Kathy Stevens has seen the economy hit her community hard. Not only have people been hurt by the instability, but the animals have seen some tough times as well. Stevens, the director of the Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS), has seen her resources and space dwindle while the requests for her organization to take in animals have gone through the roof. “We’ve been looking for additional property because we have just gotten to the point that we’re turning animals away every single day,” says Stevens. “We can’t overcrowd our facility because then we’re putting the animals at risk and not helping anyone or anything.”
Stevens is still confident in her and her staff’s ability to do the best they can despite some of the obstacles. “We’re not struggling at all—we’re just trying to do the greatest good for the greatest number,” says Stevens. “We want to provide a loving safe-haven for all.” The CAS takes in horses, cows, goats, sheep, ducks, turkeys, and almost every other farm animal. Stevens says that a lot of the animals who come in are from hoarding situations, and most have psychological problems to go along with their physical health issues. “You’ve got a whole range of behavior issues that can be a real challenge. You get very good—very quickly—at tending to their medical needs,” says Stevens. “The psychological damage can cause some to retreat or lash out in fear.”
Stevens knows better than anyone the amount of work it takes to heal these animals. “We’ve learned that you have to look at every single animal as an individual. We take them when they are ready and let them dictate the terms of how quickly they come along.” Stevens founded the Catskill Animal Sanctuary at a “pivotal moment” in her life. She was offered a job as the principal of a brand new high school, but she had already spent 10 years as a teacher and wasn’t sure that was the path she wanted to continue down. “I used it as a moment to switch gears and combine my love for education with my deep, deep passion for helping animals,” Stevens shares.
Her two “loves” have dovetailed beautifully. CAS is a respected teaching sanctuary and offers a host of educational programs that Stevens and other volunteers take into the schools around the area. The program’s curriculum and messages range from kindergarten to college level. “The speakers that we bring in tailor their material to the ages of the audience,” says Stevens. “If we’re at an elementary school we use lessons that teach compassion, but with an older audience we’ll address tough issues like agribusiness and harmful legislation.” Stevens also actively invites people to visit the sanctuary to participate in some of the onsite educational programs such as learning about vegan options for their diet as well as taking part in their “Compassionate Cuisine” program. CAS offers a weeklong program for children called “Camp Kindness” where participants immerse themselves in farm animal issues and learn something new each day.
For Stevens, the greatest part of her work is knowing how much good she is doing for these animals. “There are those moments when you take animals out of wretchedness, and they say ‘Thank you’ or ‘I love you’ with either a slow blink, or they’ll press their head into your chest as if they’re giving you a hug—it reminds me of the good that we do.” To help the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, you can sponsor an animal through a monetary donation, or foster an animal in your home.
For more information, please visit CASanctuary.org