1986, when Lori and Gene Bauston were investigating a stockyard in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They found a suffering sheep that had been discarded on the dead pile. The couple convinced stockyard staff to relinquish the “trash” animal. After unexpectedly rescuing the sheep, they found there was no proper infrastructure in place for animals rescued from such traumatizing situations. They took the sheep home to live in the backyard of their Connecticut townhouse until such a structure was made.
Farm Sanctuary has come far from those humble and unexpected beginnings. They operate two sanctuaries in California and their home base in Watkins Glen, NY. They have rescued thousands of animals ranging from little half- pound bantam hens to half-ton cows. They keep a balance between direct rescue and educational work, advocating for laws and policies that protect the kinds of farmed animals they care for.
People are invited to cuddle, pet, and have personal experiences with the animals they meet at the sanctuary— but this is no ordinary petting zoo. The tour guides make clear that visitors are entering the animal’s home and that the animal’s personal space must be respected. Most of the animals at the sanctuary have healed from their emotional and physical wounds. Some haven’t, and visitors are encouraged to only approach animals that are seeking out human contact. But, for visitors who are willing to slow down and let the animals come around on their own, “They learn to trust that you are not going to hurt them, no matter where they came from” says Susie Coston, National Shelter Director.
Farm Sanctuary’s motto is summed up by one of their campaigns: “Someone, not something”. Each animal at
the shelter is considered an ambassador for their species and the particular cruelties that are perpetrated against their brethren. They all have a story, and the skilled tour guides bring their stories to thousands of visitors every year. It is Coston’s goal that “When people come to our farm they get to form a bond with the animals and see them for the individuals that they really are.”
Farm Sanctuary’s New York shelter offers tours between May and October. The tours are an hour long, and are $5 for adults, $3 for children under 12, and free for children under three years old.
For visitors who want an extended stay, there are three bed and breakfast cabins right on sanctuary grounds. B&B guests get a complimentary tour, a continental vegan breakfast, and are welcome to volunteer with animal care staff if they so choose. Rates range from$100 for one person, and go down significantly from there- four people in a cabin pay just $130. Companion animals such as dogs are welcome on the grounds and in the cabins, but must be leashed, and are not allowed near the animal barns.
The area surrounding the sanctuary offers many other attractions to give visitors even more reason to stay in the Bed and Breakfast cabins. Situated on 175 acres of scenic land, the New York shelter borders the Sugar Hill State Forest, which boasts both hiking trails and camp sites.
From the Thruway, you can take a direct route down the length of Seneca Lake on Route 14. Wine enthusiasts will find it hard to resist stopping at one of the dozens of wineries between Geneva and Watkins Glen on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. If you pass through Ithaca, NY on the way home, there are several waterfalls and gorges to explore, and the GreenStar Co-op’s organic bakery is a must-stop.
Farm Sanctuary is both a peaceful place to rest the soul and a powerhouse for changing societal attitudes
about animals. Families seeking a fun, educational experience for their children are right alongside dedicated animal rescue activists as they follow their guide through the green pastures and sun-filled barns. Many people who visit decide to make it an annual tradition. What they experience here is hard to come by almost
anywhere else in the country. “They (the animals) come from the worst situations,” says Susie, “but they forgive and love you unconditionally”. The world needs more Farm Sanctuaries- those little pockets of unconditional love and forgiveness in this vastness of indifference and outright cruelty.