Red Barn Farm Rescue: Anatomy of a Cruelty Case

When Dan D’Eramo, Farm Sanctuary’s investigator at the time, arrived at Red Barn Farm, he found 70 animals living in abject misery. The Canaan, New York, property was populated by starving sheep, cattle, guinea fowl, and chickens. A lone pig was locked in a manure-filled barn with sealed windows. Water buckets were frozen over or filled with droppings. There was no food.

“The state of the sheep was especially alarming to me,” said D’Eramo. “They were emaciated, plagued by external parasites, and dehydrated. Some were limping due to lack of hoof care, and others suffered from festering wounds.”

D’Eramo immediately urged the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to investigate. The humane officer who arrived on the scene, however, did not even touch the unshorn sheep, whose thick coats of wool made them appear larger than they really were. He missed what a thorough exam would have plainly revealed: Many of the animals were on the brink of death.

Twenty minutes after arriving on the property, the SPCA closed the case and left. Unwilling to let these animals die, we asked a local veterinarian to perform her own examination. The vet not only corroborated D’Eramo’s findings and recommended seizure but also observed that many of the sheep were pregnant and too malnourished even to produce milk. Nonetheless, when her report was submitted to the District Attorney, jurisdiction was placed back with the SPCA, whose agents again refused to seek a seizure warrant.

Red Barn Farm was clearly in violation of New York State’s anti-cruelty statutes, which prohibit failure to provide adequate sustenance. Often, however, authorities decline to enforce even the meager protections begrudged to animals by the law. Because officers never found dead animals on their visits, they dismissed the case, insisting they had “seen worse” — if true, this is not a comment on the fitness of Red Barn’s care but on the pervasiveness of farm animal neglect.

Although the authorities were not willing to fight for the animals of Red Barn Farm, many community members were. While we continued to pursue legal intervention, neighbors joined us in bringing food and water to the animals and launching a search for the ones the property owner was daily selling for slaughter or pawning to settle old debts.

Knowing that the sheep needed specialized care to survive, our grassroots network successfully pled for the release of 26 animals, including 14 soon to give birth. All were welcomed to our New York Shelter, where we started intensive rehabilitation efforts. The pig, Sally, was also surrendered to us. She arrived underweight but soon began to thrive, growing into an amazing comrade to her close pig friends and a delight to her caregivers.

The pregnant sheep, facing high-risk deliveries, were monitored 24/7. When a ewe named Elle delivered her twins prematurely, the trio was rushed to Cornell University Hospital for Animals to receive emergency care. To our relief, all three responded well and were able to return to the shelter a few days later. Like the other lambs born to the Red Barn survivors, Katherine and Will have known nothing but kindness since their first moments of life.

“The days during the Red Barn Farm case ensued were some of the most devastating and happiest of my tenure at Farm Sanctuary,” says National Shelter Director Susie Coston, “my spirits rising every time we got close to rescuing the animals and then crashing when we were sent back to square one. When all was said and done, the compassion that rose to the surface and saw these innocent animals home gave all of us working on their behalf renewed hope — and the opposition we faced, well, only made us stronger.”