That's Some Sheep
By Lorri Houston



In 1986, I discovered a living sheep on a stockyard "dead pile" and her rescue led me to co-found Farm Sanctuary, the first shelter in the country for farmed animals. Hilda the sheep was my first teacher, and set me on a path to rescue thousands of other suffering farmed animals and establish the farmed animal sanctuary movement.

I was investigating the Lancaster Stockyard in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The stockyard bought and sold thousands of animals each week, and though I didn't expect to see animals treated well, I never expected to see animals treated like "trash."

I found Hilda on the stockyard "dead pile." She had been thrown on a pile of dead and decaying animals, and at first I didn't know she was alive, but she lifted her head as I approached. My partner and I rushed her to a nearby veterinarian, who determined she was suffering from heat exhaustion. One hour later, she was standing.

I was shocked to find Hilda abandoned at the stockyard, and I was appalled to learn that dumping "downed" animals (animals too sick or injured to stand) was not illegal in Pennsylvania. We had photos of Hilda on the deadpile. Through her identification tag we determined which trucker had dumped her, and that she had been on the dead pile for about 16 hours before we found her.

Yet local authorities would not prosecute the trucker or stockyard for cruelty to animals because abandoning sick and injured animals was considered a "normal animal agricultural practice" in Pennsylvania. Most states, including Pennsylvania, exempt farmed animals from state anti-cruelty laws. Any act, no matter how cruel or inhumane, is legal.

Hilda lived 12 blissful years at Farm Sanctuary. During our years together, she showed me how much can be accomplished when people care enough to be a vital participant in programs and campaigns to stop farmed animal suffering.

In 1986, very few organizations advocated for farmed animal protection. Most people thought the word "vegan" was a character from Star Trek, and there were no shelters in the country devoted to farmed animals. Today, there are over 25 farmed animal sanctuaries throughout the country. The newest is Animal Acres, which was opened in a Los Angeles in 2005.

Animal Acres is a unique 26-acre farm, just 45 minutes from Los Angeles. With its proximity to a major metropolitan area and the entertainment capital of the world, Animal Acres is in a strong position to bring our message of compassion to millions.

In our first year of operation, I saw just how much an urban farmed animal sanctuary can do ‹ and how much people wanted to have farmed animal sanctuaries in their cities. A dedicated team of over 200 people came out to help us build the sanctuary.

We saved over 200 animals from slaughter, welcomed thousands of sanctuary visitors, and reached millions of people with news coverage of our efforts in the Los Angeles Times, the Daily News and other major media.

Dozens of Hollywood's famous friends of farmed animals joined Animal Acres to lend their voices and support. Comedian Bill Maher stated it best when he wrote, "I'm pleased to be a supporter of Animal Acres, L.A.'s new farm animal sanctuary. This special place is giving city slickers an opportunity to get to know farm animals ‹ and it's hard to eat a pig after you've given one a belly rub."

Within one year of opening, we raised the funding needed (1.2 million dollars) for the organization to purchase the property. Animal Acres is now forever owned by the cows, pigs, chickens, and other farmed animals who desperately need a home of their own ‹ and the organization continues to grow.

Although I have been involved in the farmed animal sanctuary movement since 1986, the success of Animal Acres was a reminder to me of the crucial role played by farmed animal sanctuaries ‹ both for animal advocates and the general public.

In our own animal protection movement, farmed animal sanctuaries are helping teach animal advocates that cows, pigs, and chickens need our help, too ‹ and the new and growing interest in farmed animal protection issues continues to prompt campaigns to ban cruel factory farming and marketing practices.

Humane enforcement agencies are much more willing to intervene to stop farmed animal cruelty if there is a shelter facility in the area for farmed animals.

Shortly after Animal Acres opened, a California humane agency was able to conduct the first U.S. raid on a slaughterhouse for cruelty to animals, and subsequently confiscated dozens of severely neglected animals, who were brought to Animal Acres for rehabilitation and refuge.

For people who come into contact with farmed animals only at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, farmed animal sanctuaries provide a positive way for the public to learn that farmed animals are friends, not food. Sanctuary visitors interact with the "animal ambassadors" while being educated on the harsh truth of how farmed animals are treated to produce meat, milk, and eggs.

It's just a little easier for people to hear about the cruelties of dairy production when they are getting a big cow lick. Even the youngest sanctuary visitor "gets it" after giving a pig a belly rub and sampling a veggie hotdog. Farmed animal sanctuaries make it fun ‹ and profound.

As a founder of Farm Sanctuary, and now Animal Acres, I have personally seen thousands of people "touched" by a farmed animal, and then make the decision to save ALL farmed animals by going vegetarian or vegan. More than anyone, those of us involved in direct rescue efforts for farmed animals recognize the only way to "be the change" is to use the sanctuary to open peoples' hearts and minds to the plight of farmed animals.

If you know someone who loves animals (but still eats them!) please bring them to Animal Acres for a sanctuary tour. We guarantee, you'll make a friend for life.

Lorri Houston is the President of Animal Acres, located at 5200 Escondido Canyon Rd. in Acton, CA 92510. For more information, call (661) 269-5404, email:

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