by Natalie VanCleave
It’s a warm autumn evening in the farmlands of Oregon’s Willamette Valley as my kids, a pack of their friends, and I are welcomed by Lisa Ryan and her 8-year-old son, Evan at the gate to Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary, 54 acres of fields, barns and animals worthy of Noah’s Ark.
As the youngsters pile out of the car, even the hard-to-impress ‘tween girls have jettisoned earbuds to look around in apparent delight. The nine-year-old boys are already on the move, headed toward a big red barn beyond a serene grouping of geese. The air is sweet and clean. Passing through a second gate, goats and sheep trot toward us without hesitation, curious and unafraid.
Most of the animal residents of Lighthouse Sanctuary, located near the towns of Corvallis and Albany, have sad stories. Some were neglected to the point of starvation, others suffered abuse at the hands of those who should have been responsible for their well-being, explains Lighthouse board member Ryan.
Thanks to teamwork among law enforcement and people determined not to look the other way, these farm animals, ranging from chickens and horses to a llama and a blind bison, have ended up here. In this place, thanks to donations and grants, they are cared for by volunteers and a handfull of staff, determined to give them the best humanity can offer, in stark contrast to the worst they’ve already endured.
Honestly, though, one would never know the animals have suffered at all; resilient and forgiving in a way we humans can only hope to achieve. ‘Crackerjack’ the sheep totters over for a pat. I know from previous experience that if you pet him once, he’ll follow you around, unabashedly insisting on more, but I stroke the springy white fleece anyway; it can’t be helped.
Ryan’s son Evan trots along next to me. I tell him that ‘J.R.’ the donkey is my son’s favorite resident. “Do you have a favorite?” I ask. Evan doesn?t hesitate. ?I love them all!? he says, landing a flying kiss on the face of the closest goat before running off to join ?children and animals greeting one another in a sunny open patch of barnyard.
All four of my charges bring me feathers they found on the ground (turkey feathers, by the way, are indeed spectacular). Somehow, between kids dashing up to show me one discovery or another and Crackerjack bumping his woolly head on me for attention, I manage to find out a little bit more about the farm.
Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary has been rescuing, rehabilitating, and finding new homes for farm animals since 2002. It’s a labor of love that includes three board members who spend rotating nights sleeping in a car or on the floor of the property’s office to keep careful watch over their charges.
I ask for a story about one of the rescues. “Well, this is Rosie,” Lisa says, introducing me to a pink lady of the swine persuasion, lolling happily in soft dirt. Rosie was a pregnant sow, scheduled for slaughter, when floodwaters came up, drowning her fellow livestock. Fate smiled on Rosie, though, and her crate was swept downstream. She was rescued, became a mother, and she and her piglets were eventually brought to the barn.
I sniff the air again. I’m next to several large pigs and it smells…good. A particularly lovable goat named ‘Gobo’ with only nubs where his ears should have been sidles up and sniffs me all over. Apparently I don’t smell too bad either.
The girls rush up, asking for work to do (The boys have already found some, led by Evan.). Assigned to the rabbit yards, they are taught the difference between hay and straw, which they didn’t know, and apparently my daughter and her friends have reached the age of 12 without understanding how to dump a wheelbarrow; one can’t even steer it. With a bit of instruction, they truck off like a line of geese with rakes and wheelbarrows, looking pleased.
My equally-suburban kid has left the feed door open and a couple of goats, not being fools, are helping themselves. Lisa manages to chase one out but the other is unsurprisingly wily and stubborn. She apologizes profusely to the goat as she pulls it out by the horns. “I know, it’s’disrespectful'” she says in gasps, pitting her ultra-runner physique against his four-hooved gears.
Lisa is a vegetarian as well as an animal advocate, but she doesn’t judge me in all my meat eating glory. “We’re not crusading to convert people. The information is out there and it’s an ethics choice each individual makes.”
Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary hosts work parties nearly every Wednesday and Saturday to help keep the farm’s operations steady. “We love our volunteers, but donations and food are great too, if people want to help.” (I’d already seen a local drop off a bag of apples.) “And we have a wish list,” she adds.
The sun is setting when I finally get the kids back into the car, and everyone is feeling rather proud of him or herself.
“I loved being there. I was tired from working so hard but I really didn’t want to stop, either,” one of the tweens sighs. The chatter is lighthearted and happy all the way home.
The next morning I receive this from a grandmother of two of the girls:
“The girls had such a great time -they cannot wait for a repeat visit to the animal farm. I don’t understand why they enjoy shoveling stalls but refuse to shovel their rooms!”
I don’t either, but isn’t it wonderful?
Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary in Scio, Oregon is a 501(c)(3) organization that relies upon donations for the majority of its operations and volunteers for day-to-day chores. Families are welcome to spend a few hours or an entire day on the farm, helping with a variety of activities. Call (503-394-4486), send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or check their Facebook page for updates.
Natalie VanCleave lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, and is a longtime photography enthusiast and lover of all things outdoors and travel.