This spring two sheep, survivors of the meat industry, joined the sanctuary family at our shelter in Acton, CA. We were excited to welcome them — and relieved. Though taken into custody by an animal-control agency, Mo and Koda Mae might never have made it to refuge.
We monitor an online adoption board to check for farm animals at animal-control facilities near our Southern California Shelter in Acton. That’s how we found out about Mo, a young sheep picked up by officers after he was found running loose.
In California, stray farm animals retrieved by animal control must be held for 14 days, during which period their legal owners can reclaim them. (Dogs, by contrast, are required to be held for only four to six days.) At some shelters, farm animals become available for adoption once any stray or evidence holds expire. Farm animals available for adoption in the shelter system where Mo was held are offered to the general public on a first come, first served basis, with a $30 adoption fee for sheep. There is absolutely no screening process for adopters. While many of these overburdened shelters forgo screenings for dog and cat adopters as well, these traditional companion animals are less likely to face the perils that we suspect befall farm animals. Naturally, we fear that many of these farm animals are “adopted” not as companions but as sources of food or income.
During Mo’s holding period, the shelter was also housing another sheep found as a stray, a female with a number spray-painted on her side. We had hoped to save her as well, but she was reclaimed by her legal owner before the holding period expired. We can assume she was returned to a life in production; like all sheep, she deserved better.
Mo remained unclaimed as his holding period came to an end, but we knew we had to act fast. The shelter opened its doors at 8 a.m., and to ensure that they were the first people in line for Mo, National Farm Animal Placement Coordinator Alicia Pell and caregiver Daniel Singleton arrived at 5 a.m. When the shelter opened, they immediately signed up to adopt Mo. Minutes later, the shelter received a call inquiring about him. Our new friend was in the clear, however, and soon on his way to sanctuary.
Like Mo, Koda Mae was a stray. Found wandering in the desert, she had a blue “B1” painted on her side and a red-marked tail, indicating that she had likely been exploited at a breeding facility. Since she was also emaciated, we suspect that she may have escaped during transport to slaughter as a “spent” breeder.
When Southern California Shelter Manager Alexandra Caswell and volunteer Cameron O’Steen arrived at 7:00 a.m. to pick up Koda Mae on the day she became available, they discovered that she was not at the shelter where she had been listed as a resident but at a different facility. Upon finding out that Alexandra and Cameron intended to adopt Koda Mae, a staff person kindly reached out to the second shelter to ensure that the sheep was there and would be available when the shelter opened. With assurances of Koda Mae’s location and availability, Alexandra and Cameron rushed to make sure that they were, in fact, the first to arrive. A staff person at the second shelter was happy to send Koda Mae off to a life at Farm Sanctuary.
Shelter to Sanctuary
Throughout the country, the circumstances of farm animals at animal-control facilities are precarious. These animals arrive at shelters through various channels: they’re surrendered by caregivers; confiscated in cruelty and neglect investigations; or found loose after escaping backyard flocks or herds, live markets, farms, or transport vehicles. For many, the reprieve is brief. Because farm animals are widely viewed as commodities, they are at heightened risk of falling into the hands of “adopters” who mean to exploit and kill them.
The vulnerability of farm animals calls for extra vigilance, but current statutes and policies do not provide them this protection. Typically, adopters can acquire the animals without undergoing any kind of screening — and often by paying an adoption fee well below the market price for the animal. Some shelter workers are well aware that “adopted” farm animals are being used for food. One Farm Sanctuary staff person recalls being casually asked, while picking up a goose, if she worked for a restaurant; a member of our rescue and refuge network was once told that the turkey she was adopting would make a great Thanksgiving dinner.
Luckily for the animals, there are also compassionate animal control employees who, despite the dearth of official protections for farm animals, do their best to ensure that these animals find their way to safe homes. These caring allies have seen a large influx of farm animals due to the unique mixture of rural and urban areas and the presence of a flourishing backyard butchery industry. Our sweet Bear, for one, was rescued when a shelter adoption coordinator recognized that the abandoned lamb needed immediate medical attention and reached out to a local volunteer; within an hour of that message, Bear was on her way to our veterinarian.
Sheep, like all farm animals, are unique individuals every bit as deserving of protection as dogs and cats. We’re thankful for the animal-control staff who, recognizing this, help animals make their way to sanctuary.