Happy tales at Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary

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Anastassia Denton pets Lefty as Sue Magilavy burshes his back during a Curry Crew visit on May 29 at Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary. (Sara Welch photo)

RAVENNA, Ohio —Tour guides and staff can name dozens of scenarios that landed animals at the sanctuary: goats rescued from a barn in deplorable conditions, potbellied pigs abandoned because they didn’t live up to the “teacup pig” myth, roosters rescued from a cockfighting ring.

But at Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary in Ravenna, rescued animals are just one part of the story. Volunteers and staff are the driving force behind the farm’s mission to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome criminally abused, neglected and abandoned farm animals. Each member of the team is armed with the passion, knowledge and determination to provide the best care to every animal on the 11-acre property and educate the public about the lesser-known crises that impact farm animals.

“My greatest moments (as executive director) are seeing our team come together for our mission,” Laurie Jackson, executive director of Happy Trails, emphasized. “My favorite moments are the accomplishments of our staff.”

Volunteers play a major role at the farm, participating in the cleaning and upkeep of animal environments, scrubbing water and feed buckets, mending fences and shelters, acting as tour guides for visitors and getting the word out about events. Caring for farm animals is an around-the-clock job, as caregiving staff at Happy Trails work tirelessly to give animals a second chance at a better life.

The future of Happy Trails is to take care of the people that take care of the animals. To create that future, the farm is fundraising for and building a new welcome center.

The rescue was recently awarded $500,000 from Ohio through the Substitute House 2 Bill, which allocated funds for one-time project funding from the Strategic Community Investment Fund, which helped the farm meet its fundraising goal of $1.6 million for the construction costs. At the end of 2023, the farm had already raised $1.3 million for the cause.

The funds are helping the farm break ground on the welcome center, which is estimated to be completed in the fall of 2025 and will serve as a place for guests visiting the farm, educational exhibits and a secure lab area.

“The Welcome Center is going to be the hub for all that we do,” Jackson said. “All rescue work is hard, but our rescue work happens outside, no matter what. We really need a space for volunteers and staff to be able to shower after a rescue or sit down and have lunch. I’m really hoping that it sets the stage for decades more of our mission work.”

Mission driven

Marylee Richards, Cindy List and Ilona Urban use baby oil to detangle wind knots in Ranger’s mane during a Curry Crew visit at Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary on May 29. (Sara Welch photo)

Many people are familiar with the rescue work of shelters catering to cats and dogs, but few are aware of the need to rescue and rehome farm animals like pigs, chickens and horses. Happy Trails fills a community need by providing local law enforcement and humane societies a space to house animals that have fallen victim to cruelty.

“Because (Portage Animal Protective League) is the humane society in Portage County, and we employ a humane agent, we can directly investigate reports of abuse and neglect,” said Chalan Lowry, executive director of the Portage Animal Protective League. “However, our shelter was not built to house livestock, so in cases where we intake livestock or other farm animals, we do rely on and partner with local rescues like Happy Trails to assist.”

While it might be easy to spot animal cruelty in pets like dogs and cats, Jackson says that the abuse and neglect of farm animals can be harder to spot.

“[Neglect] isn’t as easy to see as it is in dogs and cats. You can hear a dog yelping for help or see how skinny a cat is,” Jackson said. “A lot of times, in the cases of farm animal and horse neglect, you don’t even know that there are animals on the property. You can’t tell what’s in that dark barn or in that overgrown pasture off the road.”

Not all criminal cases happen because people intentionally want to hurt animals. Instead, Jackson says that many cases Happy Trails is involved with are related to hoarding, a mental illness where people collect too many things like animals and have a difficult time relinquishing or caring for the pets they’ve accumulated. Sometimes, animal hoarding occurs after a milestone event in someone’s life like a death in the family, divorce, illness or financial hardship. In other cases, animal owners may become ill and no longer able to adequately care for their pets, or families are left with livestock after a loved one has passed but aren’t interested in assuming ownership.

Jackson said that the Happy Trails team started to brainstorm how they could help animals before their situations became criminal. With open stalls and spaces for livestock, the organization decided to implement programs that could offer a lifeline to people struggling.

“The cases that were falling prey to becoming criminal were those (where people) had nowhere to turn and didn’t know what to do,” Jackson said. “It was very obvious that there was a need for owner relinquishment.”

The Owner Relinquish Initiative began at Happy Trails in 2021, providing an option for people who aren’t able to properly care for their animals. People struggling with the animals in their care can reach out to the team at Happy Trails and allow the rescue to take ownership of the animal, providing them with proper care, veterinary attention and a home while they await adoption.

This year, Happy Trails launched the Solutions to Avoid Intake program for horses. The purpose is to provide a “short-term helping hand” to horse owners to avoid relinquishment.

“Ultimately, what’s best for the animal if they have a good home is for them to stay in it,” Jackson said. “The STAI program is for when people find themselves in a short-term financial crisis or medical crisis, and we can evaluate those cases and provide grants that would directly fund hay and feed or veterinary care.”

Happy Trails also offers the Amish Horse Retirement Initiative, a program that provides an option to the Amish community to rehome equine that would otherwise be taken to auction. The program has been in place for over 20 years with many Amish horses finding retirement at Happy Trails after their time as a buggy horse has come to an end. Although Happy Trails has previously provided education and support to the Amish community, Jackson says that the program mainly spreads by word of mouth.

Adoption

Volunteer Ilona Urban comforts a nanny as she instinctively stands in front of her babies during a Farm and Dairy visit to the clinic at Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary on May 29. (Sara Welch photo)

Ultimately, the staff at Happy Trails hopes to find new, loving homes for the animals in their care. People who are interested in adopting a farm animal are invited to fill out an application, which staff review. Then, the farm works with each adopter to find the animal that best fits their needs.

“There’s plenty of animals that need our help, and an extension of our help is adoptive homes,” Jackson said. “We want our adoption process to be easy, welcoming, friendly and conversation-based.”

Happy Trails also opens its barn doors and pasture gates to visitors during tour season. Visitors can get up close and personal with farm animals while learning more about their care. It’s also an opportunity for people to find a forever friend in an adoptable farm animal. Roosters and farm pigs are the animals that are most overlooked.

As one guest put it, as Peppa, a potbellied pig, ran up to the gate of her pasture: “Who wouldn’t want to come home to a friendly pig greeting them after a long day at work?”

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Pigs rest on a rainy day at Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary on May 29. (Sara Welch photo)

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