Meet Kat Thorpe, Who Draws Strength and Artistic Inspiration from Rescued Farm Animals #AnimalRescue

Animals who’ve been saved from cruelty, neglect, or indifference have much to teach us. One of the most inspiring lessons we can take from the rescued residents of Farm Sanctuary is resilience in the face of adversity — the ability to appreciate the positive moments in life as they come, and to see goodness at face value. It’s easy to become consumed by the past, or concern for the future, and this can make it difficult to be present in the current moment. But by taking a cue from our animal friends, we may
find it easier to take joy in life’s simple pleasures — the  grass beneath our feet,
the sun against our backs, a loved one’s warm embrace.


Kat and Shirley sheep share a hug!


Kat helps Joey sheep enjoy one of her favorite pastimes – a good back rub!


Kat bonds with her buddy, Albert donkey.


Emma cow samples some of Kat’s hair. “This tastes different from the hay I’m used to!”


Kat enjoys a lighthearted moment with Hope goat. Kat says she reminds her to not take life too seriously!

 

After receiving care and kindness at Farm Sanctuary, our rescued
residents are able to find the strength to enjoy their lives, in spite of all they have been through.
And for the “humanimals” who work on their behalf, it’d be hard not to be heartened by the transformations of these courageous, inspiring animals.

“There is something about working here that gives
me strength,” says caregiver Kat Thorpe. “I build more self-confidence every day. I learn
something new every day. And every day I go home, knowing that the animals in
our care get to sleep safely that night, without fear and without harm. It’s an
incredible feeling to be a part of that type of peace.”

image

Kat bonds with Katy sheep.

Kat
regularly works Meds shifts at our Northern
California Shelter
, making sure that each resident
receives the quality, individualized care that he or she needs and deserves. But when she’s not directly administering care, Kat draws a
different type of strength through her beautiful depictions of our residents.

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Ramona, above, inspired Kat on and off the sanctuary grounds. “Ramona goat passed away earlier this year at the Orland shelter,” Kat says. “She was such an inspiration to me because she was so strong. She had cancer, and every time we treated or cleaned her up, she was so gentle and sweet and immediately would come up to you looking for a treat afterwards. She was such a brave little lady.”

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A watercolor portrait Kat painted in Ramona’s honor. “Her sweet and strong demeanor inspired this portrait,” Kat says.

“Drawing has always been a release for me, and it’s something I have always been invested in,” she says. “Over the last year, the animals in my care have been my muses, as I find them all to be incredibly inspiring. So many people don’t understand the horrific, lonely lives that these animals lived before coming to sanctuary, and yet they persevere. They truly are amazing beings.”   In her art, she strives to capture the spirits of these incredible animals,
lovingly articulating the unique personality of each one of these special muses.

image

Kat’s sketch of Harper goat.

Kat
has a bachelor’s degree in fine art, and credits this training with her
detail-oriented outlook — crucial to the work of caregiving.

“Animals can
mask their pain and emotion so well,” she explains. “You have to really be
watching them, and trusting your intuition all the way.”

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Kat trims Kent goat’s hooves during a routine health check.

Kat got her start working with companion animals. As she acquired experience working with cats and dogs — in
avenues including a veterinary hospital, an animal
rescue nonprofit, the San Diego
Humane Society, and more — she developed tools to help her effectively advocate for the
animals in her care. And through these experiences, she discovered her
potential to use her voice to help farm animals, whom she felt needed her
support most of all. (In fact, as Kat knows well, cats and dogs have much in common with farm animals. For example, at Farm Sanctuary, we often see cows licking us in greeting and pigs rolling over for belly rubs like dogs, and turkeys enjoying perching and curiously exploring their surroundings like cats.)

Growing
up, Kat was an on-again, off-again vegetarian who hoped to someday go vegan for
the animals. However, she felt there was one thing standing in her way: “I convinced myself that I couldn’t live without cheese,” she recalls. As she would soon discover, though, her dietary choices were interfering with the life she sought to lead – both for her own health and for the farm animals she wanted to help.

image

Kat with her friend Hope goat.

While Kat had felt an impulse to go vegan, her eventual switch came after experiencing weeks of stomach pain.

“The doctor felt my abdomen, and asked me what
my diet consisted of,” she recalls. “When I told him I was vegetarian, he
looked at me and said, ‘Do you eat a lot of dairy?’ I quickly went through my
daily diet and realized that, yeah — basically cheese on everything. He looked
me in the eye and told me to ‘Just stop.’ After that, I struggled with the
idea, but after educating myself on common farming practices, I eventually
decided to give it up. It was honestly one of the best choices I have ever made
for myself.

“After
I’ve spent most of my adult life with unknown stomach issues, I don’t have them
at all anymore. The best thing about going vegan is that this feeling of guilt
has been lifted off my shoulders. I never expected that type of immense stress
relief would be a result of this choice, but I feel like it has truly made me a
brighter, happier, healthier person.”

Another happy effect of this dietary change: Kat knows that she’s not only living a better life for herself, but for the animals as well. By being mindful of her own needs, she was able to forge a lifestyle that was
consistent with her compassionate values — one that reflects her own
compassion right back at her each day. Kat
first went vegan as a way to treat herself more compassionately, but her decision
evolved and grew into a platform for helping farm animals live the happy lives they deserved.

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Kat trusted her gut and followed her heart to Farm Sanctuary, where she helps individuals like Joey enjoy the finer things in life! 

She made this realization while working at the San Diego Humane Society –
a job that inspired her to be the best advocate she could for
animals in desperate need of human help. “I supervised the 24-hour kitten nursery,” she explains. “My area of expertise is in neonatal care for kittens and puppies
under eight weeks, but more intensely with the zero-to-two-week-olds. This area
of animal care is something I loved doing because it is an area that is yet to
be truly developed. Even new vets/vet students haven’t really had the hands-on
experience with orphan kittens at such a young age. I always thought that the
department I worked in was kind of a ‘pioneer’ for developing standards and
protocols for dealing with a larger number of neonatal animals in a shelter
setting. We often had other shelters and rescues come to visit and tour
(including the ASPCA, who modeled their program after ours), because we were
the longest-running ‘nursery’ with a success rate of 90%.”

While
Kat loved this job, she realized she could apply the skills she’d learned and honed there to make a
difference for a group of animals who are often overlooked: farm animals.
Kat joined the team at our Northern California Shelter in June 2015, eager to help make a difference through Farm Sanctuary’s lifesaving rescue,
education,
and advocacy
work.

image

Kat with her friend Shirley sheep.

In the meat, egg, and dairy industries, the animals’ long-term health is rarely taken into account, since the animals are typically killed long before the end of their natural lifespans. And even younger animals are often denied veterinary care if the cost of treatment is thought to outweigh the animal’s financial value to the farm owner. “One
of the reasons why I adore working here at Farm Sanctuary is because I feel
like we are also pioneering our way through this field of animal care and
rescue,” says Kat. “What we do is just not taught in veterinary medicine. It’s something we
work to develop, and with every day comes a new success or a new lesson that we
learned. It’s truly exciting!”

Kat
typically spends her days prepping and administering medications, dispensing treatments,
and observing the animals to monitor any changes in their overall well-being.
She’s either the first staff member to start work or the last to leave each day — and in
those quiet moments when she’s alone with the animals, she can’t help but
reflect on some of the deep connections she’s forged with our rescued residents.

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Kat trims Shirley’s hooves during a standard health check, to promote good foot health and to keep Shirley comfortable and happy!

“Every
morning, I look forward to watching Hattie goat (who used to run away from
people less than a year ago) waltz up to me, put her head on my chest with her
tongue slightly hanging out, and wait patiently for her meds,” says Kat. “Or Melvin
goat
, who full-on licks the air until his meds reach his mouth. Then there’s
the pigs — they are such characters, especially Maya, who will literally open
her mouth for you to put her meds into!

image

Sweet Hattie inspires Kat each day.

“There
are so many animals that I love, and each in their own individual way,” she notes. She loves interacting with friends such as Albert donkey, Maya and Rusty
pigs, Rosie and Ruthie
turkeys
, Pip
duck
, Stanley rooster, Peepers and Lisbeth chickens, Randy goat, Mario
steer, and Emma cow each day.

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Kat shares a kiss with her buddy Albert.

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Kat gives her friend Maya a belly rub! “She was instantly one of my favorite beings I have ever met in my life,” Kat says. “Just look at that sleepy smile! I call her Maya PIGpaya because my little chihuahua’s name is Maya Papaya. While their sizes may be on the opposite end of the spectrum, they share a lot of similar personality traits! They both love, love, love belly rubs, and will flop down making happy snorts the whole time, stretching out if you get just the right spot. They both will happily open their mouths for anything peanut-butter-related, they both wag their little tails when excited, and they both have absolutely touched my heart from day one!”

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Kat hopes that more people will realize just how similar farm animals and companion animals truly are. “Both Maya pig and Maya dog bring my life an immeasurable amount of happiness on a daily basis,” she says.

But there are two animals in particular who have
stolen her heart: Katy
sheep
, who lives at our Northern California Shelter, and Dana
goat
, whom Kat has gotten to know during short-term caregiving stints in preparation for our
future New Jersey Shelter.

“When
I first came to the [Northern California Shelter] to visit, [Shelter Manager Kate Powell]
insisted that I sit with the sheep herd. They had just introduced some elderly
goats, and they were monitoring the group to see how they would do. I sat down,
and within minutes, Katy sheep came walking up to me. She very subtly pawed at
my leg with hers, and I started petting her and scratching the wool around her
face. Within a moment, three other sheep and two of the elderly goats also came
toward me. They all stood in front of me, in a circle waiting for pets. When I
would stop petting one, they would paw at my leg. If I petted them in just the
right spot, they would close their eyes and turn their head slightly, sometimes
with their tongue sticking out. It was one of the most bizarre experiences I
ever had at that time – and now it’s something I look forward to on a daily
basis. In those moments it was like they accepted me – and I knew right away
that I belonged here.

“Katy
sheep is still one of the most sweet and gentle beings I have ever met, and I
credit her as to one of the biggest reasons why I work here today. So thank
you, Katy!”

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Kat and Katy, best friends forever. “She is the absolute cutest when she goes around to the other sheep in the herd and licks and eats the tiny pieces of hay off their backs,” Kat laughs. “It makes my whole day to see her do that!”

Our
caregivers have been doing short-term rotations in preparation for our future New Jersey Shelter; Kat feels fortunate
to have spent two rotations in New Jersey so far. During her first visit last April, she immediately
clicked with Dana, who continues to inspire her to this day. “She was the first
animal that I bonded with,” Kat remembers. “I was sitting with her group, and
she came up to me and started licking my face. After that, it was all cuddles,
all the time. She would curl up next to my leg at night and fall asleep with
her head in my lap. She is a pretty playful gal most of the time, but with me
she has always been one of the most affectionate animals I have ever known.

“I
wasn’t sure if she would remember me when I came back to New Jersey this time
around – but lo and behold, after a thorough face sniff, she ended up falling
asleep on my arm after my second day here. When I think about what she has been
through, I have nothing but respect for not only her, but all the animals in
our care. I feel lucky just to know them, and I aspire to continue learning
from and loving each of them as the amazing individuals they are.”

image

Kat enjoys a lighthearted moment with her good friend Dana!

We
are just as lucky to have Kat on our team, giving rescued farm animals the lives they deserve, showing just how unique and special every farm animal is, and demonstrating the way our own lives are
enriched when we treat them with compassion.
Kat’s journey, like the journeys of the animals in our care, is one of healing.
And her experiences teach us that we all have the potential to live to our fullest potential when we align our actions with our values and learn to
see all beings as they truly are.

“My
life has gotten 100% better!” Kat exclaims. “Not only am I proud of where I
work and what I do — I get to work with some of the most compassionate people I
have ever met.” Together, they draw strength from one another while bringing
our rescued residents’ stories to light. While the animals inspire Kat
through both her caregiving and her art, she inspires all of us to live according to our values of kindness and care. Thanks to
humanimals like Kat, we can spread the word that every farm animal is someone,
not something
— and create a more picture-perfect world
every time we put compassion first.

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Kat’s sketch of Hope goat. 

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