Interview with Lorri Bauston, Founder of Animal Acres

Lorri Bauston Interview

Lorri Bauston
Photo by Doris Lin

Lorri Bauston co-founded Farm Sanctuary in 1986 and founded Animal Acres in 2005. I had the opportunity to interview Bauston at the Taking Action for Animals conference in July of 2008, not long after the airing of the 30 Days episode in which a hunter spent 30 days living with a vegan family and volunteering for PETA and Animal Acres.

How did you become interested in animal rights?

Well, in one sense, I think I was born an animal rights activist.

Since a very young age, I’ve had a natural affinity for animals and was rescuing them. But that’s an experience I think most of us did have. Society takes it out of us. You know, it whittles away at our compassion. It’s learning to act on your compassion, and I was very fortunate that at the age of 15 or 16, I just came to the conclusion myself that if I loved animals, why am I eating them? Couldn’t put the two together. Not surprising, I think that’s the age when you do start thinking for yourself and making these life decisions. That was really my first activist move and I’m happy to say that it actually led me into a whole career of helping to protect farm animals. Then the farm animal sanctuary movement that I helped found actually came out of seeing the direct need for a place for farm animals to go, to have safe refuge. To be rescued from meat, dairy, egg and poultry industries. So that was really a direct result of seeing firsthand how these animals are suffering.

How did you decide to found Animal Acres?

Animal Acres was founded partially as a continuation of my work as co-founder of Farm Sanctuary. I opened the first shelter for farm animals in 1986, as co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, and that shelter was started because when I was researching stockyards, factory farms and slaughterhouses, to see and learn firsthand what was happening and what I could do to help alleviate suffering.

We found Hilda, a sheep, on a stockyard dead pile, and I was astounded. I mean, I was a vegan at that time, but I didn’t expect to see such callous cruelty - that animals that were too sick and injured to stand would just be thrown alive on a pile of dead animals at a stock yard. It turned out she was just suffering from heat stress. There was nothing else wrong with her, and they didn’t even want to take two minutes to help revive her. That’s, again, typical of an industry that truly, and I can say this now after over 25 years of researching this industry, truly sees animals only as commodities. They do not see them as living, sentient beings.

I’m really happy for my role in developing the farmed animal sanctuary movement, because I think that has been a really effective tool to help people see that farmed animals are living, sentient beings. They come to a sanctuary, they kiss a cow, they give a pig a belly rub, they cuddle with a turkey and the turkeys come running up to you and sit on your lap just like a cat. Pigs, oh my gosh, they’re just so much fun and, you know, people get a chance to see it. Not only people who never thought of farmed animals as animals, but even those of us already working in animal protection.

Twenty years ago, when Farm Sanctuary started, there were hardly any shelters. There were none of them, actually, working on farmed animals campaigns. And the general feeling in our own movement was, “Oh my gosh, we can barely get people to care about whales and dogs, how are we going to get them to care about chickens and cows?” I’m really happy to say that they do care about chickens and cows. They just don’t know how these animals are being treated. And now we have laws being passed, and we have 25 farmed animal sanctuaries around the country, including the newest one, Animal Acres in Los Angeles. Animal Acres is now just three years old. We’re just a baby, and yet we raised enough money to purchase our beautiful million dollar farm which, of course, in L.A., is what everything costs. And we’ve had tremendous, lovely supporters, we’ve had media attention, we’ve saved over 500 animals in just a couple of years.

I’ve seen, again, the need for farmed animal sanctuaries, the role they play and how important it is to continue this work.

How many animals does Animal Acres have now, and what kinds of animals are there?

You know, it varies just about every week, because we respond to cruelty cases. Most recently, just two weeks ago, on July 4, we took in 196 baby – we call them “baby Hueys,” they’re actually called broilers. Isn’t that awful? That’s literally what the industry calls them – broilers. Chickens used for meat production. They were actually found dead and dying in crates at the Oakland Airport, because the U.S. Postal Service ships live chicks when they’re just a day old. They’re just thrown into boxes with no food, no water. You know the conditions in airports for people, let alone animals, so that was a case where, again, because we have a new sanctuary in Southern California, they now know about us and they contacted us. We’re happy to help. We’ve also taken in over 25 goats the last couple of weeks because of the foreclosure crisis. Certainly we work on the institutionalized cruelty problems, like the chicks being transported and these routine, standard industry practices which result in so much cruelty. We save animals from that institutionalized cruelty, from laying hens to pigs to veal calves. But we’re also here for the forgotten farm animals. The ones that, for example, are abandoned just like dogs and cats because of the foreclosures. So of course, many of them were pregnant, so we have lots of little babies, which is always fun. So, at any given time, I think we’re now up to about 300 animals, but it does vary. And that’s the nature of a shelter that also does adoption and placement.

You also do adoptions?

We’re always looking for loving homes. If anybody out there wants to adopt farm animals, please call us. We’ll work with you to make sure you have a proper shelter set-up, and housing and feed and how to care of these animals. In fact, just next week we have an adoption going on. With nine billion produced in the United States, needless to say, you can never do enough. You rescue the ones that you can, but you cannot rescue every single animal.

So it’s vitally important that these animals become animal ambassadors. We have a very active education program. We have an event every month, sometimes two or three a month. We have humane education tours, kids coming up constantly from the L.A. unified school district and other districts, and tours every Sunday. I mean, it’s very important that the animals be given their job once they’re at a sanctuary. It’s their only job. Other than that, they get to sleep and eat all the time. But their job is really to be ambassadors, to teach people, and we saw this most recently on a show called 30 Days, a national reality show where they sent out a hunter, George, from North Carolina, to live with a vegan family, and he spent a lot of time at Animal Acres. You know, I wasn’t able to convince him. We didn’t hit it off. Who did convince him was little Sugar, a little veal calf that he actually helped go out on the rescue with, and he bonded with, and I matched up George and Sugar.

George took care of Sugar and really bonded with this little guy. We also showed George the cruelty of veal calf farms and the dairy industry, and that had an impact, too. In fact, it’s available on iTunes, and you can download it for two bucks. It’s a great educational tool. But yeah, we see how the animals reach people and they get into people’s hearts and they get into people’s souls, and it has a profound impact on people.

Have you heard from George since then?

No, we haven’t. I have to send him a picture of Sugar. I think I’ll be doing that when we get back. Now I don’t know if he went vegan or vegetarian, but I know his eyes really opened. He did say publicly on television that he’s against factory farming, intensive confinement operations, so that’s a good start. Every step is important.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

One last thing, please, please, please, if you love animals, we’re going full circle here, please consider not eating them.