For Amanda Fortino, Spreading Compassion is Not Only a Job, But a Way of Life #AnimalRescue

It was a frigid day at our New York Shelter, but Major Gifts Officer Amanda Fortino felt the warmest she had in ages. Amanda had recently joined the Farm Sanctuary team, and she was excited to meet the incredible animals that she had dedicated herself to helping each day. As she walked around the sanctuary with National Shelter Director Susie Coston, she was awestruck by Susie’s intimate knowledge of each of our sanctuary residents – their rescue stories, personality traits, preferred companions, and even their
favorite foods. But what touched Amanda the most was the way every animal knew and responded to Susie’s presence – and the knowledge that soon, she too would experience the incredible connections we can establish with farm animals when we treat them with compassion and respect.


Amanda with pal Li Mu Bai rooster.

 

As Susie led the way into the cattle
barn, Amanda locked eyes with an animal whom she would soon consider one of her dearest
friends: Blitzen
steer
, who had been rescued as a calf from a
stockyard auction two years before.

“Blitzen was the first farm animal who I
truly connected with,” Amanda remembers fondly. “Upon meeting, he let me sit
down beside him and rub his nose. That was the first time I had ever met a cow,
and was able to look into his eyes and experience his fun, loving personality.
In that moment, Susie became my hero, and I knew that each of the animals I had
met that day – including Blitzen – were individuals with their own
personalities, likes and dislikes, and they each had the desire to live.”

image

One of Amanda’s first and dearest farm animal friends — Blitzen! This special boy is an incredible ambassador for his species, demonstrating how beautiful our lives become when we put compassion first.

Amanda walked away from this experience dedicated to spreading messages of compassion to all she met, to show people that farm animals like Blitzen are each someone, not something. Today, four years later, she continues to foster meaningful connections between Farm Sanctuary members and supporters and our rescued residents.

 

When people have the opportunity to meet farm animals up
close, they often remark on how similar they are to companion animals like our dogs
and cats at home – and conclude that they deserve the care, love, and protection
that dogs and cats do. Similarly, Amanda became interested in farm
animal protection through her relationship with her rescue dog, Shuggy.

“I feel
that my dog Shuggy has transformed my life,” Amanda says. “Around the same time
I adopted him I began experimenting with vegetarianism. I immediately loved him
so much, I couldn’t imagine anyone hurting him. He immediately trusted me, and
depended on me for everything. The connection and bond that we formed was one
that was stronger than most connections I had with humans. I started to think
about the connection to farm animals, and how like Shuggy, they trust us. They
want the chance to live out their lives surrounded by those they love, just as
any of our companion animals would.

image

 Amanda and her beloved dog Shuggy — Amanda’s inspiration for creating a more compassionate world for all.

“Once I rescued Shuggy, I began to pick
up any stray I found and rehome them. I also started volunteering with rescue
groups and fostered a beagle that had been tested on in a laboratory.
Witnessing the fear, pain, and uncertain way she approached each moment
encouraged me to take my love for rescue and apply it to farm animals.”

Most of us grow up learning to view farm animals as separate and distinct from the companion animals with whom we are more familiar. But in reality, they have much in common; for example, pigs, like dogs, love getting belly rubs, and cattle will often enthusiastically lick a human friend’s hands and face in greeting. Amanda’s

relationship with Shuggy and the other dogs in her life helped her realize that all beings should enjoy the care and love that dogs do.
So she
decided to do everything in her power to connect with the animals that are typically hidden from our view, and to help others recognize that they are deserving of kindness and care.

These realizations paved the way for
another milestone in Amanda’s life: her decision to go vegan. Amanda had decided to go vegetarian because of her desire to extend compassion to all beings
– so veganism was a logical extension of the promise she made each day
to animals just like her beloved Shuggy. She felt a strong obligation to be
a voice for the voiceless and encourage others to likewise speak up for animals. Once she learned about the cruelty inherent in
the meat, dairy, and egg industries, there was no going back – she knew she had to take action to educate others on what she had learned and give them the tools to make more compassionate choices.

It all came together for Amanda when she picked
up a copy of Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin’s book Skinny Bitch at the
airport, to read during her flight. What started out as light reading,
however, inspired an epiphany that would change the course of
Amanda’s life forever.

“I read the book from cover to cover and at the end, I
decided that there was no way that I could continue to eat animals and not
cause them immense amounts of harm. I didn’t want to participate in any way to
animal abuse, and so I stopped eating animals, and went completely vegan. It
was the best decision I ever made! Soon after that, I began volunteering for Prop
2 in California
and was inspired by so many
people who, like me, wanted to make the world a kinder place for farm animals.”

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Amanda went vegan for animals like Safran, who would have been raised for veal. Instead, he became an ambassador for his species at Farm Sanctuary. Safran is among our most popular residents, demonstrating just how lovable, intelligent, and special cattle just like him really are!

During the experience

– a successful campaign to end the use of veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages in California – Amanda not only found community among her fellow activists, but also experienced firsthand that when people stand up for what they know is right, change is possible. Amanda felt incredibly inspired by this
compassionate community, and loved how fulfilling it was to join together with
like-minded people to make a difference. As she grew in her activism, she realized that her other pursuits were closely aligned with Farm Sanctuary’s rescue, education, and advocacy approach – and she felt compelled to continue applying her skills and passions to make the greatest impact she could.

“I have a degree in Political Science,
so the advocacy part of our work was very important to me,” she says.
“Additionally, I had started rescuing companion animals during the same time I
started at Farm Sanctuary, and began to see the transformation happen in
animals who had been neglected and abused. The frightened cats and dogs I was
rescuing, with love and time, were transformed into playful, loving, and
trusting animals. It was rewarding to be a part of their journey – and I felt
it was an incredible opportunity to take my love for rescue and work for farm animals,
who are among the most abused and neglected animals on the planet.

image

Amanda feels grateful that her career gives her the opportunity to give back to individuals like Violet sheep.

“The farm animal education portion of
Farm Sanctuary’s approach is just as important. The three sanctuaries provide a
wealth of education for visitors and members. Farm Sanctuary has a unique
position in which we are able to tell the individual animals’ stories, as well
as introduce them to our membership in person, via social media, and email. Our
supporters are able to go through the rescue process with us and our animals.
As they follow along, our supporters are able to see and experience the
horrific situations we pull animals from, and they are also able to go through the
healing process. It’s a truly rewarding, educational, and unique way in which
we are able to discuss factory farming and the ways in which farm animals are
abused.”

Perhaps
the greatest gift that we can give is ourselves – and as Amanda puts her heart
and soul into her work each day, she likewise celebrates the incredible allies
who make our lifesaving work possible. Farm Sanctuary wouldn’t be able to do the work we do without
our members and
supporters
,
and we are humbled by their generosity and kindness. Amanda honors the impact
that our supporters make each day, as she fosters meaningful connections between
Farm Sanctuary and a community of compassionate people dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals.

“A
typical day for me includes keeping in close communication with our generous
members,” Amanda says. “And every day they inspire me with their
kindheartedness! Throughout the day I reach out to our supporters to let them
know the ways in which their giving is helping farm animals. I often spend time
meeting with our members and working with them to create giving opportunities
that will be meaningful and impactful. I feel very fortunate to spend my days
in communication with Farm Sanctuary members who are dedicated to changing the
world for animals.

“One
of the best parts of my day is connecting with members who love the animals
like I do, and want to help fund their rescues and provide food, bedding, vet
care, and housing. Receiving calls and emails in response to one of our rescues
is an experience that brings us all together. Farm Sanctuary truly feels like
one big family, and I am honored to be a part of it.”

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Amanda connects our members and supporters with individuals like Hera chicken each day.

Amanda is proud to help facilitate and be a part
of this network, and her experiences exemplify how supporting one another adds
to our own lives in return. She draws inspiration from the compassionate people she works with each day, as well as from the animals who benefit from their kindness.

“Since starting at Farm Sanctuary, farm animals are
no longer large statistics – instead they are my family. They are loved ones
who I cherish,” Amanda says. “The farm animals at our sanctuaries  are true ambassadors. They allow our members
and staff, like me, to meet them as sentient beings – individuals – and those
interactions can truly transform lives.

“I
have come to truly appreciate animals as individuals. When someone orders a
steak, it isn’t just a steak to me. Instead, I think about the animals that I know
and love, like Blitzen, Bruno, and Paolo. I think of
them, their individual personalities, the things in life they enjoy, and the
friendships they’ve made at sanctuary since their rescue.

image

Amanda spends some quality time with her buddy Paolo.

“There
have been many animals I’ve connected with in my four years at Farm Sanctuary! I
feel eternal gratitude to work each day to protect animals like Blitzen, and my
rooster friend Li Mu Bai at our Acton sanctuary. He has such a
personality! I have a tendency to love the troublemakers, and one day when I
was bending over to say hello to Turkey Lurkey, Li Mu Bai pecked my back and
put a hole in my shirt! From that day forward, that little guy has been one of
my favorite friends.

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During a video shoot, Amanda shares the spotlight with Li Mu Bai, a gregarious “troublemaker” who teaches visitors how personable and spunky chickens can be!

 

“And also Madeline turkey, who pretty much begs for you to
pet her, which reminds me of my cat. Madeline will follow you around, look you
in the eye, and cock her head while sitting down so you can pet her while she’s
relaxing.”

image

Turkeys like Madeline are often misunderstood by the public. But Madeline demonstrates how affectionate and intelligent turkeys can be!

Amanda
is an incredible force for compassionate change, inspiring each of her colleagues to do and be our
very best in order to make the greatest difference we can for farm animals. We are so grateful for her kindness and
dedication, both to the rescued animals in our care and to the “humanimal” supporters whose generosity and compassion make our work possible. By embracing some of the traits Amanda exemplifies – hard work, positive vision, and, above all, compassion  – we can all work together to create a kinder world.

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