AmeriCorps volunteers make big changes at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary

Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s Kathy Stevens, AmeriCorps team leader Carlos Corona, team member Luke Harrison, Mary Grace Douglas and Phengsue Lor hang out with Audrey the pig. (photo by Christina Coulter)

Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s Kathy Stevens, AmeriCorps team leader Carlos Corona, team member Luke Harrison, Mary Grace Douglas and Phengsue Lor hang out with Audrey the pig. (photo by Christina Coulter)

Four AmeriCorps members are spending more than two months helping out at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary.

Falcon 1 team volunteers Luke Harrison of Clovis, N.M.; Phengsue Lor of Milwaukee; Mary Grace Douglas of Lexington, Ky.; and their team leader, Carlos Corona of Woodland, Calif. are in the midst of a nine-week stay at Saugerties’ Catskill Animal Sanctuary pitching in with various chores at the facility, which cares for rescued farm animals.

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The sanctuary is the team’s last stop on their yearlong tour of volunteering. The team started at the Massachusetts Audubon Society, where they preserved habitats for species which need shrubland to survive. They also spent time at the Wells National Estuary Research Reserve in Maine and at Guilford Animal Assisted Therapy Services in Connecticut built a “sensory trail,” a series of touchable objects placed on a horse-riding trail for children with disabilities.

When Kathy Stevens and Jesse Moore opened the sanctuary in 2001, its first-year budget was $100,000. Fifteen years and 4,000 saved animals later, the team spends the same amount on hay and veterinary bills, respectively, each year. The sanctuary now includes a summer camp program, a culinary program that promotes vegan cooking called Compassionate Cuisine, and a bed and breakfast called The Homestead.

Naturally, with this rapid expansion and 110 acres of land to tend to, CAS relies heavily on the charitable work of volunteers. The sanctuary has been using AmeriCorps volunteers since 2006.

“The hilarious question we’re always asked is, ‘Will you have enough work for us,’” said Stevens. “We could keep them busy for all eternity.”

The team has certainly been kept busy thus far. In addition to simple chores like cleaning the chicken coop, they have set up and stained hundreds of feet of fencing on the CAS property. This has expanded both the cow pasture and the pastures for sheep and goats. The team has also leveled out the uneven floor in one of the barns on the property by using stone dust on the higher side, raking it out to make it even and tamping it down. The potholed flooring was unsafe not just for the workers at the sanctuary, but the animals — for example, Little Guy, a cow with scoliosis housed at the farm, would often lose his balance before the repair was made.

They also reforested a pond on the property that was overrun with invasive plants. Willow trees around the pond had shed their leaves that sunk and created ethanol in the water, creating a perfect environment for duckweed. This plant was removing light and oxygen from the water. Previously, Stevens had tried to introduce fish into the pond to eat the weeds, but the lack of oxygen killed them before they could make an impact.

The volunteers used handmade nets to pull out over 2,000 pounds of duckweed and mulch within a week, or 75 percent of the total problem.

“[Joining AmeriCorps] helps young adults become a part of the solution rather than the problem,” said Corona. “We can become productive, proactive members of our world and community.”

“This program does the opposite of the shock factor,” said volunteer Harrison, a vegetarian since age 13 and a vegan since he began his service at CAS. “We are so detached from our food and here we can bond with them.”

“There are [many] compelling reasons to stop eating animals,” says Stevens. “Animals want their lives as much as we want ours. Ten chickens or ten cows are as individual personality-wise as ten people. They feel every emotion we do. Whether or not people buy the [many] other reasons, no one can argue that a chicken can feel terror and pain. If I don’t need these animals for my nutrition, why would I choose to subject many thousands of beings over the course of my lifetime that I wouldn’t will on the vilest human being?”

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