A Refuge for Everyone
For more than a decade, eight acres in the southern part of Tiverton have been a refuge for abused and neglected animals, along with the volunteers who help care for them. This month’s Rhode Island Spotlight profiles the West Place Animal Sanctuary - how it all began and why it has been a go-to place for wildlife rehabilitation and destination for unwanted animals. Jim Hummel introduces us to the woman who left a job in the corporate world to focus full-time on the animals.
For more information about the West Place Animal Sanctuary, click here.
Every Wednesday morning the animals are waiting for Janice Sarafian. They know the volunteer at the West Place Animal Sanctuary in Tiverton will arrive bearing treats. Usually it’s blueberries, but today it is crackers. And it becomes a controlled chaos as she tries to make sure everyone gets a piece of the action.
One of the first things you notice on a visit to West Place is that every single one of the dozens of farm animals, birds and wildlife has a name. And there are a lot to keep track of: Johnny is one of the three horses; Bobbert, one of eight alpacas; Stumpy is a goose who cannot fly and Sadie: one of two goats and several sheep. Then there is Peepers, a turkey who came here eight years ago with broken toes, a broken leg and broken wing.
Presiding over it all: Chester, a Narragansett Heritage Turkey, as found on the side of the road in South County, but has become the unofficial mayor of this eight-acre refuge for animals that have been abused, neglected, orphaned or injured.
They are here to live out their lives, however long they may be.
Taylor: ``In order to make sure we get everybody in and get the right head count we name them.’’
Wendy Taylor founded the nonprofit in 2007, eventually trading her job as the managing partner of a law firm in Providence for days on the farm that leave her simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated.
Taylor’s motivation: a fire in 2003 that claimed most of her just-renovated historic home in the southern end of Tiverton, along with two dogs, six cats and a goat. She recalled her thinking at the time.
Taylor: ``In order to sort of balance the scales or make things right, maybe I could donate to an animal organization. And I thought about it, that was a really good suggestion. I probably should have done that because I could have just written a check and moved on and gotten on with it. But I was too hands-on of a person for something like that and I thought maybe I can start my own non-profit and just help a little bit more.’’
Taylor didn’t envision at the time what West Place has become today: a go-to place for wildlife rehabilitation and a sanctuary for farm animals, with dozens of volunteers who descend on the farm every week, committed to keeping the operation running smoothly.
Ferrari: ``It is my favorite day of the week.’’
Dawn Ferrari began volunteering several months ago for a two-hour shift every Wednesday morning.
Ferrari: ``It gives me a sense of purpose. It makes me feel like I’m doing something good, and I care so much about animals and I just strongly agree with what Wendy is doing here. And it just makes me feel really, really good. And I’m proud to be part of this.’’
Butler: ``All the week I’m in a suit and on Wednesdays I’m in this and this is probably the hardest work I do all week.’’
John Butler has been a volunteer here for the past year, taking one day off from a sales job in Boston that he commutes to from Providence the rest of the week.
Butler: ``They touch you, they move you, they give you a sense of bigger than life. I guess because I go into the city every day, doing the same thing and I’m on the commute. When I come here I realize there’s so much more to life, these little things make a big difference. Just walking in every morning and seeing all those little faces staring at you, ready to eat, and they’re excited to see you. Everyone has a name because everyone here is somebody. And we want to make sure they know that. This is their happy place for the rest of their lives.’’
Serafian makes the drive from Cranston early every Wednesday morning.
Serafian: ``I’ve looked into volunteering for Roger Williams and Mystic Aquarium, but it just wasn’t the same. You don’t get the one-on-one there that you do here. These animals are all over you and it’s their home. That’s the best part. It’s hard not to just spend time playing and then you realize I’ve got work to do.’’
West Place began modestly more than a decade ago, but grew as the word got out about the work Taylor was doing.
Taylor: ``It all came by necessity. Obviously if we do waterfowl rehab, we knew we needed a water source for the bird, so the pond started. Then a tiny little barn that existed, which was almost falling down, we knew wasn’t big enough to do what we wanted to do, so that came tumbling down and a newer, bigger, better farm went up in its place. And then two pastures turned into eight pastures, which is now part of a rotational grazing system.
In the early years she was still practicing law, but found the pull of the farm increasingly strong.
Taylor: ``I came home from work one night and my husband said: `What are you doing?’ And I said: `What do you mean?’ And he said: `You can’t do this anymore.’ And I said: `What is this?’ And he said: `You’re working two full-time jobs, you’re half an hour away for 10 hours a day, six days a week, and then when you’re here you’re trying to scramble and make up for this. You’ve got to stop working two jobs.’”
He told her to pick one - and Taylor chose West Place - eventually closing her practice.
Taylor: ``Now I’m surrounded by 50 volunteers that all get it. And they think what we do is amazing. So I’m not a fish out of water anymore, I’m the not the oddball. I’m in my element now. I’m surrounding by people who appreciate the fact that West Place exist.
Along the way, Taylor was certified by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to be a wildlife rehabilitator, after taking classes and tests, working as an apprentice, getting a permit, then eventually a license.
Last week Taylor personally oversaw the every-15-minute feedings of a baby starling that someone found and brought to the sanctuary.
Taylor: ``You learn by doing, you learn by observing, by having an emergency get thrown at you and that animal has life and death on the line and you’re the person that needs to figure out how to fix it.’’
We were there the day Stumpy the goose and Mrs. Stumpy, as she is known, welcomed their five baby goslings into the world. Stumpy has Angel wing, which prevents him from flying.
And while this is Stumpy’s permanent home, West Place will rehabilitate about 200 birds, geese and ducks this year alone, releasing them into the wild to make room for others coming in.
Taylor: ``We have ducks, turkeys, both wild and domestic, we have geese, swans, chickens, pheasant, partridge, peacocks, horses, a pony , sheep, goats and Alpaca.
Which means there is a tremendous amount of work to do, from feeding and cleaning - to keeping up on the grounds. Taylor says she could not do it all without the core of volunteers who come to the farm for 14 two-hour shifts every week.
Taylor: ``In order for me to do that part of what it takes to make a nonprofit run, I needed people doing the everyday hands-on care. The feeding, the cleaning, the animal enrichment and then just generally giving them love. Something they hadn’t gotten, many of them hadn’t gotten in their former lives.
Ferrari: ``Part of it is interacting with these animals, this is their last home and their enjoyable place and so to bond with them. And they’re all - obviously with the exception of the rooster today and Bobbert sometimes - they’re the sweetest animals. The sheeps and the goats are just so sweet and just awesome animals.’’
All of the volunteers say it was what Taylor has created here and how it evolved that convinced them to come on board.
Butler: ``Her story is what inspired me to come here, it’s really what moved me. I had looked at other sanctuaries. I had looked at zoos, I’d looked at all kinds of things. But at the end of the day, after reading her story, I thought: this is where I should be. It felt genuine.’’
Alzaibak: ``She’s out here with us, she inside writing the grants, she’s a million places at once and still has a smile on her face.’’
Elaina Alzaibak began volunteering here last summer and is back this year to supervise interns, part of West Place’s educational program.
Alzaibak: ``Her passion for this place is tangible. You get here and you just see her excitement, you see her care and I think it helps all of the volunteers and interns, (they) want to live up to her expectations and her dreams for this farm.’’
Taylor: ``Kids can get their education about many things in the summer from a lot of places. They can go to museums, they can go to sailing school, but there aren’t too many place that try to talk about and treat about the ethical treatment of farm animals, especially ones that have come from abuse cases.’’
Taylor would like to expand and get a second property - but many of her future plans are contingent on securing the funding to do it - a constant challenge in running any nonprofit organization.
Butler: ``I have to be honest, initially I came here, like I said, to do something unselfish. I thought I was going to come here and change their lives, but really, at the end of the day, these animals changed my life. I will never be the same person again.’’
In Tiverton, Jim Hummel, for The Rhode Island Spotlight.