2013: Moving into the Mainstream

By Gene

We often refer to animal protection work as a “movement,” and I believe that idea of movement is fitting as we reflect on the past year and look forward to the next. Movement suggests that we are defined by our actions, by what we are doing — like protecting farm animals from harm and promoting compassionate vegan living. We made tremendous strides toward creating a more just and compassionate world for farm animals in 2013 thanks to our committed and compassionate supporters, advocates, and friends — and I believe the momentum will just keep building.


Making Headlines
Nearly every week over the past year, articles about animal welfare or plant-based diets could be found in major, national publications, including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, TIME magazine, and many more. Just this month, Rolling Stone ran a damning exposé entitled, “Animal Cruelty is the Price We Pay for Cheap Beef.” Last month, our Celebration for the Turkeys event was featured on Good Morning America, showing a compassionate holiday tradition to a national audience. Bruce Friedrich, Farm Sanctuary’s Senior Director for Advocacy, made headlines on several fronts, including a lively discussion about the ethical and environmental implications of lab-grown meat and the impact on factory farm animals on MSNBC’s program “All in with Chris Hayes.”

This media coverage represents an increasing interest in farm animal issues and growing concerns about where our food comes from. More and more people are questioning whether we should be eating animals. I recently participated in an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate, arguing for the motion, “Don’t Eat Anything With a Face.” I am happy to say that my partner, Neal Barnard, M.D., and I were declared winners of the debate.


Bringing attention to the benefits of a plant-based diet this year was a slew of prominent figures in entertainment and politics, among them newly minted vegan Al Gore and power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who have publicized their goal to try a vegan lifestyle for 22 days. Casey Affleck and Ryan Gosling lent their voices to our cause by speaking out against the use of intense confinement systems for farm animals and reaching millions with a message of compassion.

Farm Sanctuary’s work made headlines in 2013, too. We were named “Nonprofit of the Year” by VegNews editors and voted “Favorite Farmed Animal Sanctuary” by VegNews readers for the sixth consecutive year and “Favorite Nonprofit Animal Organization” for the first time.

Art Imitates Life
Books, poetry, painting, and films increasingly are challenging cruelty and inspiring change. The 2013 documentary Blackfish exposed abuse at Sea World, provoking a public outcry and prompting several musical acts to cancel shows there. The film has raised awareness about the tragedy associated with holding animals in captivity and denying them their basic needs. Filmmaker Liz Marshall released The Ghosts in Our Machine, a documentary examining the complicated relationships humans have with other animals and the ethical challenges we face when we exploit them. The film features Jo-Anne McArthur, photojournalist and longtime friend of Farm Sanctuary whose book on the same subject, We Animals, came out this month, as well as Farm Sanctuary National Shelter Director Susie Coston and some of the rescued animals at our New York Shelter.


In the popular genre of animated movies, we celebrated the release of Free Birds, a major motion picture about getting turkeys off the Thanksgiving menu. 

Serious Business
Ambitious entrepreneurs and innovative technological developments brought positive movement to the food industry in 2013. Companies like Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek Foods have been among the ventures creating game-changing alternatives to meat and eggs. These companies are flourishing and enjoying recognition in business communities and mainstream media — including Forbes, Fortune, Bloomberg, NPR, and The Huffington Post — for making plant-based meat and egg substitutes widely appealing and accessible.

Changing Hearts and Minds
Traveling around the country this year, I participated in many galvanizing festivals, conferences, and celebrations filled with energy and enthusiasm. People who care about animals are coming together to inspire and empower one another.

The interest and enthusiasm I witnessed at these events reaches far beyond those who identify themselves as vegans or activists. Opposition to factory farming and changing attitudes about eating animals are quickly becoming mainstream. Schools across the United States are offering more vegan foods, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, which recently instituted “Meatless Mondays” in its cafeterias.

Scientific studies on animal sentience continued to make advances in 2013. This body of research typically has studied species such as apes, elephants, and dolphins and is now expanding to include farm animals, who have not been as well understood. Farm Sanctuary is participating in this important work. We launched our Someone, Not Something project to share unique insights about farm animal emotions and intelligence with the public. The more we help others learn about animals who are exploited for food, the harder it will be for society to condone that exploitation.


Pushing Forward
In 2013, we were part of a coalition that successfully defended bans in California prohibiting the sale of foie gras and the use of cruel confinement systems against agribusiness challenges. Our success at passing laws to protect farm animals in recent years has prompted defensive maneuvering by agribusiness. Seeking to keep cruelty out of the public eye, industry forces campaigned for “ag-gag” laws to criminalize the documentation of cruelty at factory farms. This year, “ag-gag” bills were introduced in 11 states across the nation. Happily, all 11 were defeated.

With increasing awareness about the abuses animals experience in the food industry and with growing availability of plant-based options, there is much reason for hope. Our movement is growing and gained strong momentum over the past year, and I’m very optimistic about 2014.

Together, we are making a difference. With your ongoing support, we’ll continue building on this momentum to create a more compassionate world for all.

Remembering Valentino

By Kerrie Wooten*

Feeling the Love
At our most recent Celebration for the Turkeys in Orland, California, I was on the lookout for a certain guest who has been coming to our events for the past several years. At an earlier Farm Sanctuary event this summer, she told me that she had been photographing her daughter with Valentino every time they visited so she could look back and see her daughter growing up with her cherished friend. But Valentino, Farm Sanctuary’s oldest steer, was now living with the special-needs herd, which wasn’t part of our scheduled Celebration “shelter time,” where guests visit with the animals. So I said I’d make sure that she and her daughter got their photograph with Valentino again this visit. She was so grateful she hugged me.


Later that day, I led the mother-daughter duo and some more of Valentino’s biggest fans down to the lower pasture where he was standing, peacefully chewing his cud and drooling. At almost 20 years old, he didn’t have a lot of his teeth left — thus the drool that sometimes hung from his mouth in long strands that swayed in the breeze. This was just part of his charm. Valentino carried out his days without a care in the world. Our party arrived at his pasture and showered attention on him, making this day extra special for all of them.

A Shelter Veteran
Valentino came to our Northern California Shelter long before any of the current caregivers did. It was Valentine’s Day, 1994, the year after the shelter opened. He was only two weeks old, tiny, sick, and very weak. He had suffered damage to tendons in his front legs, which made walking painful for him. Physical therapy was important for Valentino’s recovery, and caregivers worked with him as many as five times a day, gently walking him through the nearby pasture.


Diane Miller, the new farm manager at the time, recalls how her puppy Sunshine became involved in Valentino’s healing, “helping out” during his therapy walks by pulling on his lead rope to encourage him along. “They played lots of this tug-o-war,” says Diane. “Although they were both growing like weeds that spring, Valentino began winning these games more often as he grew stronger and heavier, and as his legs healed.” Diane, Sunshine, and Valentino became best buddies, beginning each day with breakfast together and ending many evenings snuggling together in Valentino’s stall.

A good Samaritan rescued Valentino — he was one of thousands of calves each year who are found down, injured, weak, and left for dead. Holsteins are common in the dairy industry, where producers keep cows lactating by subjecting them to a relentless cycle of impregnation, gestation, and birth. Female offspring often replace their mothers in the herd, but the male calves are considered useless. They are taken from their mothers immediately and typically auctioned off for cheap beef or veal, killed, or abandoned. Valentino’s first weeks of life must have been miserable, but we made sure that his next nearly twenty years were wonderful.


Susie Moo and Valentino

I got to know Valentino in his middle and old age, when he was a gentle giant. A few years ago, when he started to show stiffness in his hind legs, we moved him to live with the special-needs herd. Arthritis and hip degeneration are common in elderly Holsteins, because they have been bred to grow so large that it puts a strain on their joints. Valentino lived with arthritis for years, but, with treatment, we were able to help him remain active. He still had fun with his buddies and had no trouble moving fast when he saw food coming. Sometimes when he got excited, he seemed like a goofy, young steer again.

Looking through old photos of Valentino, I see him with many different members of the herd. He was everybody’s friend. In later years, he became particularly fond of spending time with his friend Joni, who is a mother figure in the special-needs herd. He was never more content than when Joni was grooming him. Life was sweet for Valentino, right up to the end.

Time to Say Goodbye
On the evening we discovered Valentino on the ground our hearts fell. The position he was in indicated an injury to his back legs and possibly to his spine. Due to his extreme old age and the fragility caused by arthritis, his leg had broken at the joint and probably caused him to fall, causing further injury. We called our vet immediately. He gave us the diagnosis that we already knew deep down — that the broken leg, compounded by his advanced age, the weakness of his other legs, and his hip degeneration, meant that his condition was irreparable. Shelter staff gathered around as the vet euthanized Valentino. He  slipped away peacefully, surrounded by loved ones.

Valentino’s Memory
“No other single animal has done more to teach me the intrinsic beauty and value of each individual life, particularly those lives who are cast off as ‘byproducts,’” says Diane. “Valentino triumphed over this bleak introduction to the world and grew into a legendary giant, in stature as well as pure heart, grace and love. Not a bad, rough, or mean bone had he…. as attested by the thousands of hearts he stole over his long years at the sanctuary.”
The special needs herd has been subdued in the days following Valentino’s passing, and the pasture feels empty without him. This benign, loving steer was a friend to many, and he truly epitomized the spirit of sanctuary. Valentino was a beloved part of this shelter for two decades. And he always will be.

View more photos of Valentino here:


*Kerrie Wooten is Animal Care Manager at Farm Sanctuary’s Northern California Shelter. Kerrie has been a caregiver for Valentino and all of our other residents since 2006.