a potbellied pig.
Animals, With Love
Six years after cofounding Catskill Animal Sanctuary, a haven
for farm animals, Kathy Stevens has turned her life-changing
experiences into a book
by Shannon Decelle
a goat can be described as “fresh-faced,” then young Zen Sunshine
is that goat. His white fur is downy, and there doesn’t seem
to be a speck of dirt or mud on him. Leaping on and around
a series of benches by a fenced-in area for older goats and
pigs, he’s full of joyous mischief as a Catskill Animal Sanctuary
staff member coaxes him toward an adjacent fenced-in field.
He’s not big enough to be in with the big goats, playing “king
of the mountain” with his brother (and sister) goats on their
own rock pile, so Zen Sunshine spends most of his time hanging
out with ducks.
These fields are not far from the entrance to CAS, which is
located just a couple of miles off Route 9W, south of downtown
Saugerties. Zen Sunshine is just one of over 1,000 abused,
neglected or abandoned farm animals (and their offspring)
who have found a home, permanent or temporary, on these gently
rolling acres, which look so quintessentially bucolic on an
early summer day.
From this vantage point, one can see the main barn, a pond,
another special area for pigs, a row of giant willows and
a bunny house (identifiable from the handsome bunny portrait
on the structure’s side). There are fields beyond for horses
friends: Stevens with Murphy, the dog; Buddy, a blind
horse; and a CAS volunteer.
Sunshine isn’t noticing any of this, however; he wants to
play. Lorraine Roscino, the staffer, is indulging him while
being careful to avoid being thigh-butted by the little goat
and his budding horns. This is for a very good reason. Kathy
Stevens, director and founder of Catskill Animal Sanctuary,
smiles and points to a large, purplish bruise on her leg which
resulted from Zen Sunshine’s playful nature. (To borrow a
line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “though [he] is
but little, he is fierce!”) He’s only a few months old, but,
in goat-years, that means Zen Sunshine “is in his ‘terrible
twos,’ ” explains Stevens.
The goat will soon be less “terrible,” however. Stevens sees
another dedicated CAS regular, Walt Batycki, walking out of
the barn, and asks when the young goat is being neutered.
13,” Batycki says, and adds, chuckling, “Friday the 13th isn’t
his lucky day!”
It can be argued, however, that every day is a lucky day for
the critters who wind up at Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Watching
Stevens, a few staff members and a phalanx of volunteers come
and go on this warm-and-getting-warmer morning, it’s easy
to appreciate the dedication required to do this kind of work.
(Not to mention thousands of members, nearly 100 volunteers
and a $250,000 annual budget.) After all, this is, essentially,
a working animal farm, except that the animals get more than
food and care—they are genuinely loved. And they don’t end
up on a plate or on someone’s back. They live out their days
The interactions between Stevens, the other folks and the
animals is immediately striking. Of course the people are
kind and solicitous of the animals; every animal is greeted
with an endearment and given a hug or rub. They’re kind with
each other, too. The overall vibe is (at the risk of sounding
like a hippie) one of peace and harmony.
this sense of respect and love that Stevens wants to convey
with her recently published memoir of life at CAS, Where
the Blind Horse Sings.
The book details the origins of the sanctuary: Stevens, who
had grown up on a farm and had, as an adult, spent many rewarding
years as a public-school teacher, was looking for a new direction.
She decided she wanted to work with animals, and she concluded
that the best way was through an animal sanctuary.
The book tells the six-year chronology of CAS through the
stories of its animals. There is “ancient” Dino, a small,
40- something horse who escaped a Brooklyn barn fire that
clamed the lives of 23 stable mates. While he suffered permanent
damage to his lungs and one eye, Dino hangs in there, befriended
by Big Ted, a former workhorse who towers over him, and Rambo,
a horned sheep who is “in charge” of the animals who live
in the main barn. Stevens devotes a great deal of space to
Rambo, too, and for good reason—his transformation from raging,
angry alpha sheep to the “elder statesman” is one of the most
remarkable in the book.
Deftly, Stevens also uses the stories of these creatures as
a way to raise issues about modern agribusiness, and the factory
farms that produce almost all of the meat and dairy we consume.
Sitting on one of those benches near the goat-and-pig field,
Stevens says that “my job is to get the wheels turning” in
lot of people fall back on ‘it’s just a chicken’ or whatever,”
nice: Stevens with frisky Zen Sunshine.
not “just a chicken” to Stevens; one thing she has come to
know through this experience is that animals have feelings.
And the way we treat them—cramming chickens and pigs into
tight enclosures until “harvest” time, with no quality of
life, or working horses (like Big Ted) until they’re worn
out, and then selling them to a slaughterhouse to end up “on
a plate in France”—does grievous injury to both farm animals
Through CAS’ weekend tours and educational outreach programs,
Stevens hopes to spread the consciousness that “every life
has merit. . . . For people to see animals as something other
than a burger on a plate”
lot of animal-rights people just talk about the suffering,”
Stevens notes, but the other part of the equation is just
as important: recognizing that animals have a capacity for
social interaction. That pigs and goats and ducks aren’t ‘dumb
animals’, but experience trust and joy.
While Stevens is explaining all this, a potbellied pig edges
near her and this reporter. She greets him with a warm “hi,
our most abused potbellied pig,” she says. “He was repeatedly
kicked [by his former owners]. . . . It took him months to
trust that no one would kick him. He’s just now coming around
people he doesn’t know.”
Claude, it seems, is near the end of a journey that is common
among the animals at Catskill Animal Sanctuary.
go from being absolutely terrified of all of us,” Stevens
says, “to figuring out that none of the staff or volunteers
will hurt them, to knowing they’ll always be safe.”
They realize that no one—not even the parade of strangers
on weekends, or the odd reporter—is going to hurt them.
wonderful work,” Stevens smiles.
Tours of Catskill Animal Sanctuary, which is located at 316
Old Stage Road in Saugerties, are offered every Saturday and
Sunday from 11 AM to 4 PM through Oct. 31. Stevens’ book,
Where the Blind Horse Sings, is available at www.casanctuary.org
and www.blind horsesings.com.