A Place for Animals to Find Love and Learn to Live Again

Many people probably don't realize that sheep have tails. That is because at the factory farms the tails are often cut off, without anesthesia, for "sanitary reasons" and lack of purpose.

Many people don't realize that turkeys are not supposed to be white, and pigs are not
supposed to be pink. They have been genetically modified to be this way to make their flesh more pleasing to consumers.

Many people also probably don't realize that farm birds develop close ties with their babies, or that piglets and their mothers are traumatized for life when separated at birth.

We, as consumers, rarely think about where our food comes from and how it is produced, and even more rarely do we question the nature of food itself.

Animal Acres, a 26-acre sanctuary for farm animals seeks to confront humans with the fundamental questions of what is food, and why we eat certain things and not the others.

Animal Acres, located near Palmdale, Calif., was founded about four years ago by Lorri Bauston, the co-founder of the farm sanctuary movement. All animal denizens who inhabited the sanctuary throughout these years have been rescued from cruel condition on farms and slaughterhouses, as well
as those abandoned in foreclosures
or for some other reasons.

All the farm animals were destined to become
someone's meal. Although they are the lucky few who have a safe place to live out the rest of their lives, many of the animals at the sanctuary will forever bear the marks that identify them as former commodities of the food industry, whether it is missing tails, ears and feathers, behavioral problems, mutilation, or chronic disease.

Visitors to Animal Acres are greeted by Duke, one of the few dogs present at the sanctuary. The dogs, several cats that control the field mice problem, and two emaciated horses are exceptions to Bauston's principle of limiting the sanctuary to animals destined for consumption.

Duke, who was found abandoned on train tracks, like many other animals, suffers from permanent emotional problems, OCD in his case, due to trauma. He presents his rubber ball to any human subject that pays
attention, to be thrown again and again;
like a canine Sisyphus he will chase and bring back the ball for what seems like eternity.

The animal residents at Animal Acres tell their own story, with a little help from Ciddy Fonteboa, Animal Acres liaison and Sunday tour guide. Fonteboa, an energetic 37-year-old who looks no more than 25 and sports Animal Liberation tattoos, knows most of the animals' names and histories, as well
as a wealth of insight into the corporate
meat industry. "No cow that comes from
California is happy," she said during
one of the tours.

That is except those at Animal Acres, a lot of which are former veal calves. Pinto, a black-and-white steer, was even featured on Morgan Spurlock's TV show "30 Days" (June
17, 2008) where a hunter learned about
animal rights and vegan diet, and bonded
with the rescued baby calf.

This is exactly the mission of Animal Acres. Besides regular weekly tours, they also host events such as Thankful Turkeys Thanksgiving Celebration where guests get to feed the turkeys and enjoy a vegan meal. "All we want to do is plant the seed," Fonteboa said about
the sanctuary's mission to educate the public "to have a more compassionate diet."

For many visitors, such as Camilla Williamson and Kamyar Bassir, who recently became vegetarians, experiencing Animal Acres helps to nurture the seed that has already been planted.

"Being reminded of the horrors of meat is a good motivator [to stay vegetarian]," they said. Animal Acres represents a "radical" notion that farm animals are animals, not unlike cats and dogs. "[Farm animals] have different functions; they can't chase a ball, but... they are just as brilliant and beautiful as any animal," Fonteboa said.

Frank Allen, Animal Acres rescue coordinator and farm manager who is also a cruelty investigator, does not talk about the beauty of animals, or any other splendor. He does not conduct tours, and in order to speak with him one needs to follow him around as he briskly goes about his business.

For years, he's been documenting cruelty cases in stockyards and slaughterhouses. "You cannot go [into those places] as an animal rights activist," Allen said, explaining that he has to detach himself from the idea of animals as living being, in order to keep his sanity. After going into factory farms to document the cruelty, Allen said he "starts to hate the human race."

Although animal abuse videos, such as those put out by PETA, are disturbing, nothing compares to witnessing the abuse in person. Being inside a factory farm, slaughter house, or a courtyard, changes one forever, according to Allen. "Every time I go by those places, I smell death," he said.

Allen has been involved with animal rights for over a decade, and it is the duality of people's perception of animals as friends or food, as well as poor enforcement of animal rights laws, that has always frustrated him.

He encountered horse rights groups or dog rights groups who saw no problem with eating cattle. Many people "did not see the connection" between all animals. Farm animals have been in the worse situation of all. Allen recalls a case when a teenager lit a dog on fire, and received a mere community service sentence. "If you can't get a judge to prosecute someone for this,
good luck finding one [to prosecute for
a mistreatment of a cow]."

One can witness the abuse inflicted upon farm animals without going into a factory farm. "All animals come [to Animal Acres] sick," Fonteboa said. Most suffer from respiratory disease, due to the lack of ventilation, and anemia, as a result of poor diet. To rehabilitate the animals, the sanctuary has an animal hospital, but some arrive in condition so poor that they have to be euthanized.

Merlin, one of the goats, has survived despite his bad shape. He was found wondering around the San Fernando Valley, with human and dog induced wounds and a severed tongue tendon. As a result, he cannot properly digest food or groom himself.

Fonteboa showed her tour group some hens recently rescued from battery cage facilities, whose crowns hang limp over their faces. She explained that it is a symptom of calcium and other nutrient deficiency due to poor diet. The hens are also permanently missing feathers in places where their backs rubbed against the wire of the cage. Their beaks have been clipped to
prevent them from pecking each other
to death while competing for space in
the impossibly small cage.

Farm animals are also modified on a more fundamental level, through genetic engineering. Charlotte, the pig, is a perfect example. She weighs about 600 pounds, and already has trouble getting up and walking around.
Fonteboa explains that farm pigs have
been genetically altered to gain weight
much beyond their normal capacity.
This dramatically cuts down their life
expectancy and quality. The same fate
as Charlotte's awaits younger pigs at the
sanctuary. Even though fed a healthy
diet, they will continue gaining weight
due to their genetic makeup, Fonteboa
said. "It is hard for [Animal Acres
liaisons] because we have pictures of
them as five pound babies that we bottlefed,"
she said. The pigs will eventually
die a premature death, most likely from
heart disease.
Fonteboa ends her tour at the sanctuary
office, where she accepts contributions.
Animal Acres, a non-profit organization,
operates solely on donations and
volunteer labor. They do not spend any
money on obtaining its animals; Bauston
does not want to contribute in any way
to the meat industry, which already
reaps enormous benefits from the poor
treatment of animals. "Lobbyists and
corporations are the ones that benefit,"
Fonteboa said. Besides animals, it is also
consumers who suffer, she said. "[The
industry] is preventing [the animals]
from having what is natural to stay
healthy." By consuming sick animals,
by mistreating animals, Fonteboa said,
"the society is becoming sick."