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November 2004
The Barnyard Campus: Teaching Compassion for All
The Satya Interview with Kim Sturla


Kim Sturla and Freddie
Kim Sturla and Freddie
The New Doctors Without Borders?

With a name like Compassion Without Borders, this organization, though based in Mexico, might easily be mistaken for the internationally-renowned Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans Frontières), which provides emergency medical treatment to people worldwide. These organizations are unrelated, but CWOB has perhaps a similar mission, one that simply widens the borders to include nonhuman animals. Their work serves to reduce and prevent animal suffering, which they do mainly through two programs: spay/neuter camps, and their rescue efforts (which you can view a sample video of through their website).

Since 2001, CWOB has been establishing spay/neuter programs in developing countries, mostly Mexico, to abate the number of unwanted animals roaming around cities, where they are subject to cruelty and neglect. It is not rare for homeless animals to be poisoned, end up as “motor sport” for bus drivers in urban areas, or find themselves in government-funded collection centers known as antirrabicos, where they are often kept without food or water until they are electrocuted sometimes a week later.

The clinics are locally run and take the form of spay ‘camps,’ which are organized as part of a collaborative effort with the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights. These camps last one week, and provide not only free spay/neuter services to areas with few resources at all, but also training for local vets and advocacy groups who can then implement permanent services for the area.

CWOB also works largely with a shelter in Mexico City, Refugio Franciscano, in addition to other groups, to run an international rescue effort for dogs in Mexico and find them permanent homes in California, where participating groups are based and are able to do some background checks on adoptive parents.

In accordance with their holistic community approach, CWOB also provides humane education to children, and does outreach to the general community with food, clothing, school supplies, etc. Children are given coloring books, and lessons about animals and their needs, feelings, appropriate treatment, etc.

Animal Place veterans Christi Payne and Juan Ramon Camblor founded CWOB to promote a sense of compassion for animals in areas where they are extremely overlooked and neglected, and to implement means for people to put that compassion into practice. To learn more, visit—R.C.

Kim Sturla has been a central figure in the animal rights movement for 30 years. With a strong focus on humane education, Sturla, originally a special education instructor, wrote the first law in the country that protects pre-university students unwilling to participate in animal dissections. Sturla also served as the director of a Bay area humane society before co-founding Animal Place, a farmed animal sanctuary—home for animals typically raised for food production: cattle, sheep, goats, chickens (layers and broilers), turkeys, rabbits and pigs. Kim also currently serves as the Education Director for the Fund for Animals. Kymberlie Adams Matthews had a chance to speak with Kim Sturla about life on the sanctuary.

Let me begin by asking what is Animal Place?

It is home for over 150 abused and discarded farmed animals. These rescued critters, indigenous wildlife, several staff members and myself share 60 acres. But as Animal Place slowly grows it has really been the education component that we focus on; trying to use the sanctuary more as a tool, a classroom of sorts.

I believe that those of us with farmed animals have a real responsibility to open up our sanctuaries to the public. People have such a powerful disconnect with farmed animals that any time they have a chance to meet them face to face or nose to snout—personalize that individual animal—it is more difficult for them to go home and chomp on a burger. It is probably one of the most powerful forms of education.

When visitors meet Howie the cow or Brenda the pig firsthand they discover the vitality, depth, and individuality of these animals that are typically only seen as food. There is just no denying it. Also because there are so many resources being used here to save such few animals, I can’t personally justify it unless we ‘use’ those animals as kind of ambassadors. They don’t get a free ride here unless they give back—they are our poster kids for all the other billions being killed every year.

We are actually publishing—it should be out by December—our first catalog featuring all our educational events, called The Barnyard Campus.

What type of classes are you offering?
Well, aside from extending the tours quite a bit, we are going to offer ‘targeted’ tours. Kids, adults, daytime, nighttime, and working tours (folks actually work the sanctuary) will all still be a part of our program, but we are also going to focus in on carnivores. ‘Eat Meat? Meet Me!’ tours will be for carnivores, or provide a chance for vegetarians to invite a carnivore who gets in for free. We will conduct these tours with a little bit of tongue and cheek, a little bit of humor.

We will also have volunteer training classes, special education classes on the dog rescue program, the volunteer work days, vegan cooking classes and we also started a vegetarian society with a few of our neighboring counties.

It’s funny, on one hand I think that most of our visitors probably do eat animals and their products, as I am sure most of our supporters do too, so we are not really preaching to the choir. We are just trying to offer different ways to approach the farmed animal subject.

That sounds exciting. Do you have a personal favorite class?
My favorite is the vegan cooking class. It simply offers a winning combination: educate members and show them why they should become vegetarian, and follow that up by giving them the tools to make the transition. Teach people how to make dietary changes, feed them and show them how to prepare that extraordinary delicacy, tofu. [Laughter.]

How do you find situations where animals are abused? Can you tell us a few of your rescue stories?
We have a couple of small slaughterhouses north of us and there have been a few wayward animals that get lucky and are brought to us. Our most recent rescue was Harold. He was found dying outside a slaughterhouse. It was a strange situation, since Harold is a pygmy goat and they aren’t typically raised for meat. It is hard to say exactly what his story was.

Also recent to Animal Place are two sweet hens from the broiler industry. They came to us at a very young age, and they have all the typical difficulties with their huge, enormous mass produced bodies. At the factory, broilers are usually killed at six weeks, when they are already the size of adult birds due to genetic breeding; their young bones simply cannot hold their weight and they collapse. We are watching these girls closely.

Ten defenseless turkey chicks arrived a short while ago rescued from a factory by a kindhearted woman. Tragically, although we got them when they were just weeks old, they had already suffered enormously. Each is permanently disfigured, having had their beaks and toes chopped off as part of routine industry procedure. It took awhile for us to gain their trust and for them to feel secure and safe, but they have begun to settle in and are now acting like the mischievous youngsters they are.

One of our largest rescues was of Winona and her brood, she was one of more than a million laying hens trapped without food or water after a tornado destroyed the Buckeye factory farm in Ohio in 2001. Like the millions of other hens at this farm, they were crammed in tiny wire cages. Volunteers were able to rescue only a few thousand of the hens before bulldozing killed the rest. Winona and several hundred of her ‘sisters’ are now thriving with us.

Then there is Jessie, a beautiful older cow who has been with us for over 15 years. Jessie saved her own life when she jumped out of a truck (speeding along the highway) on her way to slaughter. The truck driver gave her to some kind folks who saw the incident, and brought her to Animal Place.

Brenda Grace was one of many ‘production’ pigs born with hernias. A farmer had a deal with a veterinary medical school whereby the students would do the surgery and, if successful, he would buy back the pigs. The two students assigned to this pig, however, could not bear the thought of her becoming ‘food.’ So they convinced their instructor to allow them to find a sanctuary for her instead. In honor of these two students, we named Brenda Grace after them.

I could go on and on and on, each and every one of these critters has a story that would break your heart.

Why do you use the term ‘farmed’ instead of ‘farm’ when referring to the animals?
We say “farmed” and not “farm” animal to emphasize that this is how they are used, not who they are. Farmed animals are the most exploited and least protected group of animals in the world. Twenty-seven million are killed in the U. S. alone each day—nearly 19,000 per minute–equating to a tragic total of 10 billion animals per year.

So tell me about your ‘5-H’ Campaign.
Basically, for generations, 4-H agricultural animal projects have taught kids how to raise, love, and care for pigs, cows, goats, and other animals. Distressingly, however, the final assignment—the displaying and selling of the animal, destined for slaughter or the auction block—counters these earlier lessons, separating children from their natural compassion. With this program, Animal Place is offering 4-H participants the chance to “go 5-H” by adding “humane” to their project descriptions.

The 5-H Campaign implements several strategies. First, we looked at who is funding the FFA (originally called the Future Farmers of America) and 4-H programs. Through our research it became clear that they are federally and state funded—our taxpayer dollars are supporting these horrible desensitization programs for kids.

Another one of our tactics has been to collect data on school campus slaughters. There are essentially no animal care standards for these programs. There is also no centralized database for any information regarding these school practices—so we have been working to build one ourselves. Basically, we surveyed 186 agriculture teachers and have gotten about one third of them to reply. We are using this information to prepare legislation for next year. All this violence, it just seems like such an inappropriate activity to allow at school.

Secondly, we are trying to get parents involved and we have designed opt-out forms, which tell school administrators that parents want their kids pulled out of class when agriculture business is in the curriculum. Thirdly, we have been meeting with the local FFA agriculture teachers—we want them to offer kids the option of a non-exploitative FFA approved project to work with rescued farmed animals here at Animal Place.

I remember being young and wanting to join the 4-H program, just to be with the animals. I don’t think kids even realize what they are getting into. Luckily for me, there was no 4-H program in the area. I had to settle for girl scouts. Are you working on any other campaigns?
Yes, a few more are in the works. One, called Food for Thought, is probably dearest to my heart. It is a campaign to encourage SPCAs and humane societies to become consistent in their compassion toward all species and adopt an animal friendly menu. Specifically, we are asking all animal welfare organizations to adopt a vegetarian or vegan policy for their events. The response has been less than warm, which we knew would be the case.

The good news, and what is really going to help immensely, is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) just passed their vegan policy. They are seen as the mothering organization for the SPCAs, shelters and animal control agencies. And the fact that they have adopted a vegan policy may just be the major breakthrough to bring others along. All HSUS expos, trainings, conferences will be vegan. It is huge.

Another part of this campaign is targeting the environmental community. They have the same responsibility to adopt a vegan policy as shelters do, just different reasoning. An animal protection organization shouldn’t be serving dead animals at their events. An environmental agency shouldn’t be endorsing the desecration of our earth. It is just a huge hypocrisy. They don’t even have to announce it is a vegetarian function—serve pasta!

Does Animal Place adopt any of the animals out?
Very rarely. In general there are very few people who want to adopt. Most people don’t take proper care of their dogs let alone farmed animals.

What is the biggest challenge for you in this endeavor? What is the greatest reward?
A very rich life, rarely monotonous. There are extreme joys and celebration each time you save somebody, but you deal more with the extreme woes because you are seeing the results of cruelty. We have been on a couple local cruelty cases ourselves because animal control won’t do anything about it. One was the recent rescue of Bert who was a seven year-old durox pig who was the worst starvation case I have ever seen, in all my years in animal control and humane work. I mean he was a skeleton—a skeleton with hide draped over him. On another case, somebody alerted us to a pasture with almost a hundred goats and sheep with absolutely no care. We found no less than two dozen animals dead in different stages of decomposition. Seeing all that stuff firsthand is why we really have to give ourselves time to rejoice and to just have fun with the successes. We need to balance that out.

Tell me about the food—I know how much my two cats eat, it feels like I am always picking up another can of food. How much do you go through?
A lot! It is nice to point out though that we have a relationship with grocery stores. Every day, seven days a week, we pick up hundreds and hundreds of pounds of produce, day-old produce—and everybody eats it. It’s great! It actually pulls the animals off commercial feed which has a whole bunch of garbage in it. It is also environmentally a great system. The food is not wasted and it goes back to the earth as wonderful fertilizer.

Beyond that, gosh our vet bills and feed bills, I don’t even want to go there. It’s a lot. Every drop off from the feed store is $500. So the cost is up there. Different hays, rye, pig pellets, bunny pellets, goat pellets, chicken scratch, all our bedding material. That’s the typical stuff delivered in bulk.

Do you have any closing words?
A couple thoughts come to mind. After coming to Animal Place and getting down on the ground and rubbing a big ol’ sow’s belly, who is grunting with pleasure, you hope people remember it the next time they go grocery shopping. It is very hard to chow into some spare ribs after rubbing Izabella’s belly and it’s almost impossible to order chicken nuggets after seeing the poor little birds here who have been debeaked. At Thanksgiving time, reflecting on the turkeys who really just don’t have any beak left and who have been de-toed and are basically crippled.

One time a reporter asked me what I want people to come away with after visiting Animal Place, and I think what we really try communicating is compassion for all. That sounds so basic. It is interesting having the dogs here. When we give tours it is almost easier to see that connection between the value of a dog and that of a pig—the ability of one to suffer and not the other. We talk about how these doggies are going to the clinic to be sterilized. How they will be under anesthesia during the operation and have postoperative pain meds. How they will come back to their kennel with a warm blanket. Then we’ll explain how they do it to young little piglets, or young calves, and really spell out the incredible difference of how we treat and how we relate the pain that two mammals feel. Where one is just completely discounted and the other we address responsibly. I think compassion for all life would be the one message we would want all people to take away from here. To understand the connection.

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