The call came in on December 4th. “There is an animal sanctuary with over 1200 animals that will be out of food in three days. Can you help?” “Of course,” I replied. Three days later we delivered thirty tons of hay and paid for thirty more. At first glance you couldn’t tell the level of neglect the animals were experiencing. The donkeys however, were another story. They stood huddled together in their small corral, standing on feet that made your jaw drop, heads down, & miserable. I have never seen animals so dejected. You could tell they had lost all hope. It was heartbreaking.
We unloaded the truck and left. I thought to myself, “This will buy some time for the rescuers to get up here and get these animals out.” Two weeks later the only
animals removed from the sanctuary grounds were the South American cavies and the donkeys. Once again the animals were running out of food. It weighed heavy on my mind during the day. I couldn’t sleep at night. I told myself “I am an animal food bank. I am not in the business of rescuing sanctuaries”. But the rescuers were not rescuing. Reports of guns on the property and veiled threats were filtering through the animal welfare world. None of the rescuers were willing to put themselves in harm’s way and possibly lose their lives if something went south while the “caretakers” were still living there. I didn’t believe it was in my cards to be shot anytime in the near future. So I talked it over with my husband and we decided we had to go.
I gathered my team and we drove to Niarada on December 21st, planning on staying for seven days. Four days into our stay, the freezing fog we had been experiencing, broke…revealing an incredibly disturbing scene. Animals were dying every day, there was no shelter and Mother Nature was unleashing her wrath on over 1000 sick and extremely malnourished creatures. After seeing the situation for what it was, we realized we couldn’t leave. We were now in the business of rescuing sanctuaries.
The first thing we did was to get the llamas rounded up out of the hills and into make shift shelter. It took us four days to bring them in. Ninety percent of the herd was gelded but the other ten percent were wreaking havoc with the females. We realized every female on the sanctuary grounds was probably pregnant. The males were literally killing the females by riding them so hard.
We took immediate action and separated them.
In the following three weeks, we mended fences, fixed broken machinery with grossly inadequate tools, hung tarps to break the biting winds, set up nurseries for new mothers and babies, bottle fed newborns every four hours through the night whose mothers were too starved to produce milk, rubbed life back into frozen little bodies found out on the snow covered ground, removed the dead from the fields every day for weeks on end, and cried alone at night behind closed doors. We coordinated hay transports, processed a mountain of paperwork, scheduled fuel deliveries, volunteers and animal transports.
We learned about camels, llamas, emus and hay. We learned that the 4 tons of hay a day being fed to over 1000 animals was full of weeds and cheatgrass. No wonder they were starving to death. When I questioned one of the “caretakers” about this, his answer was “what they don’t eat they bed down on.” I bought 22 tons of new hay the next day. Good hay. It takes two weeks for the nutrition to stop the deaths. Those were the longest two weeks of our lives. We watched Muhone, the biggest of the two camels crawl across his corral on his knees and listened to him cry in the night. The horses didn’t fare any better. They were hard to look at. One had a hoof so long and curled up, that it looked like a snail. The little pony with a broken hip was the one that made me choke up. He walked around in circles. Always circles. Desperately trying to get to the hay. “Oh no,” I was told, “there’s nothing wrong with him, he was in a rodeo, he always does that.”
The emotional toll and physical toll was hard on all of us. Our work day began at 6am and ended at 10:00p.m. We did things that we never could have imagined we would be doing. We went to Niarada knowing nothing about livestock and got a crash course in what it’s like to rescue a sanctuary.
It’s a lesson no one should have to learn.
In the end scores of people came together, donated, transported and made room in their rescues to save the lives of the animals at The Montana Large Animal Sanctuary & Rescue. We re-homed 764 animals in less than a month. They went to New York, Colorado, California, Illinois, Texas, Washington and many points in between.
The rescue of the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary is believed to be the largest rescue of a sanctuary in history.
AniMeals was recognized by the Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who said,
“I commend you for stepping up to the plate to be a leader in the heroic rescue and relocation of the animals from the Large Animal Sanctuary. You and your volunteers are truly an asset to our state.”