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Sanctuary Day

By Rev. Carol

Sanctuary, noun

1. A place of refuge or safety.

2. A holy place.

We drove for several hours through California on “the 5” through a plethora of vibrant green pecan and olive orchards. It was the morning of our Farm Sanctuary tour outside of Orland and it was rainy, cool and overcast – not what we expected since it had been over 80 degrees and sunny in the prior days. Maybe it wasn’t the best kind of day for tourists, but it would be a great day for the animals. They would likely be out and about, and spunky.

When we arrived at the People Barn, Kate, the sanctuary manager, greeted us with a welcoming smile. She was young – probably late-twenties and dressed for farm work. We didn’t exactly know what to expect, but we were delighted to be there and excited to soon be meeting the animal residents and experience sanctuary life firsthand.

Right away it felt like a sanctuary. A huge majestic oak tree stood at the front of the expansive 300-acre property as if standing guard. The golden hillside grasses on the rolling hills danced in the wind, while the sound of a rooster crowed repeatedly in the background. It was quiet, peaceful and serene. I could feel a calm rhythm of life settling within me. It was a good place to be.

Kate generously dedicated her day to our visit, taking us from home to home and introducing us to all the animal residents there. All were farm animals who had been rescued from the normal fate of farmed animals. Some escaped the factory farm, others the backyard butcher. Some had been abandoned, others were given up by well-meaning people who tried to care for them, but couldn’t. All were now safely and happily living out their lives here.

The first animal residents we met were the “new kids on the block.” Clark and Kent were two young goats (literally kids) and Alida – somewhat of a third wheel – was a young lamb. Delighted to have company, they sprang forward to meet us. And they greeted us with their delightful baby goat and lamb sounds. There are very few things in life cuter than baby goats and lambs. Their playful nature and erratic, bouncy movements are hilarious. These three were clearly buddies for life and they would be living together in a small pasture until they were old enough to be introduced to the adult herd. Playing (and eating) were clearly the center of their world. Kent was particularly demanding of attention as he rubbed up against our legs and petitioned for pats on the head over and over again. He reminded me of my cats, always vying for yet another loving stroke (does it ever end?). Alida wanted attention too, but Clark was happily eating. They were not unlike any set of three children you might meet in a play area – being goofy, showing off or just watching from a safe distance. As we departed, they ran up to us and begged us to stay. They loved human attention, and I’d have to say that we enjoyed their attention as well.

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Kent and Alida vying for attention.

Next Kate took us to meet the tom turkeys. These guys were also pretty funny. Henry came out of his house to greet us with his feathers all puffed up. He was the main tom of the bunch and was strutting his stuff like he was walking the Hollywood red carpet! Kate let us know that he was trying to impress us ladies with his ‘sexy dance.’ It was a sight to behold and it made me think that all human ladies would be well advised to demand this show of attention from any potential human mate. Let him show you what you’re worth! Henry was a lucky guy who escaped the holiday dinner table fate of 300 million other turkeys – just in time on the eve of Thanksgiving. A Good Samaritan had noticed him in a backyard while at a garage sale, and she bravely made a stand for his life. The family agreed to relinquish him to her and Henry is now able to live out his days – likely 10 years – in Peace and Freedom here at the sanctuary. It’s a happy ending for him, but he carries the effects of being bred for food. Like all of today’s chickens and turkeys, he was genetically manipulated to be oversized (up to 60 pounds!) and his extra weight severely stresses his feet. Henry, and all the other turkey residents, will be on pain meds here in the sanctuary for the rest of their lives.

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Henry showing me that he’s a really cool guy.

The girl turkeys were kept in an adjacent area – apart from the toms because if the toms tried to mate with them (which toms would naturally want to do if given the opportunity), the sheer weight of their oversized bodies would break the girls’ backs. That’s how far we have strayed from nature. On the industrial farm, there isn't any form of natural mating, nesting or mothering.

The girl turkeys were probably our most enrapturing experience. Turkeys are amazingly social beings. If they aren’t nesting together on the ground, as some ladies were, they are climbing into your lap to snuggle, just like a sleepy puppy. That’s what Pamela did as she found a willing partner in my daughter, Madeline. Pamela enjoyed Madeline’s strokes and fell asleep in her arms. It was an intimate, connecting and mesmerizing experience that Madeline will never forget. In fact, she would probably still be there if I hadn’t pulled her away. It was sad to see that Pamela and her turkey girlfriends are all missing the tips of their beaks. On the farm it is common practice to shear off the beaks of baby turkeys to keep them from hurting each other in the unnatural confinement conditions that they are subjected to. Pamela and her turkey girlfriends are now happily living their lives here at the sanctuary. Had they not been rescued, these girls would have lived a short five to six months in crowded, abhorrent conditions, never given the chance to nest and socialize.

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Madeline loving on Pamela, or Pamela loving on Madeline?

Sanctuary is a perfect word for this place. It is truly a holy place. There is an occasional scuffle amongst the residents, but a distinct feeling of Clarity, Peace and Harmony permeates the air. You can even feel Love – the unconditional and non-dramatic kind. God-love. As a society, we have not been loving toward these animals. We have reduced them to production units and most of us have given no thought to the unimaginable conditions they endure and who they are as sentient beings, created by God. Inside the sanctuary we can actually pause from our busy lives and be with them. Here we can see that they are not only worthy of life, but they also have divine gifts, and a message for us.

Take Maurice and Marcia as examples. Maurice is a young male goat (intended for meat) who for some reason made a special connection with Marcia, an older female goat (previously used for milk) who is blind. Goats, like the turkeys, are very social creatures and they need to be with other goats. Being blind, Marcia would never be able to thrive on her own. Maurice is her bonded buddy and he watches over her all day long, while also giving her the freedom to be. They are kindred spirits, inseparable. They show us the gifts of partnership, patience and understanding.

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Maurice, the seeing-eye goat, and Marcia

Then there is Betsy, a female Jersey cow. Betsy was rescued from the dairy business and prior to her days in the sanctuary, she repeatedly experienced the agony of her babies being taken from her at birth. Removing newborn babies from mother cows is standard practice in the dairy industry. This allows their milk to be used exclusively for humans instead. If you were to meet Betsy in person, you would easily see that she fully embodies mothering energy. It would have been traumatic for her to live through her babies being taken from her, just like it would be for most human mothers. When Betsy gave birth to her last calf in the sanctuary (she arrived there pregnant) she was fiercely protective of her little one, and understandably so. She warmed up to her new human companions once she realized that her baby would be allowed to safely stay with her. And how generous she is with her love! Her calf is now nearly two years old and is still nursing, along with another young calf who isn’t even her own. When she’s not nursing, she is grooming her fellow herd mates in the pasture or a human friend in need of a little loving (or cleaning up). She lives to give and shows us the divine gifts of Love, Connection and Forgiveness.

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Enjoying a special moment with Betsy, the mother of all mothers.

Next we met the pigs. If there is one message that the pigs have for us, it is play hard and sleep hard! That’s what they do in their natural habitat. We met a pig family – a spotted mama and her two spotted daughters – and gave them belly rubs. Pigs seem to live for belly rubs! Then we met Lola. There was nothing particularly special about Lola. She had no unique markings. She was a basic pink pig. But she was a sweetie with an inspiring story. A 16-year-old boy named Bruno Barba had raised Lola from a piglet as a Future Farmer’s of America (FFA) project. After just a month and a half, Bruno started to realize that he didn’t want Lola to be slaughtered like the other FFA ‘projects.’ He was determined to find a solution. Through that process, he felt tremendous social pressure from his fellow students, his school and the FFA organization to complete what he started and auction off his pig at just six months old. It takes great courage to listen to your inner Self and do what is right in the face of social opposition and no other clear option – especially as a teenager! Bruno’s inner Self guided him to Farm Sanctuary, which immediately accepted Lola into their family. And she will live happily here the rest of her days, with Bruno loyally visiting her from time to time.

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Madeline, the human, and Lola, the pig, in blissful sleep.

Sanctuary. Every life matters here. It’s a place of refuge and safety, a holy place. It feels like what I would expect Eden to be like. It is humanity at its highest and best, taking the greatest possible care of God’s creation and seeing the value in every being. The caretakers here know these non-human animal comrades and they understand them. They don’t see them the way our modern culture sees them – as machines, production units, property or things with which we can do whatever we want. These are God’s creatures, not ours. They are individuals, with individual wants, needs and interests.

Some might wonder, “Why put so much energy into animals when there are so many people in need?” The answer is, because we can! Because it is the kind and compassionate thing to do, and at our core, we are kind and compassionate beings. To believe that there is only enough love in the world for humans, or that there is some fixed supply of it, is limited thinking. And to think that we can escape the effects of the cruelty and unnecessary violence that we inflict on these sentient beings is naïve. This was a core part of the original (lost) teachings of Unity co-founders Charles and Myrtle Fillmore. In the early 1900s, they boldly taught compassion and living spiritually through a non-animal-eating way of life. They taught that there is a critical connection between how we treat animals and how we treat each other. It was even in their original Statement of Faith!

We have strayed so far from Eden and our role in creation. The days when we needed the flesh and coats of animals for nourishment and protection passed long ago. We have evolved, and are living in a completely different world than our ancestors. Yet we keep repeating patterns that we have inherited. Who are we called to be now?

Sanctuary calls to each of us, and we are called to be a sanctuary for others. Perhaps the time has come to heal ourselves, and our world. Perhaps it is time to awaken to the realities of the distortions we have brought into being, to restore our kinship with our non-human animal friends and each other, and to ignite our kindness and compassion. Perhaps it is time to be in action like Maurice the goat or Betsy the cow or Bruno the teenage boy, who each so beautifully teach us how to give fully of our love and to care for the innocent.

 "Love one another, as I have loved you.” John 15:12

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Matthew 5:7

”The master on the spiritual plane is not a slave driver…He must love every creature…His love must flow forth in protecting streams when any creature is in danger of violence or destruction. He must recognize all life as God’s life…Thus he cannot in any way sanction the killing of animals for food, nor can he give passive assent by eating the flesh of those slain by the hands of ignorant man.” Charles Fillmore, Co-founder of Unity, 1910

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