Tara Oresick, formerly the manager of our New York Shelter, recently became the director of our Northern California Shelter.
During my time as an intern, caregiver and shelter manager at the New York Shelter, I had the good fortune to work with our national shelter director, Susie Coston. What can I say about Susie? She has a gift. She’s incredibly knowledgeable about the needs and healthcare of the animals, not to mention the dizzying task of keeping a large shelter running smoothly every day, but it’s more than that. Susie and farm animals get each other. The animals trust her. And her observational skills are out of this world. She can walk into a barn and actually smell pneumonia, a foot infection, you name it. Working with her is not only a non-stop learning experience but also a blast. She is one of my favorite people in the world, and if I can be half as good a shelter director as she is, I will feel very accomplished.
As daunting as directing a shelter can be, its mandates stem from the same, simple goal I have always had as a caregiver: try to look at every animal as an individual. This philosophy, which feels so natural to us at Farm Sanctuary, is in fact counter to that of most of the veterinary establishment, whose approach to farm animal treatment often emphasizes the financial value of the animals – what humans can get out of them. Farm Sanctuary is an unusual farm animal veterinary client in that we want to do what our animals need, not what is easiest or cheapest. We bring comfort and quality of life into the discussion. We work to heal animals who would have died or languished untreated in the industry due to the expense or inconvenience of their treatments. Because we are so often operating outside the precedent, we have to rely not only on veterinary wisdom but also, strongly, on our own familiarity with our animals. We work hard to be able to recognize what is normal or abnormal for them, what makes them happy, who they are. When you have been told “what is wrong” with an animal or “what is fixable,” you look at that animal, and you give them whatever you can.
Just like with people, I think it’s best to take the animals as they are. Some will love you, and some won’t, and I do my best to be okay with that. I find that, with patience, I can build trust with most of them. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing an animal who was once fearful learn to feel comfortable. Not every shelter animal develops affection for humans, but if every one of them feels free and safe to be himself or herself, then we are doing our job.
One of the best parts of this job is just sitting and watching the animals, getting to know them – learning who likes belly rubs, who adores chest scratches, who hopes you brought a treat (okay, that’s just about everyone), and who would prefer that you just sit quietly and let them sniff you. Every animal is different. I’m so enjoying making the acquaintance of the ones who call this shelter home, and I look forward to sharing their stories with you!