The Indomitable Gloria

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

The Indomitable Gloria

At Farm Sanctuary, we strive to help people understand that every animal is a unique individual. In Gloria’s case, “unique individual” was an understatement.

Gloria was a goat who thought she was a human. She was as joyful as a kid and as cantankerous as an old fogie. She played gleefully with friends but always kept them in their place. She possessed eccentric insecurities and uncommon strength of spirit. It’s been almost a year since Gloria passed away, but we’re still celebrating her life at the shelter.


Trouble at the Racetrack

For the first eight years of her life, Gloria was kept tied up at a horseracing track outside Chicago. Such facilities sometimes keep goats in the belief that their presence calms high-strung racehorses. The goats are seen merely as tools to enhance the performance of their equine companions, and their own needs are often egregiously neglected.

Eventually, Gloria came to the attention of animal advocate Carrie Gobernatz. Carrie had been working to aid the many feral and stray cats, as well as dogs, chickens, geese, and other abandoned animals, struggling to survive on the racetrack’s backside. One day, Carrie came across Gloria in one of the barns. Gloria was tied up on a rope so short she couldn’t lie down, and she had no food or water. Her udders were huge and had sores on them. She clearly needed immediate veterinary attention.


“I was very angry,” recalls Carrie. “To think that vets walked right by her every day to care for the many horses in this barn owned by a very wealthy racehorse owner made me sick.” Carrie immediately lengthened Gloria’s tether, set down straw bedding for her, and brought her fresh food and water. The next day, she confronted Gloria’s “owner” about his neglect. He refused to relinquish Gloria, but Carrie persisted, finding a vet and getting an estimate on treatment for the udders. When the quote of $500 for veterinary care came back, the “owner” changed his tune and agreed to hand Gloria over to Carrie.

Carrie contacted Farm Sanctuary, and we immediately sent a rescue team from our New York Shelter in Watkins Glen. “I was so happy for Gloria, and right before she got on the van to leave, I took that last photo of her with me,” says Carrie, who continued to visit the racetrack daily to help the animals there. After seven years of feeding, spay/neuter work, adoption projects, media outreach, and campaigning, not to mention being kicked off the racetrack more than once, Carrie finally succeeded in getting the racetrack owner to take responsibility for the suffering animals on the backside. The racetrack recently held its first fundraiser for its resident stray and feral cats.


Photo credit: Jo-Ann McArthur


Operation Second Chance

When Farm Sanctuary’s rescue team came for Gloria, we found her in rough shape. Her face and ears had been rubbed bald, and her hooves were long and brittle. The most obvious sign of neglect was the condition of her udders, which dragged on the ground and tripped her whenever she tried to take even a single step. The world she had known for eight years had been cramped, monotonous, and unhealthy. But hope had arrived.

Donate now-blogAt Cornell University Hospital for Animals, a team of vets performed a mastectomy, removing the 19-pound udders from Gloria’s 126-pound body. She recovered well from the operation, and the next day she was able to return to the Rescue and Rehabilitation Center of our New York Shelter. Gloria must have felt like she had acquired not only a new home but also a whole new body. For the first time in years, she could walk without tripping over her own udders. And for the first time in her life, she could walk wherever she wanted.

Gloria’s friend Carrie was among those celebrating her transformation. “I loved the Youtube video you did of Gloria’s rescue and was terribly happy to see her living like a goat should,” she says.

The Humanga

Gloria had been confined and neglected for her whole life, but she was strong. Far from breaking her spirit, the hardship at the racetrack had made her tough and sassy. And she was ready to really live at last. She quickly went from walking to running, bucking, and playing. She loved to play and roughhouse with her human companions, standing up for a head-butting session or bumping her head into a leg only to hold it there.


One thing she definitely did not want was to be around other goats. In fact, she was scared of them. Each time we tried to leave her with other goats, she cried out as if to say, “There’s been a mistake! I’m a human, not a goat!” We nicknamed her “Humanga,” because she was part human, part goat. When she was with people, she wasn’t scared of anything.

We eventually moved Gloria into a pen in the goat barn, so she could see the other goats but didn’t have to live among them yet. We left her door open, so she could roam the shelter. The open space daunted her at first, but soon she realized that the shelter was her playground. Then there was no stopping her. She made a point to visit the farm assistants and stir up trouble while they were trying to clean the barns. We’d get calls over the radio requesting that the Humanga be escorted somewhere less disruptive. She was very special to everyone she knew — a favorite of our caregivers and farm assistants as well as our many visitors — for her unique and powerful personality.


While Gloria kept residence in her private pen in the sheep barn, two little goats named Jake and Peanut started squeezing under the gate to visit her. Perhaps because they were so young and so small, Gloria didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she grew fond of them.

She also developed a soft spot for the elderly and eventually joined a herd of geriatric goat ladies — at the age of ten, she fit right in. They became her family, and she adored them, forming especially close friendships first with Juniper and, after Juniper passed away, with Dotty.

A Very Good Run

During Gloria’s initial visits to the hospital after her rescue, vets had not only removed her udders but also diagnosed her with uterine cancer. They removed the uterus as well, but the cancer had already metastasized. Treatment would not have eliminated the cancer and would likely have decreased the length and quality of Gloria’s life. We decided instead to just let her live and have has much happiness as she could.

The cancer spread very slowly, leaving Gloria several years to do just that. And they were good years. Gloria had fun. She made friends. She made a home. The self that had endured quietly within her during the years of her confinement — the Humanga, the lovable, indomitable force — came out to play. And she played until her very last day. Gloria was indeed someone, not something.


Three Piglets, a Thousand Miles, and a New Chapter

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

This is the story of Gabby, Xena, and Hercules, three little piglets who escaped the fate of one hundred million pigs slaughtered annually. They additionally escaped the lot of other pigs who are more intensely confined for breeding each year.


Gabby, Xena, and Hercules’ collective story could have followed the typical course. That version goes like this: Three piglets and their two siblings were born on a ranch. At the ranch — as at any facility, large or small, where animals are raised for meat, milk, eggs, or fibers — the animals were valued only in terms of the profits they would yield, and individualized healthcare wasn’t offered. Thus, when it happened that the piglets’ mother “dried up” and was unable to nurse them, the rancher did nothing to help. Keeping the piglets alive would have cost more time and money than he felt they were worth. All five piglets died of starvation. Versions of this story unfold at farms and ranches and industrial pork facilities all over the country, all the time. But that’s not how this story goes.

Instead, the piglets’ plight was discovered by a woman named Darci Feigel, who worked hard for three weeks attempting to nurse the five of them back to health. Sadly, two of the piglets were too far gone and, despite Darci’s best efforts, they passed away. The remaining three, however, rallied. These little piglets now had a chance to live and a caring rescuer on their side.


Darci knew she wouldn’t have space for three grown farm pigs at her small sanctuary. Searching for a permanent home, she got in touch with Farm Sanctuary. Though we didn’t have room for any new pigs at our own shelters, we were able to find placement through our network. Pasado’s Safe Haven in Monroe, WA, offered lifelong sanctuary to all three piglets.

We’ve transported many pigs over our years of rescue work (and seem to be on a roll), so we knew just what to do to help these piglets along. We guided Darci through the process of obtaining Certificates of Veterinary Inspection, which are necessary for transporting pigs across state lines. When the piglets were ready to go, National Placement Coordinator Alicia Pell drove up from our shelter in Acton, CA, to chauffeur the VIPs north to Pasado’s.

After picking up the trio from Darci, Alicia traveled on to our shelter in Orland, CA, where she and her passengers spent the night. The next day, she drove the 12 hours to Pasado’s, where Gabby, Xena, and Hercules were unloaded into their own room at the shelter’s Healing Center.

On the way, Alicia got to know this trio a little. Xena is somewhat timid and shy. Hercules, the biggest, and the only boy, was a little bossy with his sisters when it came to sharing the solid food they received in addition to their bottles. Gabby, the smallest of the three, is a feisty and hungry gal. During bottle feedings, she demanded to be fed first.

These are just the first sketches of the rich personalities and complex relationships these pigs will grow into as they establish themselves in their new home. They have so much living and discovering ahead.

The story of these three piglets could have ended abruptly and painfully on a California ranch, extinguished as a rancher with only the bottom line on his mind ignored their dwindling lives. Instead their story stretched all the way up the coast, bringing together a string of rescuers, creating new connections and enriching old ones. Now there will be so much more to their stories, so many more experiences and much more time to enjoy them.

The story of Gabby, Xena, and Hercules is just beginning. We’re a part of it, and so are Darci, and Pasado’s Safe Haven, and all the people who will meet these pigs there. And you.

Farm Sanctuary runs the largest rescue and refuge network in North America. It is a network of caregivers and physical resources that connects animals with help and homes. And it is also a network of concern — of witness — that connects their journey with thousands of readers. Through this community of rescuers, adopters, and supporters, we give new life not only to their animals but also to their stories, which have the power to help so many more. You are part of this network. You help us give life to these stories. Please pass them on.

Twilight of the Flock

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

The “Santa Cruz sheep” of our Northern California Shelter belong to a lineage that was once at home on California’s Santa Cruz Island, roaming its hills and valleys 24,000 sheep strong. Today, there are no sheep on the island. Aside from a small population raised by mainland heritage breeders, the flock members at our shelter are probably the last surviving descendents of the island sheep.


Island Dawn

Sheep arrived on Santa Cruz Island in the 1800s, brought by ranchers. As the island’s ranching industry waxed and waned over the ensuing decades, escaped and abandoned sheep formed a feral population, which evolved into a tough, independent new breed.

By the 1980s, sheep ranching had declined substantially on Santa Cruz Island. One remaining ranching family, the Gherinis, retained 10 percent ownership of the island. The other 90 percent had been acquired in 1978 by the Nature Conservancy (TNC). Regarding the feral sheep as an invasive species, the Conservancy began a program of eradication.

Dark Days

TNC’s violent campaign included funding aerial shootings of the sheep and shipping groups to the mainland for slaughter. In 1984, the Gherinis opted to make a profit out of killing the sheep as well. They leased their remaining ranch lands to an “adventure” club, whose members hunted the sheep still living in the area.

In 1997, as they prepared to sell their land on the island, the Gherinis decided to kill off all the remaining sheep there. TNC and the National Park Service (NPS) agreed to help by organizing a hunt. It looked like the end for the Santa Cruz sheep, who had survived on their own, and weathered the lethal harassment of their human neighbors, for at least 70 years.


Refuge on the Mainland

Friends on the mainland, however, were ready to put up a fight. When TNC and NPS announced they were going to kill the sheep, the local humane agency and area citizens joined with Farm Sanctuary to stop the cruel hunt. We offered to take hundreds of the animals and launch a national rescue and adoption effort to place as many sheep as possible into safe, loving homes. After immense public pressure and media attention, the Gherini family agreed to release 200 of the sheep to Farm Sanctuary, and we welcomed this flock to our shelter in Orland, CA.

That was 18 years ago, and they have been good years for these sheep. Most remained stalwartly independent and wary of humans, and we left them to enjoy their pasture largely undisturbed, intervening only when they needed us. During the dry season, when grazing was sparse, we provided hay. When a sheep was sick or injured, we gave them care, and as the flock became older and more vulnerable to predators, we began shepherding them in from the hills at night. Some of the bolder sheep, and the few who arrived as lambs, became friendly with us. For the most part, however, they continued life much as they had on the island, roving our stunning hill pastures everyday. Only, here they were safe from persecution.


Old Age

The hardy Santa Cruz sheep remained strong and healthy for many years. Eventually, however, those years caught up to them. We have now lost most of the flock to old age. As we mourn these departed members of our shelter family, and with them the gradual ending of an era, we are also doing more than ever for the surviving flock mates, who now require geriatric care.

We monitor these venerable sheep closely, with an eye to maintaining their comfort and mobility. Most of them are blind and experience mild to severe arthritis; about a third of the flock receives pain medication. Many have few to no teeth left, and we give these sheep a special mash of soaked feed that’s easy for them to eat. Because the Santa Cruz sheep remain essentially feral, they must be treated differently from our domestic sheep, who are inured to human interaction (and in many cases quite enjoy it). In order to minimize our time spent handling them, and thus minimize their stress, we administer their care very efficiently.

The Santa Cruz sheep live together in a special-needs pasture, where we can easily visit them for care. Despite their infirmities, most still prefer to spend all day outside. When nighttime temperatures drop too low, we bring them into the barn to keep them safe from exposure.

Flock Strong

When the flock has slept in the barn at night, it’s always Karana who leads the charge back out to pasture the next morning. The last of the female sheep rescued from the island, Karana is an important figure in the herd. She has arthritis in her shoulders, for which she receives daily pain medication, but that doesn’t slow her down or prevent her from making sure the guys know who’s in charge. She’s also a comforting influence in the group. In stressful situations, many of the others will flock to her for reassurance.
Another flock leader is Riccardo, the most active of the group. He is one of the few who shows little sign of arthritis. He has his teeth, and his sight remains normal. When it’s time for health checks, he still has plenty of vigor to give caregivers the runaround, dashing and jumping out of their grasp. With his flock mates, meanwhile, he is something of a caregiver himself: The blind sheep will call out if they get separated from the flock, and it is always Riccardo who calls back to help them find their friends again.

Keeping the Light

Today, 15 Santa Cruz sheep remain at the shelter. Sheep are considered old around 12 years of age, but these sheep are all at least 18, making them some of the oldest sheep we have ever heard of. They have spent all their lives in the sunshine and fresh air, with the earth beneath their hooves and the smell of grass in their nostrils, heeding their instincts, finding comfort and strength in their flock. They have lived as they wished, experiencing the full arc of life. And now, as they come to the end of that arc, they have us to keep their final days contented, peaceful, and full of dignity. It is a privilege.