Over fall break, I accompanied students from Mount Holyoke’s Animal Welfare Association (a campus organization that advocates for animals by promoting awareness of animal exploitation and injustice) on a trip to volunteer at the VINE Sanctuary in Springfield, Vermont. The VINE Sanctuary (Veganism Is The Next Evolution, Inc.) is a non-profit animal sanctuary that serves as a haven for more than 500 local animals who have escaped or been rescued from abusive circumstances. This includes primarily cows and chickens from the meat, dairy, and egg industries, as well as cockfighting roosters and other birds—even a few emus that were neglected pets. Aside from sheltering and advocating for animals, VINE also conducts research and aims to educate the public with the goal of “creating systemic changes in agriculture, trade, and consumption as well as human attitudes about animals and the environment.”
Immediately upon pulling into the driveway of the farm, we were greeted by eager chickens who began running towards the van. Cheryl, the site coordinator, later explained to us that their chickens get excited when cars arrive because they associate new visitors with food treats. In order for us to safely move the car, Cheryl began chucking eggs onto the ground, away from the car, and the chickens were effectively distracted as they flocked towards the broken eggs and began eating. Apparently, feeding chickens raw eggs is pretty standard to natural chicken keeping.
After being introduced to the chickens, we began our work for the farm, which included a pretty cool DIY project where we transformed salvaged bowling alley lockers into nesting boxes. As we were sanding and painting, the chickens observed impatiently, and eventually decided to start making themselves comfortable in their nesting boxes before we were finished with them. As a result, many of VINE’s chickens now have lovely green manicures.
All of the birds on the farm had such funny personalities. There was a very tiny, yet full-grown rooster named Pago, who had a Napoleon Complex. Not only does Pago respond to his name, but he will without hesitation playfully “attack” you when you interact with him, despite being so tiny. There was also a turkey named Pearl who loved being petted—she would sit down as soon as you touched her feathers.
The cows were almost as social as the chickens. They would casually stroll over to us to ask for our apples and nuzzle us as if they were cats, not realizing how massive they were. As we hiked up the mountain, we saw more of them everywhere. We normally think of cows as animals that live in pastures but interestingly enough, according to one of AWA’s members Caedyn Bushay ’17, wild cows actually roam around in the woods, and that’s exactly what they were doing at the VINE Sanctuary.
This is the type of environment that animals should be able to live in. We arrived knowing that the VINE Sanctuary was their territory and we were just visitors, and because we respected their space, most of the animals were comfortable with us and seemed very content.
After hearing about it from a friend of mine, I initially tagged along to this trip as an unofficial member of AWA because I wanted to see some cows, but it ended up being a more beautiful and rewarding experience than I imagined. Not only that, it made me want to become more involved in AWA, and I would definitely recommend visiting an animal sanctuary. It’s an easy-going experience that’s fun, educational, and matters.
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