roosting rails along the white-washed walls. She opens a plastic container full of chopped veggies and spinach, and tosses handfuls to the floor. Little Joe Cocker, the Bantam Plymouth Rock rooster, weaves excitedly around her ankles.
These are lucky birds. “The city now allows people to keep laying hens,” she says. “To encourage people to raise their own food. So they go to hatcheries and get chicks, but as you know, sexing them isn’t the easiest thing to do, and sometimes they end up with roosters. A lot of roosters are now ending up in open-door shelters because of this.”
I shake my head, mind-boggled by the unintended consequence of an otherwise well-intentioned initiative.
The peafowl have all moved into the aviary and watch me with suspicion. “Not exactly farm animals,” Karen allows. They are beautiful – the hens pure white with crowns of cartoony plumage quivering on their delicate skulls. There is an adolescent male, Sheldon, who still has some of this gray baby fluff. He plucks mischievously at the tail feathers of his “big brother” who roosts on the branch above his head.
“Sheldon!” Karen gently scolds. She’s named all of the animals. Some have cutesy names, like Little Joe Cocker. Some names seem to describe the animal’s personality. Frank is just a Frank: Tough, stubborn, and simple – but also protective and practical.
“They love it here,” Karen says, gesturing toward the peafowl, who regard us quietly from their perches. “Someday, when I get the fence installed around the perimeter of the property to keep out dogs and predators, I’d like to let them have free range. Peafowl tend to stay close to their home and I think they’d enjoy roosting in the trees at night.”
Their current accommodations are a vast improvement over their previous lives. Several months ago, Karen was contacted by a humane officer, Cathy Cunningham of CRICAAT, because the peafowl were being kept in an abusive and dangerous situation in Washington County. Confined to a windowless shed in deplorable conditions, they were let out only occasionally, and then apparently used as target practice. Cathy confiscated the birds and Karen agreed to take them in. One of the sicker birds had since died, but the others were thriving under her care.
Watching them perch somewhat gracelessly on the branches she’d installed along the screen, I wonder what sense of appreciation they have for the reversal of their misfortune. Animals “live in the moment” and though they may bear the emotional and psychological scars of past abuses, they are contextual creatures. Once introduced to a new, safe environment, animals – even these domesticated “wild” animals – show an amazing capacity to love, trust and enjoy life.
Those who rescue dogs and cats are motivated by their love of and ability to relate to these animals. With companion animals, we have a reciprocal give-and-take relationship. We care for them, but they also care for us. Anyone who has been comforted through a painful break-up by the insistent purring of her cat, or who got through childhood with the constant companionship of his faithful dog, has no trouble believing in the emotional make-up of dogs and cats. We believe our companion animals feel sadness, disappointment, joy, fear and confusion. When we see them respond to our own emotions, looking into our eyes to seek understanding, when they provide us comfort or defend our territory or share in our excitement, we relate to them as we would a friend. It’s this ability to relate to our pets as emotional beings that creates momentum and buy-in for efforts to end pet homelessness.
Without this reciprocity from farm animals, domesticated not for companionship, but for their usefulness to humans, can the mission of Hope Haven be fulfilled?
If Karen didn’t believe it to be possible, she wouldn’t be standing here, contemplating the many things that still needed to be done before Hope Haven is opened to the public.
Many of the animals are still living at her home, including her Muscovy duck, Ruppert. She won’t admit to having a favorite – but she will say that she is especially fond of Ruppert. “He has my heart,” she says, recalling with the ten-hour car ride they made back from Vermont together years ago after she rescued him from a meat farm. The tenderness she feels for and from him is evident as she describes him as a “gentleman” who wags his tail emphatically when he has visitors.
But she brags about her animals like a proud mother, unable to sing the praises of one without recognizing all of the others. Craig and Evan are a fiercely bonded pair of Chinese Geese, brothers, whose movements are almost always in unison as if in a beautiful ballet. Jive, her monster tom turkey, has a four-foot wingspan but nevertheless peeps like a baby chick when given a grape as a tasty treat. And then there are the pigs: Oliver is a social butterfly who will jump up on your shin and stuff his snout into your pocket, looking for snacks. Lily is shy, but will follow you around, nuzzling the back of your ankle to make her presence known. Reggie is quiet and thoughtful and prefers to hang back from the action, waiting patiently for his turn for a belly rub or treat.
I snap pictures of the birds and we talk about the future. Clearly, Karen is not at the beginning of her project anymore, that giddy time of hope and possibility that fuels everything from budding romances to new jobs. She’s arrived at the dreaded middle, the place where the blush is now off the rose, and you’ve come too far to just forget the whole thing and act like it never happened. I can relate to this place. It’s where your to-do list is staggering, where you realize that there aren’t enough hours in the day, even with all the hours you’ve gained because you don’t sleep anymore. You can’t see the beginning anymore, and you sure as heck can’t see the end. It’s the feeling of being adrift in a boat in the middle of an enormous lake, the maps and navigation equipment you’ve brought along waterlogged and malfunctioning.
I’d like to see her beautiful barn, but it is now empty, all of the pigs had to be moved after Hurricane Sandy flooded it. I’ll see it in the spring, when the gang is back and the pasture is green.
“How did you get them out of there?” I ask, contemplating the logistics of relocating a 300 pound pig.
“The smaller guys I can transport in a dog crate,” she says, and I smile at the vision of her loading pigs into the back of her pretty white BMW SUV. She needs help for Isaac, though. She doesn’t have a trailer, and if she did, herding a pig onto one requires special ramps and rails. It’s something every hog farmer has, but Karen isn’t a hog farmer. To procure the tools germane to the handling of every single type of animal in her care would be enormously expensive and inefficient.
“There are so many things we need,” she confesses. “Old lawn equipment, buckets, shovels, rakes… Even a few bags of apples or soda cans – we are collecting cans to sell for scrap metal.” Her wish list is posted on her web site, and among other things includes a four-wheel drive truck, ATV and picnic tables. I immediately vow to scour Craigs List for cheap farm implements to donate to Hope Haven. I can’t stand the thought of her not having a shovel. I wonder if I can talk my brother into donating her his old pick-up.
The cold is beginning to set into my fingers, and although I could stay here all day, poking around, brainstorming and hearing her plans for the spring, I realize I haven’t give her the check yet and should probably let her get back on her way. Karen has plans for the money already. She needs heated water buckets and pot-bellied pig pellets and wants to put a down payment on the duck pond.
“It’s not a lot,” I say, feeling apologetic. At times like this, when I’m overwhelmed by the desire to do more for someone so deserving and admirable, I tend to make promises. “But someday I want WearWoof to be your bird coop sponsor.” I picture the plaque that will hang on the entrance, maybe she’ll throw and egg or two my way every once in a while and I’ll get to indulge in a truly cage and cruelty-free egg sandwich.
It’s a promise I plan to keep. I hand over the check unceremoniously and we head down the icy road toward our cars.
Passing the barn again reminds her how much consternation and expense the drainage situation has cost her, and like dominoes her worries topple one onto the other. Her opening has already been delayed almost a year, and she frets that her fence contractor won’t finish the job by the time she opens to the public in the spring. The steepness of the drive again reminds her of the need to create a public-friendly route up the hill.
I think the driveway is fine, but I understand that her concerns come from her perfectionistic side; I have one, too. I say, “You could put a couple strategically-placed benches in,” playing the part of the encourager. I want her to imagine a switch-backed nature path through the woods where visitors will stop and rest and take in the sounds of this gentle farm. “And informational displays that tell people what kind of animals they will see – like at the zoo.”
Karen nods enthusiastically. Her spirit is unrelenting, always buoyed by these endless, fantastic possibilities. They are the antidote to the sobering realities of the enormity of taming and transforming seven acres of bramble and dilapidation into a bucolic haven for animals who’d otherwise suffer the anonymous death of billions of their kind. As much as there is that remains to be done, I’m amazed by her progress in such a short time. I can’t wait for that day when she throws open the doors and Isaac toddles out to grunt a greeting to the first visitor.
Karen has set the spring of 2013 forth as her grand opening to the public, and on this frigid winter day the spring seems a lifetime away. What comfort she has in the time winter affords her to prepare for this opening will quickly pass. This fact has occurred to her, I suspect more than once. On the Hope Haven Facebook page, she recently posted, “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”
I drive away, reflecting upon the fact that our meetings are always brief, an hour here, and hour and a half there. Though we’ve only been in each other’s company a handful of times, I nevertheless think of her fondly as a friend, and I feel desperate in my desire to see her succeed. Certainly, as a vegan and animal-lover, I believe in and support her mission, but beyond the more selfish reasons for wishing her success is the basic human need to root for good over evil, love over hate, kindness over cruelty, and hope over despair.
As I predicted, my own self-confidence in my mission is refreshed by the time I’ve spent with Karen on the Hope Haven Farm, and I feel shot-through with adrenaline. My problems with WearWoof suddenly seem smaller, not because of their relative size to Hope Haven’s (hers aren’t bigger, they are just different), but because of the contagiousness of her determination, faith and fearlessness. Her excitement and enthusiasm for Hope Haven mirror my own for WearWoof. I have no doubt that when spring arrives I’ll find her closer to the shore of that seemingly endless lake, having rowed on in pursuit of her dream, because as she said, the time will pass anyway.
If you would like to know more about Karen Phillips, VMD, or Hope Haven Farm Sanctuary, or if you can donate time, money or equipment to her efforts, please visit her web site at www.hopehavenfarm.com or email her at Karen@HopeHavenFarm.com. Rejoin us in the spring when we’ll check in once again with Hope Haven and its many winged and four-footed residents.