Sanctuary welcomes VC animal enthusiasts

Maya Enriquez ’17 bonds with a chicken as tour guide Rocky Schwartz ’15 looks on. According to the Sanctuary’s website, between 250 and 350 residents reside on the grounds at any given time. / Courtesy of Ian Snyder

This Senior Week, Ian Snyder ’17 discovered something he never expected to. In an email, he reported from his trip to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary: “I learned that the little bulging protuberation [sic] on a turkey’s forehead is called a snood!”

Snyder, a veteran Sanctuary volunteer, utilized the tour this past Wednesday, May 24, as an opportunity to better acquaint himself with the hundreds of animals housed on the farm. For students with an interest in veganism, which the Sanctuary advocates, or those who simply wished to spend an afternoon interacting with pigs and chickens rescued from factory farms, the trip offered an excursion to the idyllic Catskills and a chance to become more educated about animal rights.

Summing up her reasons for attending the trip, Kaitryn Doyle ’17 said, “I’m not really big on drinking, I’m not really big on formals, I’m not really big on bowling, and I really like animals.”

For Doyle, the Sanctuary trip filled a lacuna left by the other Senior Week events offered, which that day consisted of a brunch at the Poughkeepsie Ice House on the Hudson, a trip to Spins Bowl and a show by comedy group Indecent Exposure.

According to its website, the Catskill Animal Sanctuary has rescued over 4,000 animals of 11 different species since its inception in 2001. Kathy Stevens, who co-founded the Sanctuary with Jesse Moore, has written two books relating stories of the animals who have resided on the farm, and she speaks throughout the year at schools and conferences.

The Sanctuary also strives to educate visitors on veganism and factory farming through tours like the one Vassar students were given on Wednesday, overnight stays, a children’s camp and events, including the upcoming “Cocktails and Cow Tales” benefit on June 7, which will feature a vegan menu. Guided by its culinary curriculum known as Compassionate Cuisine, the Sanctuary offers cooking classes on its grounds and runs a blog dedicated to a diet free of animal products. The Sanctuary shares many of its guiding principles with similar refuges for farm animals, such as the Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in nearby Poughquag, NY.

Co-founder of Safe Haven Bill Crain explained in a phone interview that his sanctuary works with the Catskill Farm Sanctuary to place animals and that while his establishment is significantly smaller, its mission is similar.

He commented, “We both try to provide as loving homes as possible and let visitors come so that they could learn something about farm animals.” Crain has college students visit and volunteer from Vassar, Marist College, SUNY Binghamton and The City College of New York, where he is a professor. “We’d like to have more kids and college students if we can,” he added.

As a first-time visitor to the Sanctuary, Doyle was not sure what to expect. “I was a little surprised that it was mostly for rescued barn animals,” she explained, adding, “There were also two cats there that I got to pet.”

Although Doyle is not a vegan, she was still able to appreciate the benefits of the Sanctuary’s ideological focus. “I can definitely get behind minimizing animals’ pain and trying to reduce the amount of dairy or other animal byproducts that we consume,” she remarked. “The tour guide’s speeches definitely made me rethink what I’m really buying and what I’m really consuming.”

Doyle noted that during the tour, which lasted about 90 minutes, the guides explained each animal’s unique backstory, as well as special practices designed to accommodate animals who have been rescued from factory farms.

“We first met this one rooster named Jailbird who was really sweet, and let people hold and pet him,” she said. “They went into the energy consumption in terms of chickens laying eggs and how it’s unnatural to lay as many eggs as they do, so the sanctuary tries to basically feed the eggs back to the other animals.”

The Sanctuary makes special arrangements for its pigs as well, Doyle explained: “Pigs immediately start rooting around and destroy green spaces, so [the Sanctuary] circulates them between fields, and dug them a little swimming pit.”

All in all, Doyle found the trip to be a success. “Even as someone who is not vegan, I thought it was a good balance of interacting with the animals and seeing how friendly they are and knowing exactly the hardships they face,” she said, adding, “Bring Purell if you go.”

As a return visitor to the Sanctuary, Snyder brought a different perspective to the trip, but echoed Doyle’s appreciation.

“I chose to attend the event because I have gone to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary twice before—once as a guest at their annual shindig in the fall and again as a volunteer to help out—and I adore the environment of the place and love the animals,” he explained in an email. “I wanted to go back again to see the animals and people I recognize, meet new ones and get an actual tour of the place from Rocky Schwartz, Class of ’15.”

He further enthused, “I had a fantastic time at the event—the weather was perfect, the ride there was comfortable, the animals were all adorable, and the tour by Rocky was extremely informative, inspiring, and engaging.”

Unlike Doyle, Snyder has been a vegan for several years and he is also participant in animal rights activism. His experience at the Sanctuary, however, still provided new and valuable information.

As he reflected, “I learned an incredible amount about the plight of the 10 billion land animals…and one trillion sea animals that are exploited and killed for human consumption each year in the USA.”

Like Doyle, Snyder noted that the event provided a non-alcoholic alternative to Wednesday’s brunch. Senior Class President Aleena Malik ’17 identified the need for substance-free programming as one of the reasons the event was planned.

Indeed, several Senior Week events, such as the Winery Tour, the Pub Crawl and the Champagne Reception, center on alcohol, and other events such as the brunch and the Grandview Formal offer drinks at the bar.

In an email, Malik also pointed out the event’s popularity in past years and the fact that it gives students the chance to visit somewhere they likely have not been to during their time at Vassar.

While the turnout for the trip was small in comparison to the Ice House brunch—Doyle reported that around 15 students purchased tickets and 11 ended up attending—Snyder was enthusiastic about the future of the event. He declared, “I absolutely think this event should continue in future Senior Weeks…and that more people should go!”

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