Accompanied by some dear friends, I made my first visit to a farm animal sanctuary last week, and nothing could have prepared me for the experience — no photo, no video, no words. Rooterville, A Sanctuary Inc in Melrose, FL is home to over 300 souls rescued from neglect, abandonment, or the nightmarish conditions that accompany our all-too-frequent human selfishness, ignorance and myopia. They are the discarded pets or byproducts of a grossly unjust food system that treats them as mere production units. But here, they are treated with respect, the lucky recipients of a second chance to thrive. Elaine West and her staff and volunteers are the heroes who devote their time and effort to ensuring that they’re nourished, loved, and given the freedom we all – humans and non-humans – crave. I can’t adequately express my admiration of the sacrifice the staff makes on behalf of these refugees from humanity’s propensity for domination. They also do outreach to educate about a more compassionate lifestyle, and that’s just icing on the vegan cake.
Gazing into the eyes of these magical beings — pigs, cows, goats, chickens, turkeys, and others — I was often overwhelmed with emotion: the joy of contact and connection; the awe of mutual discovery; the hilarity of unexpected reactions; and, the melancholy born of the realization that billions of their kind suffer needlessly for our pleasure. Some of the animals are sociable, some are wary, but all are free to be either.
I became vegan almost three years ago after having the proverbial veil lifted from my eyes, but I’ll admit that the error of my past thinking and habits haunts me. I – we — owe it to them to speak out and make their case, to encourage others to join us in moving away from the culturally habituated urge to exploit and treat these precious beings as anything other than they are – our equals, in every way that‘s important.
One night, upon my return from dinner, a lone pig emerged from the shadows and ambled towards me. I reached out and scratched her ear and she almost involuntarily dropped and rolled over for one of the scores of belly rubs that I was fortunate enough to offer many pigs during the week. (They love belly rubs.) She sighed as I sang a soft and impromptu lullaby to her under the starry sky. I whispered my sins. As the crickets buzzed and she grunted in delight, I thought to myself, “Every human on earth needs to look into the eyes of an animal they see (or have seen) only as food, hear their breath, commune with them, and perhaps sing them a song. Up close. Outdoors. With no one watching or listening but the universe and…their conscience. Then confess and apologize.”
The beautiful thing is that these animals almost always forgive and move on. They are present, tolerant, peaceful, loving. I’m lucky to have learned many lessons from them. In their honor, that night, I forgave myself.
Make a donation or sponsor an animal, and help this organization bring about what humankind so desperately needs – redemption and, ultimately, peace.
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Address : 5579 Darwood Street
Melrose, Florida 32666