Bhakti yoga: the yoga of love and compassion. Recognizing that the divine resides at the center of every living being and that the essence of the divine is pure, unadulterated love. In this second part of my blog on Bhakti yoga, I interview Carrie MacInnis of Home Free Farm Animal Sanctuary about the love and devotion it takes to run an animal Sanctuary.
Carrie and I pull up a couple of bales of straw to have our conversation. We are joined by Gordon, a mini pig, and some very curious cats. Our interview is as follows:
Amber: How long has the farm been up and running?
Carrie: This farm has been running since last December. Prior to that we had the five acre farm in Yarker. That is where I had the first birds, with their burned off beaks. That is what started this whole process.
Amber: So that sort of rolls into my next question which is what were the first animals on the farm? So the birds…?
Carrie: Yes, really when I got the hens I had allowed myself the two goats, Happy and Zita and I have had them for three years. Then, getting to know them, I realized that I didn’t like the whole idea of breeding. People kept asking me if I was going to breed them and I thought “No!” I wasn’t going to milk them, they have no“purpose”, they just live here. But I would say that yes, the hens started it.
Amber: What shifted in your life to see animals as sentient beings? Why save these animals?
Carrie: I think I always have but it was a bit of an awakening. Having gone through all my levels of Reiki and my Reiki master training, I found that it was best used on animals for some reason. That corresponded with the time when I got the first hens. They were so afraid and they were hiding in a corner. I realized that I had a lot of energy that I could just share with them and it just escalated from there. I think that it was that first 6 hens that made me realize the connection that we have with animals. I have realized that I have a greater connection with animals than humans at that point. I never really felt that my reiki was useful in my heart, it wasn’t where I was suppose to use it (on humans). I always just tossed around “what am I going to do with this?” and it never really felt like it was what I was suppose to do…until I got those hens. When I got the goats, I was bottle feeding one of them and the connection just got stronger and stronger.
Amber: How did the hens come to you?
Carrie: I had ordered them from a feed store because we had a small barn in the back of the property and I thought I am going to build a chicken coop and have hens. I am going to feed their eggs to my family. I had decided I hated the food that we were eating and that we were going to have food that we grew . So, I ordered them for my children. It’s common practice, the way those kinds of birds come in, but I didn’t realize….They were in these plastic crates and the crates were flat. There were so many birds stuffed into them and when they opened the back of the truck, there were just piles and stacks of these crates filled with birds. I was shocked. I had a dog crate in the back of my car and I was so excited to get my birds that day. The guy asked “How many?” Then, he just grabbed the chicks and threw them into the crate. I was just shocked. I can’t say anything bad about the feed store because this is common practice but in my heart I just felt that it was wrong. When I saw their beaks… I just sat there with them that day in their massive coop that I made them and thought “Really?!” So if I want to feed good eggs to my family, this is how these hens are coming. None of it made sense to me.
The other hens were being given away. The ad said “free spent hens, great for soup.” So I called and it turns out I actually knew the man. He said 25 were already spoken for and that there were 10 left. When I got there, he had given the previous 25 to a man, who just threw them directly into his car, just loose. I was so sad that I missed helping those 25. This farmer that owned these birds is a traditional farmer and sold his eggs as part of his income. When I went to get the birds, the farmer, knowing who I am and what I do, wouldn’t let me into the coop and kept bringing out one bird at a time but when he opened the door, there was an overwhelming smell of dead bird and feces. I was horrified.
Then next group of hens came from an organic factory farm, and those birds came with absolutely no feathers, so it was hard for them to acclimatize and stay warm. And then the next group came in from another farm…
Amber: What would you say for yourself is the most joyous aspect of the farm?
Carrie: That is such a hard question because I experience joy every day. Today I am out here with a sore back and I feel joy. Last year I was out here with Pneumonia and it just doesn’t matter.
I would say my greatest joy is seeing the animals find their new family and see them come in and find their health and then find their community. Even if it’s just one other animal. I feel the most joy the day I get to see them find a group, and interact, and be ok. I have every breed here together there are very few that are separate and I think that is the greatest joy for me. To see not just the physical rehabilitation but the emotional rehabilitation that they go through. Where they finally recognize that “I am ok with this other pig” or that “she is going to feed me every day and she is never going to hurt me”. That is a big one. A lot of them come in terrified of things, whatever it is, I’ll find out. I will pull out a broom and someone freaks out.
When they overcome that, it’s the biggest blessing you can ever imagine.
Amber: What is the hardest part, that you find, about running the farm?
Carrie: The hardest thing is the humans…lol….the hardest part is finding the neutral space in myself because there are days where I am asked five or six times to take different animals and I have to choose who is the one at the highest risk right now? Who is health is the worst? And I have to separate myself from the humans that have caused this because if I don’t, then it’s harder to experience the joy. I have to really really really center myself and figure out what I can do on a small scale to make a difference and accept that is all I can do because everyday I see animals that I want to help. Outside of here I am in a lot of groups but the activism stops here. When I am here I just focus on being here.
Amber: How do you choose which animals to take?
Carrie: It’s really really hard. I can’t even tell you, because I am involved with so many different groups now, how many requests I get every single day. I think there are so many factors that can determine it. Financially, can I do it? I have to look at my own budget and can I do it. I am taking in five sheep this week. Five sheep…sheep are easy keepers. They don’t need that much grain, because too much isn’t good for them. They need more hay. So I think, “I can do hay”. I already had the wood, so I can make the stall. They are also very high risk. They haven’t eaten in a long time so I knew it was an emergency, so I said yes. I have to look at space. I have to look at interactions with the other animals. Who can I keep safe? Who can I keep with existing fencing until funding increases? There are so many rational reasons that come into play and then I have to beat out the heart part. It’s hard.
Amber: What does an average day look like for you?
Carrie: I get up nice and early. I make my kids lunches and get them off to school. Then I come down (to the barn) and it starts. On a normal day, I am down here three hours in the morning, but that will often extend, because there is always something. Do I need hay that day? Do I need to clean that day? Do I have volunteers coming that day? There are so many things that extend the day to a full day. I would say 3-4 days out of 7 are full days meaning daylight. However long I have daylight is how long I am down here. It’s feeding and watering, everyone’s poop removal, getting them outside, grooming, treatments, medications. I do an overhaul of everyone at least once a week where everyone gets touched and looked at. I am checking eyes, hooves, ears, and I am making sure everyone looks clear of whatever could be a problem, especially in the winter. Many of these guys have never wintered outside yet.
Pot-belly pigs are extremely prone to pneumonia and it is probably the one thing that will kill them the quickest. Knowing when to make that vet call. That’s all in a day. Making general repairs because I have a 700lbs pig who likes to trash the place…
And then at night closing up the barn is about an hour and a half because everyone, again, needs to be watered. Sixteen to twenty buckets, in the morning and at night, that I am filling and loading into stalls. Making sure everyone is fed…etc. My family comes down to see me. Thank god for Crock-pots!
Amber: If you had one thing that you would like to tell people, what would it be?
Carrie: There would probably be a few things. Two things came to mind right away.
The first is don’t think you can fool yourself in having a farm animal as a pet in your house. It is an enormous responsibility and breeders are irresponsible. Breeders are selling teacup mini juliana pigs, which are basically starved pot-belly pigs. They are inbred and that is how they stay small. They end up with all kinds of emotional and physical issues. Missy for example…her intelligence level is not even close to the other pigs.
Do your research. Ask other people, “what is it like having a miniature pony?”
These animals are not meant to be in someone’s home. So many of these animals are mistakes that people made and they should never be a mistake, ever. Please, commit to them.
The second thing is, if you are thinking of doing what I do, make sure you can commit to it too. These animals have already experienced loss and fear and whatever situation they have been in prior to being in the sanctuary. They don’t need to experience it twice. I have heard of a massive amount of animals that have had to be rehomed lately because people have gone into it with a good heart, but got bored or whatever. You have to know what you are getting into.
Education is my focus going forward. There are a few of us, who run Sanctuaries in Ontario, that have formed a group. Rather than being angry picketers, we have decided to form a group to be educators, specifically regarding pot-belly pigs. We have decided to take the milder route. We are going to a big pet expo in April and there will be a lot of breeders. We are going to set up just to educate. We’ve decided to be nice about it and try that approach.People don’t listen to anger and we don’t benefit from the anger. There is so much emotion attached to what we do and we decided to spread it out there in a different way.There is four of us and they are from well established Sanctuaries, so hopefully we can help.
It’s the same as puppies, kittens, rabbits. Easter is coming so I will be ready for all the rabbit calls in the summer, when the bunny has grown too big or they no longer want to care for it.
You mentioned sentient. I have no doubt, and I give them full credit for understanding everything I am saying and everything I am doing. They understand it’s cold outside, they understand that there is a new animal in the barn, they understand when another animal is sick. They know this, and people need to understand that before they assume so much about animals. All the animals are individuals with their own little wants and needs, and I respect that.
You can reach Carrie at the Home Free Farm Animal Sanctuary Facebook Page. Donations can be made at http://www.gofundme.com/HomeFreeFarm Farm Volunteers are also welcomed.
Amber Potter is a RYT200 Certified Teacher
Amber centers her life around unconditional loving kindness and compassion for all beings. She brings these aspects and shares her passion with others as a Hatha Yoga teacher and student, a practicing Buddhist, a devout vegan, and loving mother. Amber is also a long distance runner, a published poet, and a traveling gypsy when the time allows. She is a student of life, with a healthy thirst for knowledge and she enjoys learning and growing with every step.
Amber was first introduced to the concept of yoga as a teenager, vicariously through her older sister who has been her inspiration for most of her holistic life changes. When Amber began her own regular practice, she was hooked, more so than just with the physical aspect but also how yoga generated a peace within her fiery soul. Even today, if she feels a little dragon-y, she knows it’s a cue to unroll her yoga mat.
It has been a long dream of hers to share the joy and bliss that yoga can bring, and looks forward to bringing that to the community.
Amber is a very anatomical based Hatha teacher with a core belief of Ahimsa: non-violence and non-harming, especially when dealing with ourselves. She has a pursuit of the many facets of Yoga including traditional philosophy, kriya, meditation, pranayama, as well as an asana practice. Amber believes that every person can find self-success if they are willing. Anyone can be taught a skill; but you can’t teach will.