Left to Die: How 5 Cows and 3 Pigs Escaped Death, and the Tragic Fate of 70 More Who Didn’t

On Monday February 5th, the Detroit Free Press released an article describing the farmed animal cruelty case in Livingston County that SASHA was a part of.  Now, we’d like to share our own eyewitness account of the event. Thank you to Brece Clark, Animal Care Associate at SASHA Farm, who wrote the article. Please direct any questions to info@sashafarm.org.

Exposure of animal cruelty on modern factory farms, whether for meat, eggs or dairy, has long been documented by animal rights groups. Even the standard government stamped approved practices such as mutilating infant piglets, forcibly impregnating female cows or gassing male baby chicks alive are enough to make even the most insensitive person weak in the stomach. Many of those who support animal agriculture often argue that such conditions and practices don’t exist on small farms. Farmers have coined misleading phrases like “happy meat” or “the worst day is their last day” to persuade the public that it’s ethical to confine, exploit, kill and dismember innocent beings. The following article recounts the experiences of animals raised on a small farm.

Have you ever gotten a phone call, and quickly realized that your life would never be the same? On Friday, September 29th 2017 SASHA Farm Animal Sanctuary received a phone call from the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department regarding animals at a small Michigan dairy farm. The animals were reportedly living in a filthy environment with poor body conditions. Dead animals were also sighted on the property. After repeated failed attempts to contact the farm owner, the Sheriff’s department obtained a search and seizure warrant to remove the animals for which they requested the help of SASHA Farm Animal Sanctuary.

The property was located on a back-country road with a large white farmhouse overlooking a series of red barns. The yard was adorned with expensive farm equipment and one could imagine that this once represented the iconic American dairy farm.  The further we entered the property, however, the more that signs of abandon became apparent. There were no signs of life; only dilapidated barns, sheds with broken windows, overgrown weeds, and an eerie sense of desertedness. Attached to a rundown building full of equipment was a make shift pen, patched together with rusty gates and broken boards. Inside the pen was a rancid mixture of mud, manure and urine nearly three feet deep. This was where we first laid eyes on the animals for whom we’d been called to rescue.

Wading in the rotten waste well up to their knees, four emaciated cows stood helpless. Their bodies had become so intensely ravaged by dehydration and lack of food that we felt as if we were observing a prison camp for the first time. Bones protruding through their skin, eyes sunken into their skull and feces caked all over their frail and deteriorating bodies, it was clear that these animals hadn’t had food for weeks. The only water trough available held just a few inches of water, though we found it so green and slimy that it more closely resembled swamp water.  Even still, perhaps the most frustrating and heartbreaking of all was that directly across from these dying animals stood a barn full of hay. Someone had simply chosen not to feed them.

As we looked closer, we also observed dead bodies in the animal’s pen as well. Five full bodied skeletons of former cows sank in the same reeking manure pit as the four starving survivors. This had become their home. The realization of such a horrendous experience makes you feel empty inside. Imagine day after day feeling the pains of hunger and thirst wither away at your body, all the while having no other choice but to stare helplessly at a satiating food source just 20 yards away. Imagine being trapped in a pit of your own feces and urine while you watch your friends and family die a slow and painful death around you. Imagine then living amongst the decaying corpses, trapped and afraid, knowing that the same fate awaits you in the coming days.

To get the animals out we trudged through the knee-high pit of waste. The top of our boots soon filled with feces and urine as we struggled to not get stuck. We didn’t care of the cost to ourselves, we knew we had to free these animals. The task presented many challenges but the team at SASHA Farm Animal Sanctuary worked together to maneuver and gain the animals trust. We believe they knew we were there to help. Within an hour we had them loaded onto the trailer.

Shortly thereafter we heard grunting sounds nearby. We followed the sounds through an old barn packed with junk and debris, where we discovered three young piglets stuck in a dark corner. Their pen was small, four sided and solid, offering no sunlight or fresh air. They too were standing in so much urine and feces that the smell nearly knocked you over. Though scared, the three little piglets came with us willingly. It was hard to deny their expressions of relief once we removed them from such a pitiful, dark dungeon of existence.

The Sheriff’s department also asked if we’d visit a second farm owned by the same farmer. Reports had come in from suspicious neighbors and the officers felt that it was worth visiting given the circumstances. With the four emaciated cows and three little piglets in tow, we held a dreadful breath pulling up to the second farm just a few miles away.

It appeared not much different than the first– a traditional 1900’s style farm. As we explored the property further, however, we soon realized the gravity of the situation. There inside an old barn, layering its decrepit floor were seemingly countless dead bodies. Bodies even stacked on bodies. From skulls to rib cages, every inch of this barn had become layered with the skeletons and bones of dead cows. 70 animals altogether. Some still had their black and white hide attached but most had been eaten away to nothing. We even identified dead baby calves amongst the carnage lying on top of their dead mothers. Nothing could have prepared us for such a scene. We cried openly for these poor animals, we cried for their misery, their neglect, their torture. Our feelings of devastation and helplessness could have only been rivaled by the victims themselves– the innocent beings whom life and man had terribly wronged.

As we searched deeper into the barn our attention shifted to a back-side corner. Standing solemnly among the remains of his former herd mates and family members, we met the gaze of one black and white cow. A sole survivor. His body ravished from hunger, bones protruding, one could barely identify this animal as a living being. Had he been lying down, we could have easily mistaken him for one of the dead.  Living in filth, no food and no water, to even move around this poor emaciated cow was forced to step on top of the bodies of the others. God knows how long he had been trapped in this nightmare. Encouraging him onto the trailer was challenging. His body was so weak that he could barely muster the strength to step up. We took our time though, gave him some of the first food he’d had in weeks and eventually managed to get him inside.

Before driving away, we took one final look at the animals we’d rescued. Eight innocent animals in total who did nothing to deserve this—mere victims of an oppressive system and an overtly abusive caretaker. We could speculate over the trauma they’d endured, but it’s more likely incomprehensible. All we could do was make them a promise that their suffering had finally come to an end. The humans that would enter their lives from now on would offer nothing but love and kindness. Their lives would be valued and respected. We would do everything possible to provide them safe, comfortable, happy lives with us (never for us) at SASHA Farm Animal Sanctuary.

What the animals would soon discover is that SASHA Farm Animal Sanctuary is a place of refuge. Four legged or two, wings or fur, snouts or beaks, we believe all life has value. We believe a cow, or a pig has as much preference to live as a dog, cat or human and we honor that desire by giving it back to them. Our mission is to be the voice that animals cannot speak and provide them the safety they weren’t afforded. We are here as their ally in this world. Founders of SASHA Farm Animal Sanctuary Dorothy Davies and Monte Jackson have been rescuing animals for nearly 30 years.

The five cows and three piglets are doing well now. It’s been nearly four months since they were rescued. They have all been treated by a veterinarian and are on the road to recovery. The cows have their own private barn where they receive a plentiful supply of food each day, clean water and access to 10 acres of rolling hills pasture. Initially they were afraid and untrusting of us (understandably so) but as time goes on they are learning to love again. A few are even comfortable with head scratches now. The three little piglets have been introduced to our other pig residents. All the pigs get along well and enjoy their own barn and three acres of pasture. Their zest for life and energetic, charismatic personalities are a joy to watch. They overcame their fear of humans quickly and regularly ask for belly rubs and ear scratches. At night all three piglets sleep side by side under the comfort and coziness of a straw bed.

If there’s anything to be learned from this experience, we hope that the public is made aware of the conditions for farmed animals everywhere. Many of the same cruel practices that are exposed on large farms also happen on smaller farms like this one. Rather than focusing on the size of the farm, we should focus on the principles of animal exploitation and the problem of viewing animals as property and/or products. An inherent conflict of interest exists when animals are seen in such a way. Animals have an interest in living and to live in such a way that satisfies their wants, needs and instincts. Since they have no interest or desire to be used by humans, their lives become diminished to a means to an end. Therefore, farms cannot and never will be able to provide animals the life they deserve.

We need to recognize that animals are not property and certainly not products. Their lives are not ours to exploit either for milk, eggs, meat, leather or fur. Their bodies are their own and we have no right to take away their freedom, especially when our reason to do so is completely unnecessary to human survival. Using animals for research, entertainment or food is unethical and no amount of animal suffering is necessary in today’s modern world. Additionally, these industries encourage the ugliest parts of humanity such as violence, greed and indifference. We believe that the most effective solution—one that can be adopted by everyone— is to live a vegan lifestyle.

In the words of Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer, “We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living beings, humanity will not find peace.”

Thank you to all who have already donated to our hay drive or general fund. We will certainly appreciate your ongoing support and donations throughout 2018 as we care for these survivors as well as our additional 250 animals. All donations are tax deductible and will be used to cover the costs of food and veterinary care for the animals. In addition to the animals mentioned here, we also rescued many others in 2017 including five baby calves destined for veal whom we call the “Jersey Five.” Please visit our website, Facebook page or Instagram to see pictures and stories. SASHA Farm Animal Sanctuary is the largest farm animal sanctuary in the Midwest. Donations can be made on our website, www.sashafarm.org.