“We can’t save our way out of this,” remarks Michele Waldman, Founder and President of Rosie’s Farm Sanctuary. The harms of animal agriculture, she says, are too immense to overcome through rescue alone. More than 55 billion terrestrial animals are killed for food — just in the U.S. — each year. Meanwhile, sanctuaries are limited by their few acres of land and their relatively small budgets, secured largely through individual donations. Rosie’s is located on five acres in Potomac, Maryland, where space certainly does not come cheap.
For Waldman, it was a hard conclusion to come to. “When I was originally thinking of having a sanctuary, I thought ‘I’ll have to get 1,000 acres. We’ll have 100,000 animals there,’” she says. “There’s not enough space to do it. When I found this place in a residential neighborhood, I realized we’re going to be really limited [in terms of how many] animals — but the trade for that would be that we have more accessibility for people to be here.”
So Rosie’s, Waldman says, has a strategy.
The sanctuary’s goal is to save an animal from “every sector” of animal agriculture — cattle raised for beef and dairy, broiler and egg-laying chickens, pigs raised for pork, those used in laboratory research, and so on. The thinking is that these individual animals represent billions of others who are much like them but are still suffering within animal agriculture. A few rescue animals raise awareness for many, helping in Rosie’s efforts to educate and advocate.
“They can all be ambassadors,” says Waldman.
Most recently, Waldman aimed to welcome what she calls “jumpers,” pigs who leap or fall from transport trucks. “Many of them die, because they’re jumping from trucks going 60 miles per hour,” says Waldman. She turned to Sisu Refuge, a North Carolina sanctuary she knew often finds itself taking in these animals. Smithfield Foods — the largest pork producer in the world, with 30 million pigs slaughtered annually — has a massive presence in this southern state where pigs outnumber humans. Before arriving at Rosie’s on April 24, two piglets now named Dani and Sunshine were on trucks bound for Smithfield.
Dani, born very small, likely fell from a truck, along with another pig named Mindy. While Mindy, who had broken her snout, died the next day at a veterinary hospital, Dani recovered.
“We were hoping for two,” says Waldman. “Dani was coming on a Sunday, and on the Thursday we got a call that they found another jumper pig that had been found on the side of the road…They called us up and said, ‘Guess what? She got her sister.’”
Sunshine came from another truck, and is believed to have jumped, rather than fallen, from the moving vehicle. She was first taken to a wildlife rescue that, then, turned to Sisu. “She couldn’t move for her first two days. [Rescuers] thought she was paralyzed,” Waldman says. “But then she just got up. They hydrated her, and gave her love and nutrition.”
‘People Love a Rescue Story’
In the days following Dani and Sunshine’s rescue, Rosie’s saw a boost in online traffic and donations to the sanctuary. The hearts of the public tend to be captured by farmed animals who escape their would-be fate, sometimes at the last minute, while on the journey to a slaughterhouse. Social media pleas from thousands of people, many of whom may not even be vegetarians or animal activists in their daily lives, call for the release of such animals to sanctuaries.
To Waldman, this is part of what makes Dani and Sunshine’s stories such important ones to be told at Rosie’s. “I think it brings out the best in people, because people love a rescue story and people love babies,” she says. “And I think people really relate to victims…‘Oh, you’ve made it!’ It’s hard for people to then acknowledge that they’re part of the [same] system of oppression. It’s purposely that way; we’re so hidden from it. And yeah, those people eat pork, many of them.”
Meat producers spend billions of dollars, Waldman says, to ensure there is this disconnect in our minds between farmed animals and the food we eat. “It’s so ingrained in us. We have to eat, and so I think [the ideas have] just gotten merged, that we have to eat them. And I don’t think the majority of people have any idea that it’s cruel,” says the sanctuary founder. Animals like Dani and Sunshine are helping to raise awareness, and address that cognitive dissonance.
Pigs especially seem to connect with visitors to Rosie’s. “There’s something about pigs,” she says. “I have had so many people tell me that they’re still eating meat or eating cheese, but they’ve given up pork — because of them.”
It’s Hard to Say No
Waldman has many future rescues in mind. She wants to take in pigs from research laboratories and a dairy cow and more sheep, build a duck aviary, and rescue geese as part of raising awareness about foie gras and the use of feathers for down products.
The reality, though, is that all sanctuaries have to turn down some rescues. There just is not enough space to take in every farmed animal in need. For Rosie’s, fostering is part of the solution. The organization has been able to temporarily accept some animals and place them in new homes — including a duck and two Jersey cows, one of whom was pregnant at the time of her rescue. Waldman wants to do more fostering, and yet, the team must also keep its sights on saving animals from each corner of animal agriculture as part of their mission to both rescue and advocate. This means that others may have to be turned away.
For Waldman, it is very hard to say no when other rescues turn to Rosie’s to take in animals, but the bigger picture is always in mind.For reminders, she turns to Jason Bolalek, who serves as the Farm Manager and PR Director at the sanctuary.
Before spending each day caring for the animals at Rosie’s, Bolalek saved many unwanted calves born into the dairy industry. He too knows that as painful a reality as it may be, there is a limit to how many farmed animals rescuers can remove from the food system. “It doesn’t matter how many acres you have. You have to develop that mindset that we’re going to have to say no, because if you don’t, you won’t survive,” says Bolalek. “It’s the biggest mistake that sanctuaries and rescues make. We’ve seen the results of that over the years; we’ve seen hoarding cases.”
“For sanctuaries, it should be about strategy, who we choose to rescue,” he says. “Is it hard? Yeah, of course it’s hard, because we’re constantly getting requests to save them, place them, even if it’s a species we can’t home. You have to become numb to it; you just have to.”
Rosie’s Dream for the Future
While ensuring that Rosie’s takes in only the animals they can care for and who will help to further the organization’s mission, Waldman continues to envision the future, too.
“Ultimately, I do have a dream. I want to create Rosie’s Annex…One day, I would like to get a few hundred acres,” says Waldman. It is not yet a reality, and would likely not be in Potomac, where that amount of land would be far too costly — but to Waldman, the dream is important.
“I had my family, I had a full practice as a psychotherapist, and I didn’t know how I was going to do this,” she says. “Then I had this realization, that this is my dream and I’m not the only person who has this dream. So I just have to find people who are dreaming the same dream.”
Volunteers, and her staff, this is their dream, too, says Waldman. “Every single rescue is about connecting with someone else who has a dream, including the farmers who sometimes release the animals. They fall in love with one animal, even though they could slaughter the rest. It’s still a dream; it’s a hope; it’s a wish.”
“So I’m hoping I can run into a person whose dream it is to have hundreds of acres,” she laughs. “[Sunshine] had a dream. She jumped. She had a dream that there was something bigger and better, and look what happened.”
This piece has been corrected: it was Dani the pig who likely fell and Sunshine who most likely jumped.
Jennifer is a writer and editor based near Washington, DC. Her background is in communications in the animal protection movement. She is also a contributing writer with Sentient Media.