ELLENVILLE – Now that I have your attention, let me say that this is not a political piece. It is about a sanctuary town, but not the human kind — it’s the animal humane kind. I’ve long written about how the Catskills is a place where people can escape to experience tranquility and the joys of nature. Well, I recently learned that it’s also where farm animals that were once destined for a life of unpleasantness and certain death could escape to, and live out their lives in a place filled with beauty and kindness — a true sanctuary.
My husband and I have visited the scenic hamlet of High Falls many times, enjoying its natural beauty, outdoor flea markets, antique shops, and delicious restaurants. Little did we know that this happy, serene place was not only a haven for people looking to escape the stress and congestion of city life, but also one for rescued farm animals. High Falls is home to the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, where goats, cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, bunnies and other animals are given a second chance at life and can enjoy the kindness and respect they deserve. The sanctuary, mostly funded by donations, welcomes people to visit and meet animals most commonly exploited, abused and killed in animal agriculture. Here, farmed animals live with dignity, and by sharing their stories the sanctuary advocates for veganism and strives to reduce suffering.
We arrived at the sanctuary late Sunday afternoon and just missed the last tour of the day. Luckily, we ran into a volunteer by the cow pasture who was kind enough to answer our questions and share interesting and educational stories about bovine residents Mikey Jr., Caesar and Mabel. We learned that Mikey Jr. was rescued in New Jersey when he escaped from a truck right before going down the shute to a slaughter house. He now lives a life of luxury, casually grazing and palling around with his best friend Caesar. Caesar, a white and black cow, spends much of his time lying down resting his arthritic bones. Looking at him, I rubbed my own arthritic knee and whispered, "Caesar, I know how you feel." Before being rescued, female cow Mabel was impregnated multiple times and each time her calves were mercilessly taken from her immediately after giving birth. Cows are emotional animals and very devoted to their young, so when separated, they become deeply distressed. Mabel is now content and fulfilled nurturing two motherless calves.
Next, we visited the pig pen and learned just how intelligent and empathetic these animals are. There’s documentation where pigs who figured out how to escape from their pens actually went around unlocking the pens of other pigs! Those little guys must be related to the Mensa pig that built the brick house and outsmarted the big bad wolf in the children’s story, "The Three Little Pigs." While talking to a worker, I noticed a large white pig chewing on his pen’s wooden fence. I thought he might be attempting an escape, but she assured me the pig was just reminding her it was getting close to dinner time.
Before leaving the sanctuary, I stopped at the souvenir shop and bought a mug made from corn-based plastic. There’s a nice variety of souvenirs to choose from, and for those who are eco-conscious, everything is recyclable or compostable.
Visiting the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary was an incredible experience. It was troubling to learn about the horrific conditions so many farm animals live and die in, but also heartwarming to see so many rescues now living happy, healthy lives, and lovingly tended to by devoted caregivers, many of whom are volunteers. Spending time here reinforced my feelings that the Catskill region is a place of beauty, serenity, warmth and kindness… a sanctuary for people and animals.