Kathy Stevens, AG89

By Kristin Livingston

The first rescue case that ever came to Kathy Stevens’s Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS) in upstate New York was that of “a tiny, ancient little pony,” she says, who was the only survivor of a Brooklyn arson that killed 23 horses. The second was that of 17 animals trapped in a 12’ x 12’ stall with the carcass of a dead cow.

All of the animals were saved and adopted, but two stayed on at Catskill: a calf named Molly and a ram named, well, Rambo. Stevens writes that at first Rambo was aggressive, “the most violent and dangerous animal we had ever met.” But with a little love and freedom, Rambo has flourished, treating the entire sanctuary as his flock.

 

No animal left behind

“Goodnight, animals!” Stevens called one night as she closed up the barn. It had begun to sleet outside. Everyone was settling into their stalls when Rambo trotted up to Stevens and belched a loud, “Baaaah!” In a conversation à la Lassie and Timmy, Rambo headed back to the empty stall Stevens had missed, and showed her: family was missing. “Two turkeys were gone,” she says, “one of whom was blind.” Caught in the cold, they could have been killed by coyotes, but Rambo came to the rescue. His cry was the catalyst for the search and rescue.

“Rambo has truly been a policy maker at CAS,” says Stevens. With free range of CAS, Rambo has helped to set a precedent of making time for each animal to spread its wings, as it were, an opportunity for staff to see their potential. “Had we never let him be a free-range animal, we would have never seen what he could do. He has saved lives.”

The most amazing part of the story for Stevens is that an animal that had been thoroughly abused still had empathy for his fellow barn mates—not to mention the wherewithal to communicate and help find a solution.

“I had a couple of really remarkable professors at Tufts,” she says. “You only have a couple in your life, if you're lucky. And yet in 16 years of school I never sat in a lecture and thought, ‘Wow, every single thing I thought about this topic is wrong.’” Rambo helped right what she calls “an association based on ignorance.”

She says, “In that dark barn, on that cold night, Rambo was my teacher. He made me realize that everything I had thought about the supposed differences between animals and people was based on my shortcomings, my inability to see them for who they are.”

 

Ten, very different, little hens

The mission of Catskill is to provide a sanctuary for abused farm animals, but also to educate people on the equality of animals and humans—to see animals without the blinders of, say, the shiny plastic packaging in a grocery store.

“We help people connect the dots between their diets and the monumental suffering of billions of food animals,” she says of the sanctuary’s educational programming, like vegetarian cooking classes or Camp Kindness, a summer day camp for kids where certain days of the week are themed by animal (Cow Monday, Sheep Tuesday, etc.).

There’s plenty of hands-on time at Camp Kindness, according to Stevens. “They even give the cows baths!” Grooming the animals helps children become more familiar and comfortable with the animals while also helping them to see them as individuals, versus livestock. “I always say that 10 individual chickens are as different as 10 individual people, but that doesn't resonate until you hang out with 10 chickens and see that this one's the shy one, this one's the bold one, this one will climb right in your lap if you let him.”

Starting the sanctuary didn’t come to Stevens, who was raised on a horse farm in Virginia, until after 11 years of teaching in Boston-area high schools. But when the idea did take hold, continuing to educate was an essential part of the plan—and she hopes the programming will help to educate future generations of consumers while “making a dent” in alleviating what she calls the devastation wrought by the modern factory farming system. Stevens explains, “Our diet is causing unspeakable suffering, making us sick and fat, and cooking the planet. There’s a better way!

“I believe that good education should be transformative. It should somehow make the person bigger than they are, whether it's more confident, more skilled, more courageous, or more hopeful; somehow it should just make that person more.”

Read more about Rambo, the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, and Stevens's work in her two books: Where the Blind Horse Sings: Love and Healing at an Animal Sanctuary (2009) and Animal Camp: Lessons in Love and Hope from Rescued Farm Animals (2010).

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