Most of the animals that arrive at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls have special needs — whether those needs require bandaging a chicken’s lacerated feet or supplying a custom prosthetic for a growing horse with a deformed leg.
“We usually get animals in rough shape whether it’s a special diet they need or daily care,” says Kathy Keefe, the sanctuary’s shelter director. “We get broken toes, broken wings. Special needs is what we do.”
The bucolic 160-acre farm sanctuary currently provides lifelong care for over 380 animals, including chickens, turkeys, ducks, guinea hens, sheep, goats, pigs, cows and two horses.
One of Keefe’s favorites is Trident, the year-old gelding she rescued from a farm in Indiana. He was born with a deformed leg.
“He came from an Amish farm where they breed Morgans for buggy horses,” says Keefe. “As soon as he was born with that defect, he no longer had any value to them.”
Since horses are not fully grown until three or four years old, Trident will require a series of prosthetics each priced at around $1,800. It’s a hefty investment, but part of the sanctuary’s mission is to make their rescue animals as comfortable and happy as possible.
“It might be easier for people to understand if you had a dog who had a bad leg,” says Keefe. “You would do everything you could for him because he has a right to a life. With larger animals or farm animals, people sometimes have a harder time making that leap but Trident’s life has just as much value to me as any other life. This beautiful boy now runs around like a lunatic; he kicks and bucks. He’s a year old and he’s exactly what a young gelding should be.”
Trident is not the only animal at the sanctuary that wears a prosthetic device. Fawn, a curious and sweet-tempered brown cow currently wears a brace and a boot to compensate for the damage to her front legs. She happily accepted a prosthetic that allowed her to do more than hobble.
“Fawn is the sweetest creature in the world,” says Keefe. “She allows us to put on a boot and a brace every day.”
Fawn is one of three sanctuary animals that inspired author Nancy Furstinger to write the children’s book “Unstoppable,” about animals with prosthetics.
“I was thrilled to write the story about this trio of very determined farm animals.”
The book also featured Felix, a sheep who has since gone on to greener pastures, and Albie, a goat, who arrived at the sanctuary with serious infections that made it painful to eat and walk. Albie’s mouth sores healed but his leg had to be amputated. He was fitted a prosthetic and a wheel cart but given the extent of his amputation they were unwieldy. Albie did not care for either.
“He gets around just as he is,” says Keefe. “He’s still top dog in his herd.”
The sanctuary, which is funded solely by donations, cannot take every animal that’s offered to them.
“We get calls every day,” says Rachel McCrystal, the sanctuary’s executive director. “Oftentimes people who work on farms come here and say you can have more animals and I always say I could if I was trying to make money off them but the goal of the sanctuary is not to be a warehouse, raise them for a couple of months and then sell their bodies. We want to give them the best quality of life possible.”
That means room to roam free and a chance to socialize with other animals. Unlike animal shelters, which are designed to provide temporary shelter with the goal of adoption, most of sanctuary’s animals are there for life. Not many people are in the market to adopt cows or other large farm animals.
One rescue that stood out for McCrystal was when the sanctuary saved pigs, goats and sheep from cruel mistreatment by a backyard butcher. The staff didn’t realize several of the animals were pregnant and a few months later there were babies born, including some McCrystal describes as “these amazing sunny goats.”
“So often animals come to us traumatized, they’re fearful. They require recovery. These goats came into the world beloved.”
The sanctuary’s annual budget for animal care is $500,000 and feed is a large part of that. In the winter it costs more as the sanctuary has to bring in hay.
People interested in donating can buy bundles of hay or even sponsor an animal. While the sanctuary is only open for visitors from the end of April until the end of October, it’s possible to meet the animals online, where each has a bio and a photo. That ties into the sanctuary’s philosophy of recognizing the individual worth of each animal.
“Every single one of these guys is an individual,” says Keefe. “Every single one has a story and every single one of them has a right to a life. They’re not things. We shouldn’t be allowed to treat them as things.”