Transforming an animal house of horror into a safe haven, an activist learns firsthand the healing powers of animals.
My journey began with a rubbery medium-rare steak in a New York City restaurant over a decade ago. As I complained about the lack of taste for this over-priced piece of meat on my plate — a friend merely pointed out that the mass-produced meat in America was to blame. This was when I was first introduced to the concept of ‘factory farming’. Prior, I had no mortal idea this world existed. To say that it left me with a bad taste in my mouth, would be an understatement.
Like most Irish, I grew up on a meat and potato/bread heavy diet. Very clichéd, I know. In my young teenage years, I frequented fast food restaurants and would turn my nose up when a salad was put in front of me. I also consumed as much meat as possible, with the assumption that it would help me stay strong during my athletic years. And when I began to travel the world, the fancier the steakhouse or sushi bar, the more prestigious I felt. In my world, meat equaled wealth and health and I wanted to make sure I was flying that flag.
The term factory farming stuck with me for quite some time.
I felt a little foolish I hadn’t known of this concept before — that I didn’t question where my food came from, that I took it all for granted.
Alas, the Internet is a beautiful thing and so I began researching factory farms.
Something very profound happened that day. For the first time in my life I really questioned my entire self. I began to see the interconnectedness. As I poured through endless videos of factory farming, it quickly led to the horrific truths of the industry as a whole. For every article I read, I had 10 more questions that demanded the truth.The world I had known prior to that day totally flipped.
I am an animal lover, yet I actively participate in the death of millions of animals?
This felt dishonest of me, that I wasn’t being true to myself. I couldn’t reconcile it. I care for all beings, no matter what they are. They all have a place, a purpose and a life to live — who am I to take that from them? Who am I to perpetuate suffering of any kind?
There was no turning back for me — no un-knowing.
And so, I began to transition my lifestyle to align with my honest self. The pull to work directly with animals was quite strong for me. I felt a profound need to help them directly in any way I could. I found my place in animal sanctuaries and shelters, volunteering in my spare time — until spare time became full-time. In 2014, I made a huge move and left my job in NYC earning a six-figure salary to work on an animal sanctuary earning minimum wage.
I can’t express to you how meaningless money felt to me in comparison to the mission at hand.
There was no greater feeling than having the opportunity to live a lifestyle that aligned with my core beliefs and values.
Being able to work alongside these animals, to create bonds with those who suffered a great deal and to have them trust you with their lives is an immensely humbling experience. I felt a sense of responsibility towards these creatures to show people they are not just a product. They are in fact sentient beings that have emotions, develop friendships among themselves and humans alike. They have the ability to trust and love just like the cats and dogs we share our homes with.
It’s no secret that I am a private, some may even say, closed person. Those who first meet me get very little from me. Those who know me well, had to work for my friendship and trust. It’s not something I appreciate about myself or deliberately do, but I see it. We all have a piece of us we are working on, that is calling upon us — and I recognize that this is mine.
I share this because something that struck me about working with animals is the sense of trust and forgiveness they give to us unconditionally, open-heartedly and without expectation or strings attached. I have seen animals come from the most horrific situations, barely alive, emaciated, beaten, souls broken — and I have watched and helped them regain trust in people once again. This always has, and still does give me a huge sense of hope for myself and my broken bits.
The animals give me hope.
I do truly believe we are a reflection of how we treat the environment around us. From how we treat people to animals and nature. What is on our plates is a core part of that. It is what we nourish our bodies with. It is literally how we survive. Why should I give that any less respect?
This organically brought me full circle back to farming — and to looking at how this in turn affected the environment we live in. It’s no secret that animal agriculture is one of the major contributors to water, air and ground pollution on the planet. With so much staggering evidence, it was clear to me that I could do better — in fact, that I must do better. There was no other choice.
This windy journey ultimately led to my becoming the Managing Director at Arthur’s Acres Animal Sanctuary, a 77-acre property tucked away in Parksville, New York, two hours from NYC. Specializing in rescuing farmed animals, the sanctuary creates a safe place for animals to live the rest of their natural lives. In addition to this mission, they are actively working on becoming a self-sustainable property with aspirations of incorporating an educational program.
Though young, we are ambitious. We are dreamers and planet lovers willing to roll up our sleeves, walk the walk and talk the talk. The sanctuary is barely 6 months old with property that has a long road of infrastructure development ahead. Right now, we are all dedicated hands-on-deck trying to realize this vision.
Becoming a self-sustainable working farm is no easy task, but those of us involved are dedicated to giving back to the environment that we take from.
We are a 501(c)3 non-profit, currently funded solely by private donations — and solely running on a volunteer workforce. Yes, it is being realized by our blood, sweat and tears equity — and deep passion and commitment. And people are responding because they care — and I think, because we all want to show up better for ourselves, for our animals and our planet. At the end of the day, when we lay our weary heads down on the pillow, we know we are doing our part to be the change we wish to see in the world. Find your calling, ask your questions and show up for that. You won’t regret it.
I’d like to share some of the story behind first discovering what would become Arthur’s Acres.
But I warn you, some of the details are quite grim and disturbing. However, they need to be shared, nonetheless.
When Todd Friedman (the founder) and I initially arrived to look at the property for sale, we learned that it had been previously used as some sort of farm-to-table facility. Pigs, goats, rabbits and other animals had been raised and slaughtered right there.
I was initially quite disheartened at the thought of what had gone on in the past, but that very quickly turned into absolute horror as we explored further. We immediately came across the remains of animals, decomposing birds, cutting tools and bone saws. Blood stained the walls and the windows were barricaded, letting in no light. The smell of death and urine was so intense in some areas it was simply overwhelming.
Sadly, that was just the beginning. Other animals, still alive, were left abandoned on the property. Birds roamed dehydrated, starved, and petrified. A rooster and a male peacock had befriended each other in an unlikely alliance in hopes of survival. It was so sad, yet beautiful to watch them together. Such delicate creatures left to fend for themselves. [Unfortunately, the peacock didn’t survive, but his friend the rooster not only survived, he lives with us and now goes by the name of Charlie]
Entering yet another filthy holding pen, we came upon a 3-month old piglet (Arthur) with no fresh food or water, totally alone. Surprisingly, this little warrior had no fear and approached us straight away. It’s hard not to get emotional in moments like these. It’s almost as if the stories of these innocent creatures flashed before your eyes — the neglect, the fear and the evil first-hand. Heartbreaking is almost too soft a word.
And yet, in that same moment, both Todd and I knew this was the place. It was as if all the animals, past and present on the property, were calling to us for help — to stay, to transform and re-envision this property. Arthur was their face, their voice — and would become the poster boy for what is possible. And so, the journey began.
We named the sanctuary, rightfully so, after Arthur. Now it stands and thrives, no longer a negative place, but one with an abundance of love, kindness, positivity and compassion — once an animal house of horror, now a haven.
Arthur, who was the last pig to be threatened with death at this place, is the first pig to receive sanctuary here. The place where Arthur and Charlie were meant to die young and afraid — will be the place where they learn to live, to love, and be loved in return. He will welcome new friends, he will be a teacher, he will grow old here, and finally, he will die in his own bed surrounded by people who love him.
Arthur’s Acres Animal Sanctuary Mission:
Rescue in need that have been abused, exploited or discarded
Rehabilitate through patience, love and respect
Educate individuals on cruelty-free life from daily choices
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