Dharma Farm Animal Refuge is a currently a privately run sanctuary for nine assorted farm animals who needed homes. This is a little background about how we got started. My husband, Will, and I bought this 10 acre property almost four years ago and decided that we would have some farm animals live here with us who would then be safe from abuse, neglect or slaughter. We weren’t planning on starting out as an official farm animal sanctuary, but as we had been very active in developing the local vegan community for years, we knew that this might be a long-term goal. At the time, I was the organizer of the local vegan meet-up group that had four or five hundred members. I also organized and hosted regular vegan events at our home including a weekly luncheon that I called The Lunch Club or TLC. We believed that this new property with its large, log and stone home, which we named Arcadia Lodge/ Arcadia Healing Arts (AHA) Center would allow us to develop and implement many more ways in which we could advocate for animals and also allow people to interact with beings that they may never otherwise get to know personally. We felt that getting out into nature is essential for people’s well-being, and getting to know farm animals is the best way to genuinely develop empathy for them. We also wanted to put into practice ideas that we advocate for, such as developing self-sufficiency by growing some of our own organic food. Unfortunately the land was covered in brambles and small trees as it had been untended pasture for approximately five years. To get started, we hired someone to help to clear several acres.
While this was happening, we learned about some alpacas who needed to be re-homed. We knew nothing about alpacas, but when we met them we were charmed by their sweet zen-like countenance (we hadn’t yet seen them spit and fight. They are not always so beatific). Alpacas are not bought and sold to be eaten; we weren’t rescuing them from that doom, as we would be later when we got our male goats. They just happened to be animals in need of a new home. The folks who had them were trying to reduce their large heard, which they could no longer support. We could have gotten males and females, but we choose just males as we didn’t want to breed them and we had learned that having both sexes would increase tensions, not diminish them. As well, the males and females would need to be kept apart in separate pastures. We agreed to cover all the expenses, for two years, for the five alpacas we had decided to adopt, and also to give the sellers the fiber from having them sheared for these two years as payment. We are not fiber artists and had no personal interest in their fiber anyway. Alpacas come from the high Andes and they need to be sheared once a year, here in the south, whether we use the fiber or not. It is just far too hot for them otherwise. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been brought here in the first place, but they were, and so here we are. Serendipity introduced us to these fellows just when we were looking to find animals in need of a new home. We were going with the flow and they became our first intended cohabitants (other than our dogs and cat), although that was not to be the case.
We hired our friend, Scott, a charming, straight-edge, punk rocker with a large beard and many amazing tattoos, to install the proper kind of fencing for alpacas, which turned out to be no-climb fencing. It’s expensive stuff. We were beginning to get a sense of what this operation might wind up costing…
Soon we found out that before the alpacas could come and live here, we had to ensure a way to protect them from danger, which could come from dogs or coyotes. The folks who had them used guard dogs, but as we had dogs who lived in the house with us, we didn’t want to get another dog and have to treat it differently by keeping it restricted to living in the pastures. After doing some research, I learned that donkeys are often used to protect sheep and goats. I thought, why not alpacas? It turned out that some donkeys are used to protect alpacas with good results. I also quickly learned that there are many sad and neglected donkeys in need of homes. I asked Scott to build a shed for a donkey, which he soon constructed with the help of a friend; we called it “the Wonky Donkey Shed”.
Then I found an advertisement for a young male donkey on Craigslist, and Will and I went to meet him. He was a small grey fellow about six months old. We found him and in a tiny mud-filled pen, with no shelter, and with him was another young donkey who was black; he was only a couple of months older. The little grey donkey kept trying to hide behind the black one, while that one kept looking like he was saying, “I am a baby, too. Where can I hide?” The black one is behind the grey one in this photo.We paid the $100 for the grey donkey and I know both Will and I felt terrible about leaving the black one behind, but we had only planned on having one donkey. The fellow who owned them had agreed to deliver the donkey the next day. He told us that he bought and sold animals for small farms and petting zoos. This is actually a common way to make a living in these parts. People buy animals for a low price and then resell them for a bit more. There are not many animals around here who are available, for free, to be “rescued”. This does not mean that aren’t animals in need of rescue! Once most farm animals find their “furrever” home here, it is usually just until they are eaten. The only ones that I have seen that might be free, are family pets, like pot-belly pigs who need to be re-homed, very much like dogs and cats. In this part of N. Carolina most pets usually come with a re-homing fee, so even a free pig is not that common and I am sure that many pet pot-belly pigs get given, or sold, to folks who then turn them into bacon!
By the time we got home from meeting the donkeys, I think both Will and I had decided not to leave the black one there all alone. I called his owner and he agreed to sell him to us as well, and to deliver them both the next day. They arrived on a warm day in early spring and the Wonky Donkey Shed became their new home. It was just the perfect size for two timid little creatures. After consulting with friends on Facebook, we soon named the grey one Donkey Oaty, and the black one Sancho!
To be continued…