Guest post by Kathy Stevens, founder and director of Catskill Animal Sanctuary
It’s seven in the morning. Kathy Keefe, Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s (CAS) farm manager, is stacking dishes on a cart inside the main barn’s spacious feed room. The pig dishes are piled and overflowing with broccoli, apples, tomatoes, beans, and pumpkin; the horse dishes are each different from the other, depending on the nutritional needs of the Sanctuary’s resident equines, and the same is true for the chicken dishes. Heavy broiler chickens who struggle under industry-induced obesity get a low-calorie diet, while others get calorie-dense sunflower seeds and cracked corn mixed in with their grain-based diet. All the chickens get leafy greens, too, and even the broilers get to snack on an occasional grape or banana slice. One dish gets glucosamine, another an iron supplement, electrolytes in a third and Omega 3’s in a fourth. That’s the level of individual care the animals at Catskill Animal Sanctuary receive.
When you bring your kids to CAS, for instance, you’ll find that there’s no such thing as a “standard tour” at our 110-acre farm animal sanctuary. Instead, your family is apt to be greeted in the parking lot by a member of the Underfoot Family-- a pig or chicken, turkey or goat who, for one reason or another, is happier roaming freely than living among members of his/her species. So be forewarned, a human may well walk out to greet you, but so might Rambo the sheep, Mike the rooster, or Arthur the goat.
Next, you’ll find that your tour guide will want to know the names of your children, how old they are, and whether they’ve ever kissed a pig or napped with a cow. There’s no “script” at CAS, so I can’t promise that these will be the exact questions; but what I can promise is this: that from the moment you arrive, your child will be actively included in the experience of visiting Catskill Animal Sanctuary. In fact, when tour groups are filled with families with young children, they often don’t move too far and definitely don’t move too fast. Why? Because kids need to sit on the ground, eye to eye, with Ethel the turkey. Because kids need to walk slowly into the rabbit enclosure and sit quietly (“Pretend to be a rock,” we say) as the shy creatures inch closer, perhaps sniffing a knee, before hopping away. And because kids need to lie on their bellies, heads in their hands, watching the pigs do what pigs do: root, flop down in the pond on a hot day, press their cool wet snouts through the fence to say hello.
When you’re raising vegetarian/vegan kids, or moving along that path, visiting places where food animals are happy and right there, in your face, reinforces all that you’re doing at home. When children have had the chance to be kissed by a cow, choosing a different meal simply affirms their innate kindness and deepens their bond with our animal friends.
We recently received an e-mail from a proud mom. Her son Henry, now ten years old, has attended our children’s day camp, Camp Kindness, for two summers in a row, and has since become a passionate and committed vegan. Henry and his family were recently out at dinner with family friends, and Henry was questioned by the grown-ups about his diet. According to his mom, after very eloquently listing several animal, health, and environmental reasons for his decision, Henry looked at the grown-ups and said, “So I think that the question shouldn’t be about why I’m vegetarian…the question should be about why you aren’t.”
Come share the love. Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, NY is open for tours Saturdays and Sundays April through October. The Homestead, our four-room inn, will be open year-round, seven days a week, beginning in March so you can plan your trip and stay right at the farm! Camp Kindness, which holds week-long sessions in July and August, will begin registering children in April. We hope to see you soon!
Note from Editor: My husband and I visited CAS a few years before our daughter, Charlotte was born, and can attest to the fact that it is truly a beautiful haven for rescued farm animals. The animals who live there receive so much love and attention. We can't wait to bring Charlotte this summer! The sanctuary is located within 1/2hr of the historic town of Woodstock. So make a family vacation out of it; visit the sanctuary (sleep on site), go hiking, go tubing down the Esopus River, take a train ride on the Catskill Mountain Railroad, shop, and eat at one of the many vegetarian restaurants in the area.