For George Orwell, some animals might be more equal than others, but Claudia Stauber of Morristown sees them all the same.
That’s why she opened Happy Heart Sanctuary, a place for farm animals the would otherwise be headed for slaughter, or mistreated. Instead, they will live out their days on Stauber’s property near the Morrisville-Stowe State Airport.
“They’re just going to live here until they die. That, to me, is honestly the best part,” Stauber said.
Stauber has five goats, two sheep and four chickens at Happy Heart Sanctuary right now. That’s all she has space for, but she thinks in the spring, she might be able to take more.
She’s been a “vegetarian-slash-vegan” for more than 20 years, ever since watching a video detailing animal mistreatment in large farms.
“Once you see that, you can’t really un-see it, and that’s when I was going, ‘I’m done with that. I can’t be a part of that,’” she said. “I’m not so much against small family farms, but factory farming is a brutal and horrendous thing that’s happening in this country. I wanted to do something more tangible than just not eating the animals. I wanted to do something that is something that I can see the results every day.”
Stauber works with Justice for Dogs, a nonprofit in Wolcott that finds homes for area dogs and cats. She had the idea for a farm animal sanctuary several years ago, but didn’t have the money to make it happen until some of her property was annexed by the state for airport use.
Happy Heart Sanctuary is a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a seven-person board of directors. Stauber is looking for sponsors for each animal — people who make monthly payments to help provide feed for the animals, and who get to name them. Stauber is looking for $5 a month per chicken and $25 per month for goats and sheep.
She’s hoping that, over time, the sanctuary will take on a public education role, teaching people about proper farm animal care.
“Everybody has a little story,” Stauber said. “(Of) the first two goats that came, Kelley and Marilyn, Kelley was too small and too scrawny for the freezer, and the guy had posted on Facebook that if nobody takes them, he’ll kill them.” So she hastened to pick up Kelley and Marilyn, and from there, her farm expanded.
“We got another goat. Her name is June. Her brother died and she is alone. Goats are herd animals, and they don’t like to be alone,” so June wound up at Happy Heart Sanctuary.
“It’s been really quite the experience, because they all get along,” Stauber said. “It’s really sweet to see how they make friends right away.”
For Stauber, running Happy Heart Sanctuary is a learning experience.
“I honestly know nothing about farm animals. I did grow up on a little farm in Germany, in a little village, with a few pigs, a few cows, a few chickens, but I was so little when we gave that up” that she doesn’t remember much about it.
“It is somewhere, I guess, in my DNA. I’m learning as I go. I bought a stack of books on goats and small farm animals. I get great advice from other people.”
Jessica Danyow, president of Vermont Humane Federation, a nonprofit based in Middlebury that works with animal welfare organizations, says that “without question, (farm animal cruelty) is a big problem” in Vermont.
To her organization, humane farming includes allowing animals five freedoms: freedom from pain, access to nutritious food and clean water, adequate housing, the freedom to express natural behaviors, and the ability to move around.
“This is an agricultural state, and with large-scale agriculture, you’re going to have farmers that treat their animals well and farm well and humanely, and you’re also going to have farmers that fail to keep their animals well,” Danyow said.
For instance, some farmers dock their cows’ tails to allow for easier milking access, but that means cows can’t swish their tails to flick off flies, which is instinctual for them. Danyow says tail docking can be cruel.
Sometimes, that’s through poverty or ignorance, rather than intentional cruelty, and that’s where farm animal sanctuaries come in.
“They’re never going to be large enough to absorb all the farm animals who might be in need of sanctuary. But they can very much relieve the pain and suffering of the animals they can absorb,” she said.
To Danyow, farm animal sanctuaries’ second, and equally important, role is public education.
“Most people learn to think of cattle and other animals as food sources” from an early age, and don’t consider whether those animals are being treated humanely.
“Whether or not they’re ultimately going to become a hamburger, they can be treated perfectly well before then, or they can be treated simply like a unit of food.”
Happy Heart Sanctuary is holding an open house Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at 118 Happy Heart Way in Morrisville. People can meet the goats, sheep and chickens.
“Kelley and Marilyn are the meet-and-greeters. They are so friendly. The idea that they would be dead now is so sad, because they’re such joyful animals and they run and climb on everything, including me,” Stauber said. “They’re just so happy. I think when people see that, it really changes their outlook on it.”