Jody Helmer | May/June 2021 Issue
In 2002, during an undercover investigation of a Texas feedlot, filmmaker Jenny Brown watched bulldozers push sick cattle and newborn veal calves from concrete pens onto trucks headed for the slaughterhouse. “The things I saw tore my heart out,” recalls Brown, 40. “I felt a moral obligation to do something, to be a voice for farm animals, an instigator for change.” When Brown returned to New York, she signed on to work with the nonprofit rescue group Farm Sanctuary. Her plan: to gain the skills to start her own farm-animal rescue service.
Along with her partner Doug Abel, Brown purchased 23 acres in the Catskill Mountains to start Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (WFAS) in 2004. During their first year, the nonprofit rescued 12 pigs, 15 chickens and three steers and cared for them with the help of volunteers and an operating budget of $28,000.
Of the hundreds of goats, sheep, ducks, roosters and other farm animals saved by the sanctuary, most were rescued during state animal-cruelty investigations of farms and slaughterhouses; others were abandoned at local humane societies or saved from the streets of New York City.
While some of the animals are adopted into loving homes, others live out their lives at the sanctuary. WFAS is one of just 26 dedicated farm-animal sanctuaries in the nation. Despite expanded operations and an annual operating budget of $600,000 generated through foundation grants and individual donations, Brown cannot keep up with the demand. “We never expected to grow as quickly as we did, but there is such a desperate situation among sanctuaries,” she says. “The need far exceeds the space available.”
Although Brown started WFAS to rescue, rehabilitate and care for unwanted or abused farm animals, her mission grew along with the sanctuary. Between April and October, WFAS welcomes visitors to help with farm chores and interact with the bleating, clucking and mooing residents while learning about the inhumane treatment of farm animals. Brown promotes veganism as the best option for addressing animal cruelty, noting that it helps eliminate factory farms and protect livestock. The work is exhausting but Brown believes tireless fundraising and mucking out stalls in subzero temperatures are a small price to pay for the gratification she gets from rescuing farm animals.
“There is nothing more rewarding than seeing an animal come out of its shell because it knows this is a safe place,” she says. “This is what I was called to do.”