Vegansim for me (and I assume for most others) is a lifestyle choice that originates from the essential desire to preserve life and reduce suffering, a drive that manifests itself from compassion. The essential goals of saving lives is important, but what I (and I assume others) usually do not think about is where do animals go that have been saved from humanity’s darker side? Where do the fortunate one’s reside?
Approximately a twenty minute drive off of I-495 in Norton, Massachusetts, a town that can best be described as suburban with a hint of woodsy rurality, is Winslow Farm Animal Sanctuary. I cruise down Eddy Street in Norton, the rain trickles on my windshield and I am unsure whether the dreary on and off drizzle is a possible sign of torrential downpour. Nevertheless, I had planned to visit Winslow Farm for nearly half a year, ever since I heard about it from a a friend and fellow vegan who volunteers there, and I was determined to see it, rain or shine.
I turn left off Eddy Street and arrive at Winslow Farm. The sanctuary is enveloped by woods and rests underneath a canopy of pine trees. The “farm” itself is more like a practical series of fences and large pins that connect to each other, along with wooden house like structures for all the animals to sleep and take shelter in.
At first I see no signs of animal life, then to my right I spot a horse saunter about in a corral, and an emu darts in and out of my peripheral, I become more excited. I climb out of my car and hear the sounds of animals beckoning, some noises I do not recognize, others are unmistakeably bird calls.
I am immediately greeted by a small 13-year-old-boy with braces and galoshes named Danny, who is one of Winslow Farm’s volunteers and a vegetarian. He is accompanied by Jacob, the six-year-old-nephew of Debra White, Winslow Farm’s owner. The two boys are my tour guides.
I pay my seven-dollar entry fee, and as we begin to walk Danny informs me, “Every single animal here has a story, they were abandoned or abused.” He was absolutely right, every animal had their own tale of use and abuse, and Danny tells me each one as we walk on a soft bed of wood chips and pine needles through the maze of fences, pins and barns of Winslow Farm.
The first animal Danny introduces me to is Claudius, a large white duck whose family was attacked and killed by coyotes, he escaped and now only suffers from a ripped flipper. “He’s a real survivor,” Danny says before we continue.
We approach a large corral. “Waterford!” Danny calls out. I see a brown pig lumber about. He has black spots randomly speckled on his massive 600 pound brown body and comically snorts with his giant snout. Waterford’s name comes from the town in Main where he was first obtained by a little girl at a fare. When he began to get large (as most pigs tend to do) the girl could no longer keep him and Winslow Farm gave him a home. Waterford is one of the sanctuary’s only inhabitants who cannot freely roam about and usually remains in the large corral with two horses or, “his friends” as Danny refers to them.
As we continue it is more and more obvious how much of a saving grace Winslow Farm is for many of these unlikely creatures, such as the three alpacas, who with their big brown eyes and long necks were going to be sent of to slaughter after the landlord in their original New Hampshire home moved. Winslow Farm took them in and found homes for the twenty-seven other alpacas they lived with. There is also Athena, one of Winslow’s many sheep who fell of a slaughter truck and lived on the median of I-495 for two years. She survived on tree bark and anything else she could forage before she was found and given a permanent residence at Winslow. “She is still scared of people, but she’s a lot better,” Jacob says. The only trace of her past is an ear tag she acquired when she was marked for slaughter.
Winslow’s kindness is not only apparent in their willingness to provide homes, but they also are responsible for rehabilitating sick animals and providing health care. One such animal is Putnam–one of the 21 goats–who had kidney stones and whose previous owners could not pay for the operation. There is also Gabrielle, a large white lama who acquired pneumonia when he was shipped from Indiana to a slaughter auction in Swansea. Winslow took both of these creatures into their care and paid for their medical treatments.
In direct contrast to Winslow’s unwavering compassion, on the opposite end of humanity’s spectrum are narratives of brutality and irresponsibility. One story that stuck in my mind was about a miniature horse named Shepard’s Moon, or “Shep” as she is referred to by Winslow’s workers. Both Danny and Jacob told me of how Shep was beaten by 2 by 4’s and her baby was taken from her. When she came to Winslow she was obviously traumatized and cried at night for her lost child. To relieve her suffering Winslow gave her a baby named Raven, who was conceived with the help of another miniature horse named Forest.
Due to the fact Winslow Farm is nestled in the woods, I naturally wondered about the animals’ security in regards to predators. I ask Danny how Winslow’s residents are safeguarded against coyotes and animals of that nature. He tells me about the “guard animals”: lamas, emus, donkeys and mules. “What their job is, is to protect every other animal in the herd,” Danny says. Because all the animals live and co-exist together they consider each other–regardless of their species–part of the same herd, thus everyone is protected from predators. Danny recalls one story when a coyote got over the fence and Cloud the mule chased him part of the way out. The coyote was then further pursued by the emus, donkeys, and lamas until the intruder had fully retreated from Winslow Farm. A true animal collective.
After Danny introduces me to Shiloh, a great white show horse who is now claustrophobic because he was constantly kept in cramped spaces when not performing, we exit a large barn and continue towards the back of Winslow. I see a couple emus named Aussie and Sydney who were taken from an emu farm as babies, saved from the fate of being turned into emu steaks. “Who the hell eats emus?” I ask myself before we proceed.
We end the tour at the “Resource Center,” a work-in-progress. It is a two floor building that will be dedicated to housing sick animals who need to be on a twenty-four-hour watch. I thank Danny for his very informative tour and patience with my note-taking. Before I leave I stop by Waterford’s pen and think how rare it is that a pig is able to live out its life at the mercy of humans. I look around one last time and see all these animals living together, co-existing without barriers, watching over each other, all one herd, all one family, content. I can’t help but think, “We could learn a lot from these creatures.”
Winslow Farm official website here