In the 16 years since she founded Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary in Ravenna, Ohio, Annette Fisher has witnessed firsthand the the scars left by animal abuse. But while she works everyday to rescue and rehabilitate animals who have suffered from cruelty and neglect, if you had told her twenty years ago that she would found an animal sanctuary, she would have said you were crazy.
It all started with a pig named Janice.
In 1999, Fisher, who had previously owned an advertising agency and a bridal store in Akron, moved to a farmhouse in Portage County. One day, at local tack swap, she met a woman who needed someone to take care of her animals while she was out of town. Fisher volunteered to do it.
What she found in a cramped, cobwebbed corner of the woman’s barn would change her life.
“There were these big brown spiders that looked like they could carry your dog away,” says Fisher, now 52. “And underneath all that lay this little pot-bellied pig, and she lay in all her own filth, her own waste.” The pig, named Janice, could not walk, so over the next few days Fisher did her best to care for her. When Janice’s owner returned, she offered to pay Fisher for her service, but Fisher refused. Instead, she said, “How about you just give me your crippled pig?” The woman agreed.
Janice passed away in 2007, but her legacy lives on at Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary, which Fisher founded shortly after rescuing her. Today, the sanctuary has a staff of 17, many volunteers, and is home to dozens of animals—including sheep, goats, chickens and pigs—who have been seized from abusive or neglectful owners.
Before Happy Trails came along, local authorities often had no way of handling abused and neglected farm animals. Though many local and national organizations existed to take in household pets, in many cases, authorities were forced to euthanize rescued farm animals, or worse, turn a blind eye to their suffering. “We saw this gaping hole that everyone was just walking around or jumping over, and no one was doing anything to patch it,” says Fisher. “And there were thousands of animals falling through.”
Some rescued animals, like Kachina, a dwarf horse who can now walk thanks to custom-made hoof extensions, become permanent residents of the sanctuary. These animals are involved in the sanctuary’s many community outreach programs, which include guided tours, educational events for children and local residents, as well as visits to nursing homes and schools.
For most animals, however, Happy Trails will be just a stop on their journey to a new home. A condition of their adoption is that they will not be used for breeding or food production, or exploited in any way.
One of these lucky animals is Vernon, a pot-bellied pig who arrived at the sanctuary in September. Vernon was found under a tarp in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He had been stabbed, beaten with a pipe, and left to suffer for a week by his owner, who now faces charges for animal cruelty, as well as vandalism and domestic abuse.
Thanks to Happy Trails, Vernon’s wounds are healing and he is in the process of being adopted. Despite losing his left ear in the attack, Vernon still trusts people and is friendly towards strangers. According to Fisher, that is often the case. “The large majority of the animals that come through us really respond to patience, to having a peaceful environment, to feeling safe and to having the experience of people caring for them,” she says. “They get to trust.”
“It’s amazing to watch the transformation and the healing that takes place, not only with the animals, but the people that work with them.”
Andrew Leask likes reading and taking long walks down Market Street. He writes fiction in the company of his wife, Amy, and their two cats, Monty and Nigella.
So you want to get involved?
Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that depends on the support of private individuals. Here are some ways you can help:
Adopt: The adoption process is straightforward and includes a home safety evaluation by a Placement Coordinator.
Sponsor: Those who cannot adopt but would still like to support an individual animal can do so through one-time or recurring monthly payments.
Donate: Donations to Happy Trails are tax deductible. Those who prefer to make non-monetary donations—such as feed or equipment—can find a wish list on the Happy Trails website.
Volunteer: Happy Trails counts on the contributions of dedicated volunteers. Those interested in devoting at least three hours of their time per week are encouraged to apply online.
To begin the adoption process, make a donation, submit a volunteer application, or simply to find out more about Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary, visit happytrailsfarm.org
//CUTLINES: All photos by Andrew Leask
//Annette Fisher and Odessa, a permanent resident of Happy Trails.
//Vernon, a pot-bellied pig, survived a vicious beating by his former owner, and is now in the process of being adopted.
//Kachina, a dwarf horse, is able to walk thanks to custom-made hoof extensions.
//Odessa, who was rescued from neglectful owners, lost her left eye to glaucoma.