The Intern Experience
Connecting with the Animals of Farm Sanctuary
Excerpted from: From Philosophy into Practice: My Experience as an Intern at Farm Sanctuary this Summer by Nandita Shah, 2005
In the near future, I plan to start a sanctuary near Mumbai to promote animal and environmental protection and healthy living. In order to prepare myself for this, I just completed a month-long internship at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York. I would like to share these experiences with all of you.Farm Sanctuary has a property of 175 acres near Watkins Glen. They have about 500 farm animals, who have been rescued in cruelty cases all over the United States. It was a truly amazing experience to spend time with these animals and all the wonderful people at Farm Sanctuary.
At the farm, we had chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, pigs, cows, goats, sheep, and rabbits. All the animals had their own names, and as we worked there, we saw that they had individual personalities. I never learned the names of all the chickens (I suspect there were at least 50 to 60 of them at the farm), but the caretakers could recognize each one and could often tell you something about their histories and personalities, too. Many of them had been rescued from a large Ohio factory farm, which was hit by a tornado.
My personal favorite was a rooster named Mayfly. He came there as the result of a classroom experiment where eggs were incubated and broken open, one each day, to show the children how the chick develops in the egg. At one point, the teacher could not bring herself to kill anymore chick embryos and allowed the last egg to hatch. Mayfly was this lucky chick. Whenever I would pass his barn, I’d call his name and he would come running and start talking. I could never resist picking him up and giving him a hug — and he loved that!
Like most people, I was surprised at the size of the pigs at the farm. The pigs grow to weigh 600 to 800 pounds. I have never seen pigs this size in India, but, in the West, they are bred to grow bigger and faster. These poor animals have trouble supporting their weight. They can hardly walk and often suffer arthritis and deformities in the limbs. They spend a lot of time lying in the hay. They love to pick up the hay and make their own beds.They know their names and have their own best friends whom they hang out with regularly. We had fun feeding the pigs treats — carrots, apples, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. They would grunt in gratitude. Pigs need to roll in mud, because they do not perspire, so it is their only way to cool off. One day, when it was really hot, we gave the pigs the option of showers. The only hitch was that they had to walk to the hose. Most of them didn’t bother to get up, but those who did had a ball!
The goats were a friendly lot — they would come up and let you pet them and really enjoyed it. My favorite was Simon, a friendly pygmy goat who loved to eat. Another favorite was Juniper, who was rescued in winter from a barn where she was left to die without food and warmth. Due to frostbite, she lost a limb, but she is now bravely walking with the help of her prosthesis.The ducks and geese were a crazy lot — loud and busy, but beautiful. Geese mate for life, so there were all kinds of love stories in their barns. Samson and Delilah were an inseparable pair of geese. Samson would fight with any goose who came close to Delilah, so the pair had to be separated from the others and had to have a private pool instead of the big pond to prevent too much drama. Another famous pair was a duck who was in love with a goose. They, too, had to be given their own private place.By far, the highlight of the internship for me was Harold, a baby Jersey calf. He was rescued from a stockyard when he was just two days old by one of the Farm Sanctuary staff at the beginning of my second week there. He was lying, covered in his diarrhea and was being given electric shocks to see if he could stand. He was a “downer” — a term used for those animals who cannot stand up. He was left to die a slow death but was fortunately rescued.
He was thin and unwell when he came and was kept in quarantine. I felt so sorry for him that I would sit in his room with him in my free time, just to give him company and talk to him. With the help of medicine and a lot of love, he recovered and became a beautiful and lively young calf. I had the luck of spending a lot of time with him for his first three weeks, and it was fascinating to see his little milestones — his first soft moo, his first attempt at eating grain, his first run, and his first introduction to the other calves, who accepted him so lovingly even though he was a bit timid. I was happy to see him run with joy when he was finally united with the other calves on the last day of my stay. I would feed him with a bottle, and he would always crave more — he could never have enough! I still miss Harold a lot. He looked like a little deer. He would often look out for me and come running as I approached the barn. When I would leave, he would keep staring quietly at me as if to say, “Can’t you stay?”
Most of the days we interns had to clean the barns at Farm Sanctuary and this was great because we had direct contact with the animals and got to know them.
My internship at Farm Sanctuary was the highlight of this year for me.
Building a Future in Nonprofit Work.
By Michelle Waffner, Shelter intern, April 2000
My internship at Farm Sanctuary served as a launching pad for a career in nonprofit farm animal protection that has spanned over a decade.
It all started back in 2000. I was working a job that I was successful at, but deep down I found myself wondering if what I did was really making an impact in the world. As I grew more dissatisfied with this position, I decided it was time to put in my notice, take a step back, and decide what I truly wanted to do with my life. I had always wanted to intern at Farm Sanctuary, but taking a month out of my busy schedule seemed unrealistic. I decided that before applying for new positions, I would take a month off and apply for an internship. It would be an interesting experience at the very least and could potentially offer more insight into other career options.
I loved working for Farm Sanctuary from day one. There was something so powerful about interning alongside a whole group of people working solely to make the world a better place. With all of the bad in the world, it was empowering to do something that I felt was part of the solution. As a shelter intern, I ended every day sweaty, dirty, and physically exhausted. However, all of that paled in comparison to the feeling that I was doing the right thing. From then on, I knew that I would always work for a nonprofit.
My internship helped me realize not only that nonprofit work was for me but also that I wanted to work to help farm animals in particular. When I came to Farm Sanctuary, I was already someone who didn’t eat animals. I cared about them, in theory, but I’d never had the chance to really get to know animals face-to-face. Spending time with the animals at Farm Sanctuary every day really renewed my conviction that they are thinking, feeling beings deserving of our compassion.
I will never forget meeting Hildegard, the turkey who truly opened my eyes to animals as unique individuals. During my internship, four new baby chicks were rescued, and I went up to the hospital barn to get a look at the new arrivals. As I was standing outside the pen admiring the babies, a female turkey walked up to my side, spread her wings, and looked up at me as if to say, “Hey, what about me?”
I reached down to pet the turkey, whom I would later learn was Hildegard. As I petted her, she settled down, eventually sitting by my feet and closing her eyes in contentment. After that first meeting, I started coming to work a little early each day so that I could stop in and say hello to Hildegard and her companion Claudia. Each time I entered their pen, they would run right over to me to from wherever they were in the yard. They would settle in close to me, sometimes jumping right up in my lap. They would close their eyes and coo in contentment. Before meeting Hildegard, I knew I liked farm animals and didn’t want them abused, but I’d never really interacted with them. Spending time with Hildegard, I really began to understand that turkeys — and all farm animals — experience pain and pleasure and deserve care and protection, just like the dogs and cats we choose to love and make a part of our lives.
Halfway through my internship, I was offered a seasonal job as a tour guide, giving tours of the sanctuary to visitors and helping them experience the same realizations about farm animals that I had. When the summer was over, the opportunity to become a full-time campaign assistant opened up. I decided to apply and dedicate myself to a nonprofit organization I believed in. Since then, I’ve also held the position of education coordinator and education department manager at Farm Sanctuary. Today, I am director of the education department, spanning Farm Sanctuary’s three shelters in Watkins Glen, New York, Orland, California, and Acton, California.
In many ways, I owe my career in nonprofit work to my internship with Farm Sanctuary. Not only did the position serve as a stepping stone in the journey towards where I am today, but it also taught me valuable skills, allowed me to meet many leaders in the animal rights movement, and, most importantly, allowed me to connect with farm animals in a way I didn’t know was possible.
Kiley Stephens, Administration intern, January 2012.
My experience as a Farm Sanctuary intern was incredibly memorable for many reasons. One of the greatest rewards for me was living among other dedicated vegans with the same core beliefs as mine.I lived with four other ladies in Vegan House, during the cold month of January. Although I arrived a bit nervous and not at all sure of what to expect from my new housemates, I immediately felt at ease once we met. They were all shelter interns, and I was interning in Admin, so we all had many stories to exchange when our shifts ended. It was nice having different experiences to share from working in different departments. If any of us had the same day off, one of them would volunteer to take me around the farm to meet the animals and take photos, which was so kind.
Enduring a snowy winter month together was a really fun way to bond as it got dark very early and was usually too cold for outdoor activities. Instead, each night we would relax, talk, cook and bake, eat dinner, sip tea, watch DVDs, and interact just like old friends. Each of my housemates had a positive, unique personality that contributed to the success of our living situation, and I have fond memories of many laughs together. Sharing meals was also a fun way to bond and learn great new recipes. We all enjoyed cooking and baking, so there was never a shortage of delicious vegan food!
There is an amazing energy that comes from a house full of ethical vegans, and I thrived in an environment that nourished a compassionate lifestyle. The comfort of knowing that each one of us was there to make a difference for the animals, and to learn and grow among like-minded individuals, was powerful to say the least.
Although I was able to intern for only a month, I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Farm Sanctuary community. My housemates played a very important role in this positive experience, and I look forward to keeping in touch with each of them.
Colin Henstock, Education intern, May 2010
I grew up in a big agricultural area where most people saw animals as nothing but a commodity to be exploited for profit. I had always felt a deep level of compassion towards animals but had never really met anyone who felt the same way. My internship with Farm Sanctuary was the first time I’d been surrounded by other people who cared about animals in the same way I did.
The group of people I interned with was quite diverse. I remember sitting in the kitchen of Hilda House (the intern housing at Farm Sanctuary’s Watkins Glen, New York, shelter) and getting to know my housemates. Each of their backgrounds was totally different from my own. Despite this, we found an instant connection, because we had all came to Farm Sanctuary for the same reasons.
Each sanctuary is in a relatively secluded area, and the New York shelter is a good 15-minute drive from downtown Watkins Glen. Being a bit secluded contributed to spending lots of time with my housemates and getting to know each other on a deep level. We had a blast exploring the farm and surrounding areas together. The intern houses are very near the Sugar Hill National Forest, and we would also arrange nights to meet up with the other intern house to go hiking. We would stay up late into the night having great discussions about issues like animal rights, veganism, and factory farming. I still remember many of those conversations well to this day.
Everyone else in the house was a much better cook than myself, so I learned a lot about cooking vegan meals from them during my internship. We did a lot of eating and talking about food in general. I picked up so many tips for the best vegan products, restaurants, etc. We also arranged several vegan potlucks with the other intern house.
I still keep in touch with most of the group I interned with. In fact, I have even visited them in other cities. Some, like myself, have gone on to work full-time for Farm Sanctuary or other animal protection organizations. One thing that has been apparent from my interactions with each of them is that interning at Farm Sanctuary made a huge impact on all of us.
By Nora Kramer, shelter intern, April and May 2001
My experience interning at Farm Sanctuary was nothing like what I expected; growing up in New York City, I honestly had no idea what to expect.
I had been working at a corporate investment banking job for two years, and I was burnt out. I’d been looking into nonprofit jobs, but I couldn’t find anything just right, so I continued to languish away in my cubicle, desperate for a change that would allow me to accomplish something meaningful. Donating money didn’t feel like enough; I wanted to spend my days working toward something I believed in and could feel good about at the end of the day.
Then, I visited Farm Sanctuary for its annual Hoe Down event. Thinking back on it now, more than the interesting speakers — in fact, even more than interacting with the animals — what I remember most is the intern who gave us the tour of the farm. I don’t remember her per se, but I remember considering the prospect of taking time out of one’s life to volunteer on a farm for rescued animals. It struck me as a great program that I’d never find — or make — time to experience.
Somehow, sitting in my cubicle one day, staring off into the void of my computer, I remembered the internship program. I knew instantly that I wanted to quit my job and go off to the farm. I went to farmsanctuary.org (when I should have been editing investment reports), got some basic information, and ordered the application. After I found out I’d been accepted, I began excitedly telling people about my plan. It was only then, when people started asking me about the specifics of what I’d be doing, that I realized I didn’t know. In fact, though, I didn’t care. I was leaving my yuppie existence to help farm animals — that was about all I knew, really, and all I needed to know.
Well, to be honest, my first few days of working on the farm did not do much for my open-minded, “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’” mentality. The other interns and I spent our first two days mucking barns in the snowy, cold days of early April. (Yes, it snowed in April — not part of my idyllic vision of spring on the farm!) The third day, we helped Susie, the shelter manager, with chicken health checks. Each month, each animal on the farm is checked to make sure he or she is healthy. We spent nine hours checking chicken vents and toes for infection, giving them shots, and just generally chasing them around the barn. The work was physically taxing, especially compared to my standard days of being lulled into oblivion by the investment banking blabber I’d spent two years reading. The work was as unglamorous as you could get: We raked and pitched dirty straw, scrubbed and scraped poop-covered perches and floors, carried heavy bales of straw from one barn to another, and learned what a healthy — and unhealthy — chicken butt looks like. It was initially quite a shock to my college-educated brain and my nicely-manicured nails.
Quickly, though — hastened surely by the melting snow and rising temperatures — I got over any preconceived snobbish ideas I had about the work I was doing. If I want the animals to be able to be rescued and live happy lives at Farm Sanctuary, I should have no problem putting my muscle where my mouth and my money were and start shoveling. And I did, and it felt great!
My days were spent with the animals, whom I grew to appreciate more and more each day. The weather quickly turned beautiful, and it was a pleasure to be working outdoors every day rather than to waste them away in a cubicle. I got to know many of the animals individually, to learn about different tendencies and likes and dislikes of different species, and to feel that I was directly contributing to an increased quality of life for the animals whose barns I cleaned. I soon noticed that the aches, pains, and strains I’d felt after my first week went away quickly. Although my first instinct had been to say, “This work is too physically difficult for me. Give me some envelopes to stuff!,” in reality, my body just needed a little bit of time to adjust. By the end of my internship, I found the work much less physically challenging, and I even found some new muscles!
My time at Farm Sanctuary was amazing. I’ve never worked harder, and I’ve never felt better. I met a great group of interns and staff from whom I learned about the incredible diversity within the animal rights community and who inspired me to continue to do all I can to fight for the rights of animals — particularly farm animals, whose rights are most blatantly disregarded and yet are also readily ignored by both the average person on the street and, most shockingly, by “animal lovers” and “animal advocates.” I realized that it is typically the least glamorous work that is the most desperately needed, and that nobody should feel too proud to do it.
Farm Sanctuary truly is a sanctuary for farm animals. They get wonderful care and lots of love. However, it is also a sanctuary for people, who can be free of cruelty and surrounded by like-minded, compassionate people in a way that is possible hardly anywhere else in the world.
Anyone who cares about animals and is willing to work for them will have an experience of a lifetime interning at Farm Sanctuary.