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Teja amongst the sheep
Sanctuary


I
t’s mid 2007. We’ve been vegans for a while and have begun to 
inch into activism in the area of animal rights, but feel a need to do more. We’ve read a moving story about a pig named Burr, rescued and now living at Edgar’s Mission, a sanctuary in Victoria begun by ex-equestrian Pam Ahern.

We have to drive down to Melbourne on other business and decide to pay the sanctuary a visit.

 

It’s inspirational, the beginning of something, though at that point we’ve no idea what. Over a hundred farm animals (now, ten years later, there are over 450!) rescued by Pam and others or brought to the Mission by caring members of the public. Disabled animals, injured animals, neglected or abused animals, animals found wandering lost on country roads, animals from industrial and domestic settings whose ‘productive’ time (milk, eggs) has come to an end, escapees, fugitives. Cows, sheep, ducks, hens, roosters, goats, and of course pigs: the Mission is named after the remarkable Edgar Allen Pig. You could say he was its co-founder.


Jump to 2012. We’ve been living in the Blue Mountains 
since 2008, in a brick house near the railway station. After some medical developments I decide to retire from the university and to concentrate on fulltime work of a different kind. My wife, tired of the noise from next door, begins, late one night, to look at real estate in the area. She finds a tiny farm on the edge of town, only a couple of acres.


It’s love at first visit. Price-wise it’s virtually a house-swap. 
There’s an acre of grass. We buy a second-hand ride-on mower. Three weeks after moving in a friend alerts us to the plight of two sheep in need of rescue, asks if we might take them. Henry and Jonathan. The ride-on mower never gets used. A year later another friend asks if she can bring an orphaned lamb, ‘in excess of requirements’ at an experimental farm and about to be euthanased. My wife hand-raises him. So now, with Charlie the dog, we are six. And then, another year later, we’re alerted to the plight of a young black sheep who’s been living in a swamp below an abandoned brick-yard and whose feet have rotted as a consequence. He needs a place where he can be temporarily quarantined. The feet heal beautifully. Temporary becomes permanent. How could we let him go? He learns to turn door-knobs with his mouth, breaks over and again into the feed-room, becomes the trickster of the pack.


We are now full. 
Grass management becomes a continual concern. But still the animals keep coming. An elderly nanny-goat who’s keeper has died, two kids (Ned and Kelly) who are found wandering through the bush. Another sheep, who’s reached the end of her breeding life and whom we’ve guilted the farmer into letting us re-house rather than killing her as he was about to do. And so on. We’ve no room for them ourselves, but a sanctuary at Sunny Corner takes some, another, at Kurrajong, though bursting at the seams, takes others. Others go to private paddocks where they can live out their lives in comfort and safety.


We had no idea, at first, that such places were there but they 
dot the landscape (there are sanctuaries in the Hunter, down near Canberra, outside Cooma, up on the north coast, …) a network of kindness, surviving on selfless dedication and shoe-strings. Sanctuaries for recovering wildlife, sanctuaries for farm animals, chicken sanctuaries, horse sanctuaries, pig sanctuaries. Some are lucky enough to have managed charity status; others survive on whatever their human-animal guardians can earn.


For simplicity’s sake I’ve begun to call our little ex-farm 
a microsanctuary. That might be over-stating it. It is what it is. Word seems to get around among the animals themselves. We’ve found ourselves looking out for rabbits, raising orphaned ducklings, adopted by a flock of wild wood ducks. If our experience demonstrates anything it’s that even the smallest spaces can become havens for animals who need them. And there is no end to need. It’s not for everyone – you take on the care of these animals for their lifetimes, and doing it properly, taking into account their biological, social and psychological needs, can be a steep learning curve – but there are a lot of people out there who could do it, and a lot of spare sheds, spare acres and half-acres of grass. And, as we have found, a lot of good people who can guide you, if you’re prepared to take such a thing on.


It’s collaborative. Unexpectedly self-sustaining. When times 
get tough we have only to step down into the yard and look around us, or sit on the back steps, talk to the sheep. The solutions seem to find themselves.

David Brooks

 

 

Teja Brooks Pribac in the microsanctuary. Photo by V. Leto

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