From a slaughterhouse to a sanctuary (What are you doing to help animals today?)

by JL Fields on April 12, 2012

Yesterday I posted an exciting update from Jasmin of Our Hen House, sharing news of plans that she and Mariann have to continue to change the world for animals.  Little did I know that hours later I would get caught up in, and witness, the messy and beautiful world of changing the world for one young steer.

Let’s back up.  As most of you know, I serve on the board of directors of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (WFAS).   Yesterday I had a meeting scheduled with Jenny Brown, co-founder and director of WFAS, to continue working on our 2012 fundraising goals.  I was looking forward to that beautiful two-hour drive upstate.

Early Tuesday morning, while pounding cups of coffee pre-drive to Woodstock, my husband and I were watching the news.  A young steer had escaped a slaughterhouse in New Jersey, swam through a river and was running through the streets of Paterson.  I watched in shock (as one of the police vehicles backed into the poor guy) and mumbled, “I hope he gets to a farm sanctuary.”

A few hours later I was driving to a farm sanctuary.

When I walked in I was greeted by Jenny, her husband and co-founder Doug Abel, and Sheila Hyslop, WFAS Farm Manager.  Jenny said “We’ve got something exciting going on!”  “What?!” I asked.  She continued “Our awesome volunteer Mike Stura is rescuing that steer in New Jersey!”

Folks, it had not yet even occurred to me. I’m on the board of a farm animal sanctuary.  I drove  to a farm animal sanctuary.  Just a few hours earlier I expressed hope that something good would come of that steer. Did I even think to call WFAS?  Did I think to call anyone locally? Nope, I just hoped someone else would do it.  More on that later.

Well, someone else did do it.

photo courtesy Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

On Tuesday evening Mike Stura learned of the escaped steer and phoned WFAS immediately to see if they could provide a safe haven for him. Yes, they could.  But first, a bit about Mike.

I met Mike nearly a year ago, on my first visit to WFAS. I was on the tour and there were many volunteers working with animals and, on this particular day, I believe they were planting trees. In my head, I still see Mike with a shovel. I was obsessed with meeting Clover for the first time. I kept asking, anyone who would listen, “where’s Clover?”  As the tour was coming to a close we met the sheep and goats. I asked a big, tattooed guy if he had seen Clover. “Yes, she’s right there,” said Mike Stura, as he pointed out my Clover.

Later last year I met Mike again. I attended that annual Thanksliving fundraising dinner and Mike and his wife Wendy were honored as “Good Eggs,” the volunteer recognition award.  I was in awe of everything they do, which includes driving up from New Jersey every single Saturday and Sunday to volunteer. In January I had a chance to chat with Mike at an event celebrating the opening of the WFAS Guesthouse.  This is when I learned that Mike and Wendy used to come up to Woodstock for fun on the weekends. They camped and hung out. One day they decided to visit WFAS and went on the tour. When the tour ended they vowed to never eat animal products again.  And they immediately became volunteers.  Mike and Wendy are powerhouses.

Recently Mike bought a trailer so that he would be able to rescue larger animals.  He broke that new trailer in yesterday when he negotiated with slaughterhouse staff and eventually was able to remove that young steer and bring him to WFAS.  Please, take a moment to read about it here, and to watch the fantastic piece on WNBC:

“Mike” the Escaped Calf Arrives at WFAS!

Yep, the steer is named Mike, after Mike.

Folks, I was there yesterday. I heard so much.

  • Jenny talking to the vet, explaining what treatment the steer needed from the horrible assault he experienced the night before and what treatment WFAS could offer when he arrived.
  • Jenny speaking with reporters and repeatedly making the point that this is one animal saved from being on a dinner plate, but what about the others?
  • The staff on the walkie talkies preparing for the young steer’s arrival. Making sure all of the current animal residents were comfortable and ready and that bovine Mike would have a comfortable place to rest his weary head.

I was there when human Mike pulled up in his fabulous red truck and that fabulous red trailer, newly broken in with the rescue of young bovine Mike. I was there when the other WFAS residents were a buzz with excitement:

On my two-hour drive home I was weepy. Happy tears of joy for bovine Mike. Gratitude tears for Jenny, Doug, Mike, Sheila and all of the WFAS staff and volunteers.  Tears for all of the animals we know were slaughtered yesterday while sweet, dear bovine Mike was being rescued.

Tears over something so obvious.

Earlier in the morning I mumbled, “I hope he gets to a farm sanctuary.”  I didn’t call WFAS – and I’m on the board!  I didn’t try to find a number in New Jersey to learn of the steer’s fate.  I have felt, lately, that I’m doing my part to change the world for animals, as Jasmin and Mariann would say.  But yesterday I saw one woman’s passivity (mine) early in the morning and another man’s action (Mike Stura’s) in the afternoon.

I can do more.

I’m going to challenge myself to think long and hard about how I can take my activism further and make it more meaningful. Will you?

What are you doing to help animals today?

Tell me! Inspire me, and each other, so that when each of us think we have done enough, we can be reminded that we can do more.


  • Paloma

    You might want to fix this: Isa Chandra is called Moskowitz, not Markowitz. 🙂

    • JL

      Done! A little surprised that my spell check hasn’t learned Moskowitz as it did with Markowitz! LOL

  • What an inspiring story. Thank you so much for sharing this with us; it’s a beautiful reminder that more always can and SHOULD be done for our dear animal friends. Incredibly happy for Mike and his new home 🙂 Will have to check out this animal sanctuary sometime; I’m not terribly far!

    • JL

       I hope you do visit WFAS. You will fall in love with all of the creatures, human and non-human.

  • I wonder everyday how to take my animal activism further.  It is so frustrating that more people don’t see how animals are made to suffer just for their tastebuds.  It is disheartening.  How do you persuade non-vegans to eat more plant-based?
    I want to visit WFAS so bad!!!

    • JL

       Karen, I struggle with the “how to persuade” folks to veganism all the time. I know, deep down, though, that living a joyful vegan life (thank you Colleen Patrick Goudreau) is a powerful way to model a compassionate life.

  • Gena

    Beautiful post, JL. None of us can do everything. But we can all do something–indeed, many things. Thanks for the reminder never to assume other people will handle what we might do ourselves.

    • JL

       Thanks, Gena.  Your Vegan 101 post on the ethics of veganism remains a real jumping off point for me on this journey. 

  • Alicia Armeli

    What a great story! Thank you for sharing 🙂 Melted my heart.

    • JL

       Thank you, Alicia.

  • Rhea

    What a wonderful experience for you. I often wonder if I am doing enough. I am a “culinary activist” (I like that term) since I have a very popular food blog (vegan, mostly gluten-free) called The “V” Word and I am working on a cookbook. I have converted several people to veganism and have even saved the lives of 2 people who were ill. Whenever I can, I donate money to caused. WFAS gets the bulk of my donations since it is my favorite place in the world. And now that I live in Woodstock, I plan to volunteer there often and be an activist in my new town.

    Still, I always wonder if I should be doing more. I guess I want to do everything but will have to settle for what I can do.

    And I can’t wait to meet Mike!

    • JL

       Rhea, thanks for your comment – you will love Mike!  I think it would be terrific for you to volunteer for WFAS! Wonderful!

  • VeganLisa

    Thank you for sharing Mike’s story and reflecting on your own journey with all of us. It was the perfect read for me this morning. I have some interesting projects on the go, including creating a community of Ambassadors of Compassion in my city. Everyone in the group has come to veganism through different paths. I’m hoping together we can support eachother, start new initiatives and build momentum. Every single day is an opportunity to do more. xoxo

    • JL

       Wow, Lisa, I love the Ambassadors of Compassion community – work you’re doing with Colleen?  Love it! Keep us posted on that.

  • Kalli

    this is such an incredible story and made me think ALOT.  i am so happy to say i have not eaten animals now for a good 3 weeks and i feel so much better but you are right what else can i do? 

    • JL

       Kalli, three weeks! That’s awesome!  Keep it up and ask if you have any questions!

  • This made me teary-eyed to say the least. Thank you for all that you are doing and try not to be too hard on yourself when it comes to feeling like you can do more. Right now I’m working with Compassionate Action for Animals based out of Minneapolis to get the 1st ever Veg Fest going there this summer. 

    So glad this story has a happy ending – couldn’t be happier for Mike!

    • JL

       Ashley, thank you for all that you are doing!

  • Don’t feel bad, it’s a tough situation and easy to feel defeated. I have learned through doing hands-on direct animal rescue that the amount of sanctuaries and space there is far too small, the people willing and able to do the transport far too little, and the time and energy all around is lacking. Not due to lack of good hearts, those are there, just the people who are doing the rescues and work at the sanctuaries are so overwhelmed they have a hard time doing more intake. Even though more sanctuaries have cropped up in the decade or so I’ve been vegan, we need way more, the amount of animals that could potentially be rescued will never be met by what we have currently. The animals who are rescued mostly are effective as activists and examples of how awesome animals are and how we would not want to abuse and use them. The cost of running animal sanctuaries is great also because sanctuaries actually meet the needs of the animals properly because they are not just trying to get profit, and the animals life their full lifespans. They also are treated with respect and good hygiene, in a way many farms could never afford. And because animals require a lot of food and water, exactly the reason that it’s environmentally better to be vegan! It is a frustrating situation! But education is so important and we have to keep our on on that because we can’t always rescue every animal unfortunately who needs it. Thanks for all you do. xoxo

    • JL

       Aw, thanks and your points are so well taken.  xo

  • I am so happy Mike was rescued! I think it’s so important to remember that this is a learning experience and though we can always do more, the fact that we are doing something is a feat on its own! My proudest activist moment recently has been attending the VegFest that a few of my friends and I organized in my small city. It’s the third year of the fest, and it was WILDLY successful, drawing an estimated 4000 to 5000 attendees with speakers like Jasmin and Mariann, Kathy Freston, Colin Campbell, and Nathan Runkle. It was so rewarding to see all of our hard work pay off, and I’m so inspired to do more in the activism world now!

    • JL

       Good job!

  • Dero Polk

    First of all I am not and never will be a vegan because I believe in eating animals veganism
    Is just stupid.

  • Pingback: Links to recipes, activist motivation and good eats in Vegan News You Can Use (5/13/12)()

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