Cultivating Care at Heartland Farm Sanctuary | Living the Country Life

Cultivating Care at Heartland Farm Sanctuary

At Heartland Farm Sanctuary in Madison, Wisconsin, there’s a whole lot of healing going on. It’s just hard to tell who benefits more—the rescue animals or the humans lucky enough to interact with them.

“How many times do you get a call to rescue seven emus?” asks Jen Korz, executive director of Heartland Farm Sanctuary.

“An older couple had emus and didn’t want to care for them anymore. The wife had tried to shoot the birds for three years, but each time she couldn’t pull the trigger. We realized if we didn’t take them, who would?”

Heartland houses the emus (large birds in the ostrich family) and more than 100 other farm animals at its bucolic 14-acre site just 10 miles west of Madison, Wisconsin. “When you pull up, you can just sense that this is a place of healing,” Jen says.

The animals and birds at Heartland Farm Sanctuary may not all be as cuddly as a puppy or baby kitten, but they still manage to charm volunteers and guests. Farm favorite Winnie the pig nods her head up and down when asked if she wants a carrot, putting behind her the day she tumbled from a transport truck as a 14-pound piglet. “An irate driver behind the truck stopped to kick her out of the road before a couple stopped to intervene and call us,” Jen says. “It ended up being both the worst and the best day for Winnie. She’s now 650 pounds!”

Another thriving favorite is Cookie, a miniature horse whose owners deemed her worthless due to dwarfism deformities and too-large teeth that made it painful for her to eat. After a few rides in a staff member’s Toyota Corolla for dental surgeries, the now plump Cookie grazes in the pasture with her pal, Joan the sheep. Nearby walks Harriet, the pot-bellied pig who was rescued from isolation in a dark shed, and Rampage the rooster, who got plucked from a cockfighting ring.

Unlike some other farm sanctuaries, Heartland is about more than just animals and birds. Founded in 2010 by counselor Dana Barre, the sanctuary offers two after-school, animal-assisted therapy programs for at-risk kids, one targeted to those who’ve experienced trauma or loss and one for children with cognitive disabilities. “Kids who’ve been through too much in their young lives can relate to the animals’ stories of neglect, abandonment, and abuse,” Jen says. “One girl thought she was too cool for this, but she was so impacted by the animals’ pasts that she went from sitting on the periphery to smiling and jumping in to cuddle with them.”

Weeklong summer camps and weekend camps in the spring and fall allow kids to interact with the animals. Activities vary to meet each group’s specific needs, but all programs build empathy as campers learn about the creatures’ struggles and assist with their brushing, bathing, and feeding. “Someone once said that teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar,” Jen says. To her, that perfectly sums up the goal of the sanctuary.

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