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June/July 2004
Golden Apples: Free for the Picking
By Gretchen Primack

Compost, fertilizer, black gold: Whatever you call it, it’s the foundation, literally, of a healthy garden. For some, it’s a heat-sealed bag from the local gardening shop, but at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, it’s simply a byproduct of daily life. This summer, CAS is making its cow manure free to anyone armed with a bag and shovel.

Catskill Animal Sanctuary is a 75-acre refuge for abused or abandoned farm animals and horses, nestled in the Hudson Valley township of Saugerties. With about 100 animals in its census, the Sanctuary certainly has enough golden apples to share. In fact, the animals—horses, cows, goats, sheep, pigs, and more—produce them at a rate of three pickup-truck loads per day.

Now that CAS has had three years of successful nurturance, along with a raft of volunteers (New York City residents, some of whom weekend in the Hudson Valley, make up a sizeable component of these), director Kathy Stevens is turning her eye toward the educational component of this vibrant nonprofit.

“Catskill Animal Sanctuary is more than an animal rescue organization—our work is ultimately about the link between animal, human, and environmental health,” she explains. “If we’re asking people to consider leaving animals off their plate, that means providing delicious and nutritious alternatives.” To that end, CAS is offering gardeners unlimited compost on the last Saturday of every month through October.

In addition, future plans include vegetarian cooking classes at CAS, using ingredients provided by an organic demonstration garden that is currently in the planning phase. Thirty acres of land bordering the Sanctuary are currently for sale, Stevens says, so “if we can secure funding to buy that acreage, a portion of it will make an ideal garden. Many of our volunteers are passionate gardeners and are eager to start digging.”

By the end of next year, CAS will also house exhibits and materials on organic gardening in its Visitors’ Center (or “People Barn”), currently under construction.

The People Barn and garden will also be instrumental in CAS’s education modules. Kindergarteners on up to high school seniors now come to the farm for hands-on animal and environmental education. Once the garden is in place, students will be able to get their hands dirty learning about plant growth, organic vs. conventional agriculture, and the relationship between plant, animal, and human health.

In the meantime, there seems to be no end of compost manufacturing in sight, as CAS continues to take in animals, from donkeys to turkeys. How do the numbers stay under control? CAS’s comprehensive adoption program places animals—once they have recuperated in mind, body, and spirit—in caring homes. Stevens was especially struck by the adoption story of an old horse named Chance, who arrived at the sanctuary severely psychologically damaged. Chance had been kept in a stall for nine years without once being let out. Her manure was packed six feet high. “Chance was so terrified it took us three days to get her out: two to coax her from the stall, another to encourage her from the barn and onto the trailer,” Stevens remembers.

Chance was one of CAS’s greatest challenges. “Initially extremely untrusting, she would charge at us, ears flattened against her neck.” But with time, patience, and the help of some horse-savvy volunteers, Chance began to drop her defenses. Still, Stevens “assumed she’d be among our ‘lifers’—our population of older special-needs animals who live out their days here.” But an especially skilled and compassionate volunteer fell in love with her—and took her home. “There were lots of damp eyes that day,” Stevens recalls.

Indeed, the lives of sanctuary charges now resemble a children’s bedtime story, wherein Rambo the ram nuzzles Mr. Peepers the duck, and a couple of potbellied pigs snuffle by in search of a sunny haystack. But these creatures’ histories are often harrowing. Rambo, a majestic Jacob sheep, was one of 17 large animals packed into a single stall, fed with occasional moldy bagels, carcasses decomposing underfoot. Rambo arrived at the sanctuary angry and frightened enough to throw a human across the barn. But it’s a year later now, and Rambo’s most assertive gesture is his lean: he demands a head scratch from all visitors by leaning against their legs.

The sanctuary’s first resident, a miniature horse named Dino, was originally a Brooklynite. He is the sole survivor of the 2000 Bergen Beach Stable fire, in which a local teen was charged with arson, resulting in the deaths of 24 horses. Tiny Dino, currently 130 in human years, managed to kick out his stall door; he suffered permanent lung and eye damage, but shows no sign of slowing down.

Until the Visitors’ Center and garden become a reality, a full summer schedule of events is held outdoors. Some of the country’s top speakers on animals rights, factory farming, vegetarian cooking, and nutrition are featured, along with films, tours, and “plenty of animals to kiss.”

Contact Catskill Animal Sanctuary for more information on its composting and other programs, future garden plans, events, membership, and volunteer opportunities:; (845) 336-8447; CAS is located at 316 Old Stage Road, Saugerties, NY 12477, and is open to visitors Saturdays and Sundays from 11-4.


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