Confession: Even though I self-identify as an ethical vegan, I’ve never been the biggest animal lover. Sure, I won’t pass up a good kitty snuggle, and the tickle of a pig’s snout on my skin is something I’ve grown to cherish. In general, however, I’ve never actively sought out a ton of animal interaction as a vegan. My ethics stem from a fundamental opposition to exploiting our vulnerable animal friends, but this ethos doesn’t often extend to forming intimate bonds with pigs and sheep and horses. Yet, every time I visit an animal sanctuary, I’m reminded of why I’m vegan and wonder why I don’t spend more time with these special animals. This weekend, I was reminded why animals are so important to me when my boyfriend and I took a trip to Maple Farm Sanctuary in Mendon, Massachusetts.
Maple Farm is the only sanctuary in the country that was once a working farm. Founders Jim and Cheri Ezell-Vandersluis, who once owned the family farm, experienced a change of consciousness in the late 1990s when they could no longer stand complicit to the needless suffering of the animals they were sending off to slaughter. It was then that the couple decided to convert their farm to a sanctuary, taking in abused and injured animals from all over. Today, Maple Farm rests on 120 acres of land and cares for over 100 animals.
Our tour started with a visit to two 1-year-old veal calves, who were rescued at a very young age and raised at the sanctuary. They were very friendly, and loved to lick our hands with their sand paper tongues!
We also had the chance to meet lots of goats, and they all characteristically tried to nibble on whatever was in reach. These two made my heart melt. What affection!
I couldn’t help but snuggle up to this baby goat, though I think he was more interested in my purse than me!
We enjoyed watching this sunbathing llama drift to sleep…what a life!
We wanted to spend some time petting Jonathan the pig, but he was fast asleep. Jonathan came to the sanctuary at just four months old, after being bred by a local family for pure entertainment. The tour guide told us that his best friend is a miniature horse, and that they spend most of their time together. Sure enough, the horse was standing in front of his stall, waiting for his pig friend to awaken.
Finally, we had the pleasure of meeting Cassie. This special cow escaped from a local slaughterhouse by jumping a six foot high fence, and was eventually brought to Maple Farm. Despite being treated with love and compassion, Cassie experiences severe post-traumatic stress and has only recently begun to allow visitors to approach her and have outside light enter her stall.
I left Maple Farm with a renewed sense of compassion, resolute to broaden my love for animals with more volunteering and advocacy work. A truly inspiring day.
Have you ever been to an animal sanctuary? What was your experience?
Also in Dispatch: A Seaside Day in Portland Maine
Photos: Scott Shedeck; Molly Lansdowne