For Humanimal Natalia Veinott, Every Day is a Chance to Help People Connect with Farm Animals #AnimalRescue

If you’ve ever visited our New York Shelter, you’ll know that Farm Sanctuary life is often bustling with activity – from the shelter staff members providing individualized care to more than 500 rescued residents, to their colleagues in our offices who work behind the scenes to support our lifesaving rescue, education, and advocacy work. Situated between these two worlds – both figuratively, and in a literal sense in its location on the sanctuary grounds – is our Visitor Program, which aims to facilitate meaningful connections between farm animals and the thousands of guests who visit each year through interactive tours, events, and special programs. At the helm of these efforts is Visitor Experience Manager Natalia Veinott, who recently celebrated her first anniversary with the Farm Sanctuary team! As it happens, Natalia regularly
helps people celebrate their own milestones – from offering advice and support to first-time visitors looking to make more compassionate choices, to honoring the members and supporters who have stood by Farm Sanctuary’s side for the past 30 years.


Natalia meets newborn baby Maggie! It was a true celebration for both, as their birthdays are only a day apart – Maggie’s is on Christmas Eve, and Natalia’s is Christmas Day!


Natalia shares a smile with Kai turkey.


Natalia and Shelter Manager Jill Tedeschi introduce Adopt A Farm Animal Program sponsors to Ted steer.


Natalia enjoys some quality time with Daniella sheep, who was rescued from the cruelty case in Cattaraugus County this spring.

 

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 The hub of our Visitor Program!

Natalia
oversees a team of compassionate tour guides, volunteers, and support staff who
work together to ensure that our guests enjoy meaningful, memorable connections
with our rescued residents and with one another.

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Some of the members of Natalia’s Dream Team: Director of Visitor Experience Michelle Waffner, Natalia, and Tour Guides John Leman, Kristina Henry, and Ben Araya.

“The
sanctuary is really a special place, and I love seeing everyone’s enthusiasm
when they arrive,” Natalia says. “Our guests don’t fit a set profile – some are
vegans who have been working in the animal protection movement for years, while
others saw our sign on the road and decided to stop by. Even though we promote
plant-based eating, I’ve never witnessed hostility from guests who haven’t
adopted this lifestyle. Spending time with cows, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens,
and turkeys is a really unique experience, and most everyone is uncomfortable
with the way these animals are treated on factory farms. I’ve had countless
guests who eat meat tell me they believe a plant-based diet is admirable, and
that they agree it’s best to move in that direction. Small steps like that make
a big difference.”

Natalia’s own journey
started just like so many of ours once did: with a decision to treat all beings
with the compassion she knew they deserved. Natalia went vegetarian when she
was 10 years old because she loved animals and didn’t want to contribute to
their suffering. Even at this young age,
she was well on her way toward eating in alignment with her compassionate
values. But, like many people, she didn’t yet know about the suffering that is is
regularly experienced by cattle in the dairy industry and birds in the egg industry.

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Natalia went vegetarian because she didn’t want to harm animals like Merlin. 

Interestingly, it all clicked for Natalia when she visited Farm Sanctuary for the first time. Today, she loves knowing that she’s come full circle, helping others make the same connections about our relationships with farm animals that Farm Sanctuary staffers once did for her. Natalia learned about Farm Sanctuary when she read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals in 2014. She was intrigued to learn that our Watkins Glen location was just hours away from where she grew up, and while she approached this trip with an open mind, she didn’t envision herself making any changes to her diet. After all, she had been making more compassionate choices for 18 years, and believed that she was making a difference – and she was, of course; any movement in the direction of plant-based eating is a positive step for animals (not to mention the environment and our individual health).

Some people, Natalia among them, initially think of a vegan lifestyle as being extreme. Upon learning about the cruelties inherent in the meat, egg, and dairy industries, though, many come to the conclusion that this institutionalized abuse is what is really extreme.

“During the tour, I
learned how intertwined the meat, dairy, and egg industries are, and that the
line I had drawn between vegetarianism and veganism had been a bit arbitrary.
Once I learned how cows used for dairy and chickens used for eggs were treated,
and how alternative ‘humane’ labels were misleading, my decision to go vegan
was easy.” And from that moment on, she decided to advocate for farm animals in any way that she could, to help others make decisions that aligned with their own compassionate values and come to recognize that every farm animal is someone,
not something
.

Natalia enjoyed a fulfilling career in higher education as Course Coordinator of SUNY Potsdam’s history department’s hybrid classes. After visiting Farm Sanctuary, however, she realized that something was missing: the chance to apply her passions and talents to make a difference for farm animals.

“I would frequently
check Farm Sanctuary’s ‘Careers’ page,
and I applied when I saw the opening for Visitor Experience Manager,” Natalia
recalls. “Moving from coordinating online courses to managing a visitor program
at a farm animal sanctuary may sound like a big career change, but both jobs
require a similar skill set. I often have high school students ask me what they
should study in college if they want to work in animal protection, and I always
tell them they don’t need to get too hung up on what major they choose – study
what interests you and what you’re good at, then channel those strengths to a
career path that’s meaningful to you.” Natalia’s journey demonstrates that there is no right or wrong way to make a difference; we can all do our part by applying our strengths, skills, and interests in ways that benefit animals who need our help. And one of the traits that makes her so good at her job is her genuine desire to help others succeed, and her recognition that we all have the power to enact positive change.

 

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These days, Natalia introduces guests to turkey friends like Shannon, who was sadly debeaked and detoed in the meat industry.

“Interacting with my coworkers is one of my favorite parts of my job,”
Natalia says. “It’s wonderful being around so many compassionate, hardworking
individuals who care about the same issues I do. The tour guides and Visitor
Program interns, particularly, have been a joy to work with this season. Things
can get very busy in the Visitor Center, and some days we have 60 guests show
up for a tour when we’re expecting closer to 20. The tour guides and interns
never complain, and always pitch in where needed to make sure everything runs
smoothly. It is evident they’re very passionate and dedicated to what they do.
The Visitor Center is always full of laughter and thoughtful conversations with
guests, which always makes me proud. Thank you to everyone in the Visitor
Program – Ben, John,
Makayla, Kristina, Tammy, Kelsey, Moniek, and Michelle!”

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“Guests don’t always get to interact with Tammy [back row, second from left], but she is the one who keeps our cabins and tiny homes looking so beautiful all the time,” Natalia says. Natalia truly values all that her staff and volunteers do to make our Visitor Program a success, and we value her compassionate leadership as we all work together to keep things running smoothly. Pictured from left to right, back row: Visitor Experience Program Intern Moniek van Geem, Housekeeper Tammy Sanford, and Tour Guides Makayla Rhodes and John Leman. Front row: Tour Guide Kristina Henry with Natalia Veinott.

For many people who visit our shelters, Farm Sanctuary is a home away from home – a supportive haven that fosters our desires to do good, allowing us to recharge and reconnect with the animals who benefit from our compassionate choices. Natalia works tirelessly to ensure that our visitors receive the support they need, wherever they are on their personal journeys. Whether she’s warmly welcoming our Bed & Breakfast guests or securing fun, inspiring programming for an upcoming event, Natalia makes sure that everyone she interacts with knows that they are an important and valued member of the Farm Sanctuary family.

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Natalia with June & July Visitor Experience Intern Kelsey Bomboy.

One of the most engaging parts of Natalia’s job is overseeing our public tour program. During visitor season at our New York Shelter, which runs from May through October, thousands of people each year have the opportunity to form meaningful, personal connections with rescued farm animals. Natalia is responsible for hiring, training, and supervising tour guides, as well as ensuring that all interactions between our guests and residents run smoothly and are positive experiences for both the animal and the “humanimal.”

“Our tours of the sanctuary are one hour long, and include interacting with rescued cows, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, and pigs; hearing their rescue stories; and learning about common practices on factory farms and alternatively labeled ‘humane’ operations,” Natalia explains. These tours help people learn about the cruelties that farm animals routinely endure – but, crucially, they also show the flip side, allowing guests to see firsthand the difference that compassion makes in the lives of these animals. Many people walk away from this experience enlightened about farm animals’ sentience, intelligence, and rich social lives – qualities that the industries that profit from their abuse work hard to keep hidden. These interactions plant seeds of compassion that every guest can consider and apply in their own way, and offer a practical, meaningful opportunity to learn how we can all make a difference in the lives of countless animals just like our residents.

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Natalia also brings guests on special “sponsor tours.” Here, Shelter Manager Jill Tedeschi hosts a meet-and-greet between Ted steer and his human friends!

Natalia is also excited to interact with guests looking for a more immersive sanctuary experience in the form of an overnight stay in our onsite Bed & Breakfast facilities. “Our Bed & Breakfast program includes three cabins and three brand new tiny houses! We serve a vegan breakfast each morning and offer guests a tour of the sanctuary. B&B guests often volunteer during their stay – mucking stalls, gardening, repairing fences – work that’s not always glamorous, but very much appreciated and essential to the daily operations of the farm.” This is a great way for guests to give back and to tailor the Farm Sanctuary experience to their particular goals and interests. And it is especially fulfilling for Natalia to interact with these visitors and to share in their excitement over the restorative influence of a Farm Sanctuary stay.

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We love our new tiny houses! Kristina, Makayla, Tammy, Natalia, John, and Moniek are big players who make this all possible!

Farm Sanctuary events are beloved traditions, and Natalia feels honored to facilitate meaningful experiences and memories for our attendees. “Right now I’m in the midst of planning our [New York] Celebration for the Turkeys
event,” Natalia says. “This event is probably my favorite. We prepare a
delicious feast of pumpkin pie, squash, kale salad, and cranberries for our
turkeys, and set it up on fancy tables with tablecloths right in their pasture.
About 300 guests come out to watch them enjoy the feast, and then the guests
are treated to their own Thanksgiving feast at a nearby hotel. This year our
guest speaker is Dr.
Michael Greger
, an expert on clinical nutrition. I’m super
excited!”

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Last year’s meal prep station: at Farm Sanctuary, turkeys are the guests of honor each Thanksgiving!

“One of the things we do before our Celebration for the Turkeys event is a small ‘test run’ meal to make sure the turkeys will enjoy what we prepare for them (apparently, one year we made the mistake of changing the tablecloth colors, and none of the turkeys would eat). As I was in the kitchen chopping kale and making pumpkin pies with the tour guides [last year], I realized we had pretty awesome jobs.” Throughout Natalia’s various responsibilities, she takes the opportunity to appreciate the little things that make her job worthwhile. And we can learn so much by following in her example: We can all commit to small acts of kindness – whether it’s offering a meal to a turkey in friendship, or trying a new meat-free dish. Regardless of where we are on our personal journeys, we can all do something – and all acts of kindness, no matter how small, have the potential to change lives (including our own!) for the better.

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Natalia valued Tour Guides Amanda Gray and Ben Araya’s help in making her first Celebration for the Turkeys event last year a success!

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 Jackie approved of our special Celebration for the Turkeys “test run”!

At the heart of Natalia’s work are the hundreds of animals who call Farm Sanctuary home – each one of them an individual, with his or her own unique needs, preferences, and personality. Natalia learns just as much from her animal friends as she does from our visitors – and by connecting these groups with one another, she helps bridge the gaps that exist between people and farm animals.

The sheep are among Natalia’s favorites, and she loves breaking down the misconceptions that people often have by demonstrating how intelligent, unique, and special they truly are.

“Sheep are incredible at facial recognition,” Natalia explains. “Studies have shown that they can recognize photographs of up to 50 other sheep for over two years, and like humans, they use eye appearance as the most important identifier. They’re excellent at recognizing human faces as well, and they are quick to recognize their favorite staff members. Each tour guide has a special sheep who always approaches them to get some love. Francis
sheep
always approaches me, and I love how aggressive he is about getting
his pets. If I stop to pet someone else, he always kicks me with his hoof until
I bring my attention back to him.”

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Francis is adamant about getting attention.

Throughout these interactions, Natalia
exemplifies what living compassionately is all about – valuing all individuals as they are, regardless
of where they are on their journeys, and doing our part to honor all beings’
right to live life on their own terms.

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Natalia shares a lighthearted moment with Daniella and her son, Bob Barker!

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Natalia gets some extra love from Cash and Freckles sheep.

Natalia regularly challenges herself to be the best version of herself that she can be – from her admirable goal of reading every book we carry in our gift shop to her warm-hearted, sincere desire to treat everyone she encounters with the respect and compassion that we all deserve. We are so very fortunate to have Natalia’s  talents, hard work, dedication, compassion, and positive attitude on our side as we work to make the world a better place for farm animals. Her work helps us bring Farm Sanctuary life to as many people as possible – and we are deeply grateful for her ability to empathize and support everyone she meets (and her capacity to draw from her own experiences) as we work together to create a kinder world, one step at a time.

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