It’s no wonder that Farm Sanctuary National Shelter Director Susie Coston is known as “The Farm Animal Whisperer.” She has two decades’ worth of experience running animal sanctuaries, and in her spare time (ha!), she leads our annual Farm Animal Care Conference and mentors others who have started their own sanctuaries.
She shared her valuable insight into the lives and care of farm animals and what it’s like to work in the animal protection movement in a recent Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). Here are some of Susie’s most upvoted responses to Reddit member questions (lightly edited for length).
On encouraging others to live a more compassionate lifestyle:
[Be] patient with others and really [reach] out and meet them where they are. If you are a good cook, unlike myself, inviting people for a very delicious vegetarian/vegan meal and just being warm and positive is a good start. … Everyone has a gift — artists, chefs, writers, storytellers, etc. — and using that gift to spread the message is a great way to contribute and encourage others to be more compassionate.
On getting along with meat-eaters, despite knowing the plight of farm animals:
I always feel it is somewhat challenging especially when they seem to talk about it more knowing I am vegan than I think they would have if I were not. I feel you have to meet people where they are, however, since I put my parents, for example, through a bit of hell most of my teenage life — so me showing intolerance to them for not believing what I believe would be a bit hypocritical. I also see that by not fighting with them about it — by still loving people and just being who you are — many eventually change — maybe not completely but in some ways. My parents are eating far less meat, for example!
On people’s misconceptions about farm animals:
I think it is easy to see them differently because the only exposure most people have to farm animals is when they see them in an environment that is not natural — where they are frightened, where they are overcrowded, not receiving individualize care. We see them here being themselves — happy, sad, funny, etc. When they are not frightened they grieve more outwardly, they play, they are just more comfortable being themselves. … I think there is such a misconception about their sentience — especially birds, since they seem to be harder to relate to than mammals. We see birds — especially mothers arriving with babies, who sleep with a wing wrapped around their child to protect them. It is incredible.
On dealing with the stresses that go along with animal rescue:
I and all my staff struggle with depression — it is not constant but it comes in waves. … It is a battle — but the reward on the sanctuary is seeing animals who are so terrified come to life and be the individuals they deserve to be — seeing those personalities come out that were hidden by fear — and that makes it all worthwhile. … It is hard to grieve for animals that others see as food.
On starting a sanctuary:
Start small — and do not think that rescue is the only thing you should be doing. Education with the animals on your shelters will create many more lives saved. With 10 billion annually in the U.S. alone, rescue is not making a dent in the system. Look at sanctuary holistically — we do rescue, education and advocacy. If you fill your sanctuaries with too many animals and have no time to raise funds you cannot afford to give them the individualized attention they need — and that we are saying as an animal rights community that they deserve. Don’t feel you can do it alone either. You want to start slowly enough so that you can afford to have a staff — so you can have people who focus on various aspects. I think what I see the most in sanctuaries who sadly do not succeed or are always putting out fires is that rescues start out strong but then taking care of barns, doing healthcare, raising funds, etc., fall behind and you get in over your head.
On buying farm animals to save them:
We do not purchase animals because we do not want to put money back into the industry that we are trying to stop. There are more than enough animals to rescue and paying for them just gives money for more to be purchased. I have seen this so many times. Egg-laying facilities love to sell their birds for 1-3 dollars apiece, which seems like nothing, but they end up with pickup costs and transport often making no money from the “spent” hens or losing money so that money they make just helps them refill the barns. Buying a calf at auction is the same — it goes right back into enslaving another being. Saving one by giving money to the industry is not really rescue.
On the future of Farm Sanctuary and the animal protection movement:
I think we are at a tipping point — vegan and vegetarian are now in the vocabulary of most people and there are options that just ten years ago there were not. Celebs are eating these diets — gets the word out even more and social media is really allowing people to see what years ago we could not put out anywhere. We could not do ads because the meat and dairy industry would pull their ads if we did. The world is changing and I have hope that in ten years we will see a huge shift in our diets — towards more plant-based. I also think we have to see a shift in farming — which, to be sustainable without large factories, has to be a huge meat reduction.
See a glimpse into Susie’s daily life at Farm Sanctuary:
You are truly doing God’ work. My husband and I have been primarily vegan since 1984. At that time, we were treated as if we were part of the lunatic fringe. Our day is now coming, however, and not only are we part of the mainstream, people ask us how we did it and some say they envy us. Woof to that, I say. It is people like you who make us realize every day that we made the right decision and that is evidenced in my hubby’s Dr.’s words as he told David if we had not changed our lifestyle, David would have died 25 years ago from heart disease. At each meal we think of those special creatures who are slowly but surely receiving the positive attention they deserve. One day, we hope in our lifetimes, factory farming will be considered the barbaric practice it is. Thank you for being there for all the animals. We truly do appreciate your efforts.
Beautifully said, Kathleen! My hubby and I are the only vegans we know and it’s hard to be different in today’s world. It’s getting better for sure…but I would not have it any other way!! Couldn’t be happier that we did it and I think daily of the horrific abuse inflicted on all animals. I too hope that one day factory farming will be considered barbaric and an absolutely shameful part of our history.
Thank you Farm Sanctuary for the unbelievable work you do day in and day out!!
To animals, YOU are heaven!!
Thank you, Susie, for this incredibly important work that you do! Cheers to creating a peaceful world!
Thank you for your compassionate soul – I just hate factory farming and the cruelty that goes on there to these poor creatures. God bless you.
Thanks for sharing your insight and compassionate example! I had never thought about the fact that others might only see farm animals in conditions where the animals are scared, and therefore the people don’t realize what full personalities the animals have. It made me think of how cats and dogs at an animal shelter are often stressed and anxious, their full personalities not coming out until they are calm and at home with you after adoption, and until you get to know each other. What you said reminded me that people don’t always mean to be insensitive, sometimes they just don’t understand.
I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR TAKING WONDERFUL CARE OF ALL THESE BEAUTIFUL ANIMALS THAT GOD PUT ON THIS EARTH FOR ALL TO ENJOY. I DISLIKE ALL THE CRUELTY THAT GOES ON WITH ALL ANIMALS,
I PRAY THAT THE LORD PUTS AN END TO STOP THIS CRUELTY.
GOD BLESS EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU FOR THE TIME AND EFFORT,AND LOVE FOR ALL THESE ANIMALS.
Thanks so much to everyone at Farm Sanctuary for every moment of love and every moment of tears. Learning about what is happening to animals and educating ourselves is a responsibility we all have living on this smaller planet together. Ignorance on this issue is a thing of the past because news and discussions are everywhere. We all know as children, we were upset seeing animals suffer. We can no longer pretend suffering on a massive scale is not happening. Your work is priceless for the future generations, for environmental education, and for each and every one of those furry little faces that are so fortunate to live at Farm Sanctuary.
Thank you Susie for the work you are doing! My mother was a strong promoter of compassion for all animals in the 60s and I didnt take it too seriously for a while, however her leading by example stayed with me. Thank you for actively promoting this path!
I love Susie Coston and all beautiful souls like her.
Thank you for all you are doing at Farm Sanctuary. It gives me hope!
Oh boy do I relate to your comment about fighting with your parents about this! I still do! But, I do have to say that you are correct: the more you meet them on their wavelength, the more successful your message is.
“Our society has a choice. Do we treat our fellow creatures with cruelty and callousness? Or with compassion, respect, and justice? As humans, we have the freedom to make that choice. With this freedom comes the moral obligation to make responsible decisions.
Animals have no such choice. Because they cannot say no, they are completely vulnerable to whatever the researcher has in store for them, no matter how much pain and suffering is involved. Animals are unable to understand or claim their right to be alive, to be free from pain and suffering, and fulfill their biological potential. Therefore, it is up to humans to recognize and protect those rights for them, just as we are morally obligated to protect infants, the developmentally disabled, and the mentally ill.
It has been said that the moral progress of our society can be measured by the way it treats animals. Animal experimentation — an institutionalized form of exploitation — stands in the way of moral progress. Now is the time to extend our sphere of ethical concern to all creatures.”
The above goes for all sentient beings – factory bred, science experiments, fur-bearing, poached – it’s wrong, unethical, greed-based stupidity – only humans act as if these evils are acceptable and protected by law.
Susie is a compelling example of why my commitment to Farm Sanctuary will continue without interruption. This story by Susie and the images say it all to me and to my wife. People like her, Gene and Martin Linney just keep us going in the face of seemingly unending strife.
Suzie – thank you for faithfully working for the farm animals and never tiring, for your kindness to every one of God’s creatures and for your patience with those humans that still has to see the light. You and your co-workers are a light to the nations and an inspiration to people like us. May Farm Sanctuary’s message reach the whole world and turn the lives of farm animals globally into an oppression free future.
Susie, I wish there were more people like you.
Please keep up the good work. We try to convert people to veganism but it falls on deaf ears. Thank you for what you do. Farm animals need our compassion and care.
Do what you can, no matter how small…each little step becomes huge strides. I never thought I would see the changes I’ve seen in the past 3 years… Vegan and vegetarian are trendy but once the benefits are felt morally, physically and financially, people will change their lifestyle, I’m sure. Education is oh-so-very important. I have seen it personally with friends and family, and sometimes not forcing the issue and waiting for the light bulb to come on makes it all worthwhile. Starting a sanctuary is a dream of mine, and if I don’t realize it, I am happy to know there are others that can. Keep on spreading the word. We ARE making a difference, thanks to you and all of those you’ve inspired.
This is God’s work and it just relieves my heart to mercy to these amazing animals.