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November 1, 2005 > It started with Hilda

It started with Hilda

by Nancy Lyon

Fifteen years ago as Ohlone Humane Society was reincorporating from being "The Friends of the Tri-City Animal Shelter" to a humane society, it made the ethical decision that it would not benefit our efforts for companion animals at the cost of other animal lives or suffering. That progressive move would influence our educational mission and how we would fundraise -- what items could be sold at our Santa Paws Arts & Crafts Show and the food choices offered at our official events such as Earth Day.

So often overlooked, the plight of farmed animals in this country was a reality that we would not and could not ignore. It was at this time, that we were heartened to discover a wonderful group of individuals who have devoted their lives to raising awareness of the cruelty of factory farms and the slaughter process.

It started with Hilda.

In 1986 Lorri and Gene Bauston knew they wanted to do something to help farm animals, so they set out to learn firsthand about the cruelties of the "food animal" industry. While investigating Lancaster Stockyards in Pennsylvania, they came across a frightening sight - the stockyard's "deadpile" - where dead and decaying animals had been tossed onto a concrete slab. Snapping pictures to document what they were seeing, a young sheep raised her head from the pile. Gene and Lorri knew they could not leave her there to suffer. Hilda, as she was later named, became the first rescue among many for Gene and Lorri, marking the beginning of what is now the nation's largest farm animal protection organization - Farm Sanctuary.

Farm Sanctuary's mission encompasses not only the rescue and refuge of abused and neglected farm animals, but also numerous campaigns, education, development, legal, and legislative efforts on behalf of farm animals. From the first ever conviction of a stockyard for cruelty to animals, to the most recent legislative efforts in congress, Farm Sanctuary utilizes its many departments to bring an end to farm animal suffering.

Most farmed animals are raised on factory "farms," where they spend their entire lives in cages or crates so small that they can not even turn around. It may come as a surprise that farmed animals are not protected from cruelty under the law. In fact, the majority of state anti-cruelty laws specifically exempt farm animals from basic humane protection - so abandoning a sick animal on a pile of dead animals is considered "normal animal agricultural" practice.

Farm Sanctuary understands and shares OHS's feelings that farm animals are living, feeling animals, not agribusiness "commodities." It is working to change the way society views and treats animals used for food production. With over a dozen housing barns at each shelter, hundreds of acres of pasture, and round-the-clock attention with many devoted volunteers, every sanctuary animal receives the very best of care. For the first time in their lives, abused animals who have only known fear, isolation and pain are enjoying spacious, clean, straw-filled barns, nourishing food, veterinary care, and a lot of love!

Since rescuing Hilda, Farm Sanctuary's rescue and refuge programs have grown dramatically, from an organization of three (Lorri, Gene and Hilda), to over 100,000 members today. It operates a 175-acre shelter in upstate New York and a 300-acre shelter in Orland, California - homes to over 1,000 rescued cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, rabbits, ducks, and geese. Their rescue and refuge efforts have directly saved thousands of animals from the cruelties of factory farms, stockyards and slaughterhouses.

Everyone who has witnessed the transformation of these "commodities" into aware, thinking and feeling animals with somehow "surprising" intelligence is deeply moved. Just viewing the films and pictures of this process on their website is a remarkable experience and epiphany.

Every year, Farm Sanctuary rescues turkeys from slaughter and provides lifelong, loving care at their shelters. Since their unique holiday project began in 1986, hundreds of turkeys in need have been rescued, and thousands of people have decided to feed a turkey, rather than eat a turkey, by adopting one. Every year, more people are choosing to save a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Farm Sanctuary's "Celebration FOR the Turkeys" is a unique and compassionate alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving holiday. This special event at their farms places turkeys at the center of attention, rather than at the center of the Thanksgiving table. It is a fun opportunity for friends of farm animals to gather and appreciate the distinct personalities, behaviors and desires of turkeys. It is also a time to remember the millions of turkeys who die every year so they can be made into Thanksgiving dinner.

Sanctuary guests also have the opportunity to spend time not only with the animals but also with like-minded individuals and sample delicious vegan food at a special holiday dinner. The highlight of the event, however, is their "Feeding of the Turkeys Ceremony." During this delightful ceremony, guests are invited to feed rescued turkeys their very own feast of stuffed squash, cranberries and pumpkin pie!

If you're considering joining in the festivities, reservations are required by Nov. 11. They may be unable to accommodate reservations received after the deadline. To book your tickets by phone, please call their national office at (607) 583-2225 ext. 221. The Northern California gathering includes a vegan catered holiday dinner and costs $30 per person.

It is the hope of Farm Sanctuary that the event will help spread a message of compassion for these animals far beyond the fields of their sanctuaries.

We invite you to visit Farm Sanctuary's website at

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