The Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS) has made a name for itself by rescuing more than 2,000 abused, neglected and abandoned animals since opening its doors in 2001. The Saugerties-based organization, recently drew national attention when it took in eleven horribly neglected miniature ponies from Wisconsin. This year marks a number of milestones for the Sanctuary, as it prepares to broaden its scope in the fight against animal cruelty. There are plans to add programs and even go high tech. The group is getting plenty of help with its expansion. It’s just capped off a successful year long fund-raising campaign which raised a whopping $3 million in donations.
Down on the farm
The CAS is located on 80 acres of rolling farmland. Arriving visitors are greeted by a menagerie of free range farm animals. Nosy goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens are likely to wander over to view whoever walks into the barn. Visitors are also treated to a steady symphony of animal calls. First, the roosters are crowing, next, the lambs are bleating, only to be followed by grunts from pigs, that almost seem to come in on cue. The sanctuary is currently home to about 200 animals. Some are ready for adoption. Others are too abused, too sick, or too old to be placed in new homes. They are kept on as permanent residents. “Rescue will always be the heart of this work,” says CAS founder and director Kathy Stevens. “There’s nothing like being around healed and happy animals.”
How it started
Stevens is a 52-year-old Virginia native who grew up on a horse farm. She spent years as a distinguished teacher. She almost took a job as the principal of a new high school in Boston, when she realization that she didn’t want to be an administrator. She started the animal sanctuary instead. “I decided to combine my love for animals and education into a single entity,” she says. “I work seven days a week. I haven’t had a vacation in three years. It’s relentless, but it’s such joyful work. I never for one minute regretted it.” There are many who share Stevens’ dedication to animal rescue. She has a nine member staff. She also has an army of over 100 volunteers, though only about a dozen generally show up on any given day.
According to Stevens, about 75 percent of the abused animals that arrive at the farm are there as a result of what she calls “hoarding.” That’s when owners have taken in more animals than they can care for. Generally, the referrals come from police who are in the midst of investigating animal cruelty. They’ll ask the sanctuary staff to provide care and shelter to dozens of neglected animals at a time. “There’s nothing quite as wonderful as participating in the transformation of a broken spirit,” says Stevens.
However, after ten years, Stevens and her staff feel it’s time to expand. Last year, the CAS tested out two pilot programs. One was a summer animal camp for kids called Camp Kindness. It’s run by teacher Betsy Messenger. The other project consists of a series of vegan cooking classes. Chef Kevin Archer’s cooking program is known as “Compassionate Cuisine”. Both projects take aim against factory farming and the confinement of animals that are raised for food. The programs are open to the public and are being offered on a much broader scale this year.
Going high tech
Some of the group’s efforts are going high tech. Chef Archer’s cooking courses are slated to be available as downloadable podcasts this spring. Stevens also wants to install webcams in the barn so that supporters can log onto the sanctuary’s website and watch the ever changing antics of the farm’s residents in real time. For instance, Arthur, an elderly free range goat, likes to peep through windows and even knock on doors with a front hoof in hopes of being rewarded with snacks by amused staffers.
Another major milestone was recently reached, when the CAS completed its successful yearlong fundraising campaign. Half of the $3 million that was raised comes from an anonymous donor, who has given generously to the not-for-profit in the past. Stevens says the fundraising blitz began with a phone call from their benefactor.
“He asked me, ‘What would it take for you to never have to turn down an animal for economic reasons?’” she says. When she explained that $3 million would take care of the sanctuary’s operating costs for a few years, the donor offered to pay half, if the CAS could raise the rest by the stroke of midnight leading into the new year. The campaign was heavily publicized on the sanctuary’s website. As the CAS rang in 2011, the goal was met.
Stevens is very philosophical about the group’s success. She says no one’s getting pay raises. “I’m grateful,”she explains. “This has given me the freedom to not focus on fundraising. I can focus on the message.” According to Stevens, the message is to heighten public awareness about the different forms of animal cruelty. “Everybody feels indignation about abused animals,” she says referring to the animals they’ve rescued, “but that doesn’t compare to the widespread abuse of animals raised for food.” Stevens and her organization are hoping to step up their fight against factory farming. While they realize that theirs is an uphill battle, they hope their efforts will provide the public with plenty of food for thought.
Pauline Liu is editor of Hudson Valley Life and Hudson Valley Parent magazines.
Programs at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary
Vegan Cooking Classes with Chef Kevin Archer
March 5, Noon-4pm Indian Dinner $40
March 12, 10am-4pm Vegan Baking $60
March 13, 10am-4pm Breakfast & Brunch $60
March 19, 10am- 4pm Tofu, Tempeh & Seitan $60
Animal day camp for kids
The CAS is planning a series of one week-long sessions.
Each session will be limited to about nine children.
Cost is $275 per session, but scholarships will be available.
Schedule to be announced.
For more information about camps check out hvparent.com and casanctuary.org for more details about CAS programs.