Review of Animal Camp: Reflections on a Decade of Love, Hope, and Veganism at Catskill Animal Sanctuary

I flew through the book Animal Camp yesterday, essays about Catskill Animal Sanctuary by its founder Kathy Stevens.

Its effects lingered on all day.

I couldn’t really tell what the feeling it left me with was.

It was a mix of confusion, wonder, disbelief and thinking about my two dogs I once lived with.

I felt confused all day.

It was like I had just read Charlotte’s Web. All the animals at The Catskill Animal Farm Sanctuary, like Old Rambo the sheep, who protected the farm and all the animals, and Franklin the pig, who laughed with the volunteers and liked to sit on a hill and watch the sunrise every morning, had such storybook personalities. They even communicated with Kathy all the time, telling her what they wanted, thanking her, and sharing their joys and sorrows with her.

It was like the animals at her farm could talk.

But animals can’t talk though… right?

I thought about my dogs all day yesterday. I had two dogs growing up.

I thought about their personalities.

How unlike humans they were in their understanding of nature, how they could smell the tracks of an animal in the grass, how they could sniff the wind out of a car window and understand so much about what was passing, how they could run so fast and jump and turn on a dime, also how pure and affectionate they were, loving and befriending me for some reason, like they could just sense who loved them the most.

Also I was thinking about how like humans they were. My dog Rolfy especially had a very human personality. He was very proud and haughty. He had a lot of self respect. He demanded to be treated like an equal. Sometimes I had the uncanny feeling of forgetting he was a dog and seeing him, like how in a dream a person can be two things, as a human.

What was that? That relationship I had with two DOGS.

That was love. Real love. And real friendship.

All day it brought tears to me eyes thinking about my two dogs. Though I intensely loved my dogs and never considered them “just” dogs, I think I did later discount their love in my life. Even though I truly loved them with all my heart, they weren’t human.

It doesn’t matter.

Humans and non humans can communicate and can share real love and friendship together.

One thing Kathy Stevens says often in her book is we are all more alike than different.

Just like we do, animals befriend each other more by personality than what they look like. Those interspecies friendships that are so adorable? Quite commonplace. Animals befriend who they get along the best with, no matter the species.

We are all more alike than different.

Honestly this is a hard thing to think about.

I never really understood this till now, that once you get to know animals, whether they are chickens, sheep, goats, pigs, horses…they are all just as human and amazing as your dog or cat… they each have a distinct incredible personality.

I don’t want to think about this.

There is one part of the book where Kathy passes a pig transport truck after she has had her sanctuary for a while and knows all her animals as friends. A pig looks at her through the holes in the truck and she starts a wail…and can’t stop.

I imagined seeing the eye of my beloved dog in there.

All animals  have personalities that are more like us than not like us.

I need to go to an animal sanctuary.

Animal Camp is a beautiful peaceful storybook book, and one that will grow on you and keep you thinking about it…

It is almost like a fairy tale, but a vey dark fairytale with a happy ending.

You know how the story goes only a virgin pure of heart could summon a unicorn. They would send out this beautiful girl into a meadow and a unicorn would come out attracted by her kindness and gentleness. Then the hunters would leap out of hiding and kill the unicorn.

There are still the maidens out there and there are still the hunters out there.

Highly recommend this book.


Why We Shouldn’t Celebrate the Connection Between Farming and Eating

I visited the beautiful Blue Hill Farm at Stone Barns restaurant the other day with my family for my sister’s birthday for a picnic.

I have been to this restaurant once before as a vegetarian. It was maybe the most amazing dinner I’d ever had.

The food was so creative and whimisically magical.

For example, this was an appetizer.

The restaurant and grounds were an old Rockefeller house that has been converted into a farm and restaurant.

However I knew this farm was not a sanctuary. I knew they had animals there which they killed.

As we drove up and I saw a cow grazing in a fenced-in field…

And I saw a sign that said something like Welcome to Blue Hill at Stone Farms or something…

I honestly had a vision of this:

The entrance to a concentration camp.

Funny. I used to love farms.

I wikipediaed and found this famous sign means “Labor Makes You Free” and was the sign at the entrance to a number of concentration camps most notably Auschwitz.  I noted this to my family and they laughed, not having Seen The Ghosts yet (read my post from yesterday about what it means to see the ghosts)

Labor Makes You Free…. what a chilling and haunting statement. Brilliant really, in how twisted it is.

At the farm, I did some investigating. I read their plaques and their descriptions about the philosophy of the farm.

At first glance their philosophy of celebrating “year round farm to table agriculture” and promoting the “connection between farming and eating” sounds lovely, doesn’t it.

I’m sure back in the day I would have skimmed over this assuming I loved the message. After all, it was on a farm! There are animals! Nature!

In fact, my junior year in high school I even spent a semester ON A FARM exactly like this one that had this same mission.

A working farm. Everything they ate came from the farm. Including the turkeys I was in charge of taking care of. The pigs, the cows, the chickens, who all added such beauty to the farm, were all raised for meat. They sent them away to slaughter when we were all away on our “solo”, a 3 day spiritual journey we spent alone camping in the woods. How convenient.

The Mountain School, where I did a semester program my junior year

Luckily, now my thinking has changed.

I see things more clearly now.

It is messed up to celebrate and promote the connection between farming and eating….

Ok fine, I am all for celebrating the connection between plants and eating.

But animals are not plants.

We walked around the grounds and saw the pigs.

They make it seem like the animals have a wonderful life. I read a plaque saying that the pigs are “raised in the woods until they are 4 months old when they are brought back onto the farm for finishing, “farm speak” for fattening.”

I saw the pigs in the woods…they were raised in a small electric fenced wired enclosure in the woods. Though they were raised “in the woods” so to speak, they did not have free reign of the woods.

A far cry from The Pig Preserve that I learned about through Anita Krajnc’s pig sanctuary tour, where they allow pigs free reign of a large piece of rural undeveloped property they bought.

As I walked through the beautiful, gorgeous trails in the woods around the estate, I was disturbed and quiet thinking of the pigs who would have loved to root around this forest, freely.

We approached a pond, and there were two ducks with a little gosling. I said out loud to my sisters how unfair it was that these little guys were free, while the pigs were not. Why love one, but eat the other, the signs say. My sisters all laughed.

Even to myself my views seem to have become a bit extreme. Comparing a farm to a concentration camp?

I think the connection though that I have made recently and that my friends and family have not made though is this:

I saw a slaughter. I saw the whole thing happen.

Even if the pigs do have a relatively nice life in their enclosure in the woods, which reminded me of a small cage at a zoo, when the day comes when they get slaughtered…they will die a tragic death.

I watch 48 hours all the time. Can’t stop watching it. It’s always about murders. It is always haunting. That’s how all pigs die!

Every animal I saw in a fenced off enclosure…I felt bad that I was free and they weren’t. They don’t deserve this. 4 month old pigs don’t deserve this kind of life.

My sisters said “they have a great life here!”

So what? If your whole life is a lie, because you are raised as a slave to be murdered by someone one day…

It reminds me of the book Never Let Me Go, which I have never read but I know is about a school of kids raised to be organ donors for their clones in the outside world when they reach 18.

Messed up! But this is exactly what we do to animals.

The bookstore had all these cookbooks glorifying butchery.

Think about the word people!

Have you ever heard about The Butcher of Auschwitz? Also known as the Angel of Death.

another butcher played by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s list. I heard that one survivor who was invited to the set of Schindler’s List started shaking unctrollably when she saw him because he looked so much like the real guy.

Why do we celebrate books called like, Butcher?

I think Anita Krajnc is totally right…

Do you want to See The Ghosts?

You need to bear witness. Watch slaughterhouse transport and footage…check out Toronto Pig Save’s youtube channel.

And is it any better if they are butchered with a knife on a beautiful farm with an amazing restaurant like Blue Hill? No.

Although Blue Hill thinks it is.

Don’t be tricked by the whole LOCAL organic thing.

So it was locally murdered. Who cares. So it was fed organic vegan food. Who cares.

The fact is they are not free. They do not have the rights to their own life. They are slaughtered as babies. And they FEEL and SEE it coming. Then they are murdered.

Intense, no?

What do you guys think? Are you on board or are you more moderate?