An Interview with Jenny Brown, Founder of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Jenny Brown just published her first book, The LuckyOnes, which is the story of her life and the founding of the Woodstock FarmAnimal Sanctuary with her husband, Doug Abel. Located on 23 acres, this bucolic preserve is home to over 200 rescued farm animals. After reading the book, I was inspired to check out the place for myself.

My husband, three-year old son and I volunteered on a bright Thursday morning at the end of the summer and met Timmy and Beatrice, a lovely turkey couple and Little Dude, a massively pink sweet pig who could not get enough belly rubs from us. Our volunteer duties included cleaning up poop (pig, chicken, and goat), cleaning out the hay from the barns, and my son’s favorite, giving the chickens water.

The animals at the sanctuary reflect the personality of the founder, passionate, strong, and extremely personable. Here is what the human had to say about all of this.

Lisa Dawn Angerame: What made you decide now was the time to write the book?

Jenny Brown: I was approached by several literary agents after a story appeared in the New York Times about myself and a little goat named Albie, who was found in a park in NYC. I have an artificial leg below my right knee and was having a leg made for little Albie, who had to have his leg amputated due to a terrible bone infection that could not be treated.

That story drew international press and several calls from literary agents. I had never thought about writing a book about my life and mission because it would feel premature. Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary has only been in existence since 2004 and I have a lot of work I plan to do for my organization and for my mission in life. But when opportunity knocked, I had to open the door.

LDA: What was the most interesting part of the writing journey?

JB: Finding the time to write was very challenging and I only had one year to finish, so I hired my writer friend and fellow animal advocate Gretchen Primack to help as my co-writer.  It was a process of many hours of interviews, passing chapters back and forth, restructuring, re-writing and so on. Finding the balance between preaching and informing also proved to be tough. I’m incredibly passionate about my work but I also want to be an effective voice for farmed animals who are an entire class of animals that most people choose to not think about.

LDA: Timmy the turkey followed my son around the entire time during our visit. How do you decide to name the animals at the sanctuary?

JB: We often name the animals after wonderful volunteers or donors but we do consider their personalities before giving them a name. Its not like we look in baby name books and assign a name willy-nilly because we see them as someoneand not something.

LDA: My son had such fun raking up the pig poops! How much does your work depend on volunteers during the week?

JB: Quite a bit. We have a small staff out on the shelter with an endless amount of work to do and a full schedule of feeding, providing fresh water, making special meals, medical treatments and maintaining our high standard for animal care. Volunteers are always welcome to come and help by cleaning coops, barns, and other special projects. Since farmed animals don’t have opposable thumbs, they need us to help clean up after them!

LDA: Your sanctuary is open for tours every weekend during the warm months. What do you experience when you give tours to people who mostly have not been that close to animals before?

JB: There have been so many wonderful experiences, but it’s often witnessing visitors having the realization that pigs, cows, sheep, goats, turkeys – all of them -have unique personalities and enjoy affection and attention, just like cats and dogs. To watch people realize they don’t have anything to fear when rubbing the belly of an 800-lb. pig who stretches out and grunts happily after receiving  affection; or a 2000-lb. steer who stretches his neck out for a good scratch. But the very best moments usually come after the tours when people approach me to thank me and tell me how much they didn’t know what they didn’t know and that they are going to go home and start leaving animals off their plates. That’s the music to my ears.

LDA: What is your advice to people who want to make a difference in the fight for animals or perhaps even want to start their own sanctuary?

JB: Talk to people. Have those uncomfortable conversations even if you think you’ll be met with hostility. Know your responses and use kind, informed answers, and don’t be shy. We have to learn to be effective voices for farmed animals if we are to create change.

Get involved! Volunteer for animal advocacy organizations and be generous with your time and funds. Charitable organizations rely on the public to keep funded so if you believe in their work, let them know and help them keep doing it!

And for those who think starting an animal sanctuary might be for them, it’s not as easy as you think. There is an incredible amount of time, energy, resource building, physical work, emotional distress, stress in general and I could go on. I spent a year working at another farm animal sanctuary to understand what I was getting myself into and giving myself the reality check I needed.

Feeding animals at the crack of dawn in freezing cold weather, dealing with loss of animal friends, learning medical care, parasite treatments, shelter needs, pasture needs, etc., is a lot of work and there never seems to be enough time in the day to do it all. We go weeks without having a day off and have made many personal sacrifices, but it’s worth it.

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