On a seemingly uneventful day last year, Farm Assistant Ben Hamilton was wrapping up an honest day’s work at our New York Shelter. He likely clocked in, loaded up the tractor with the tools his team would need that day, and helped clean the barns so the animals had a nice, clean home to sleep in that night. Perhaps he
assisted with a shelter maintenance project or two, to help keep everything onsite running smoothly. He didn’t expect it to be different from any other day. But as he stepped outside of our Melrose Small Animal Hospital, he decided to extend an arm, in friendship, to some recent arrivals: turkey poults, dropped off at the farm one night by the “Turkey Fairy” – a good Samaritan looking to make a difference.
Ben escorts a lamb to safety during our rescue initiative in Cattaraugus County this year.
Ben escorts a lamb to safety at the scene of a major rescue endeavor in Cattaraugus County.
Ben escorts a feathered friend to safety during our rescue mission in Cattaraugus County.
Ben helps Shelter Manager Jill Tedeschi escort a goat to safety at the Hudson Valley rescue last year.
Ben helps Susie escort Willow and Josie-Mae to their new home.
And on that fateful day – a day like all other days – something amazing happened. One of the turkeys took a
tender step from the fence line to Ben’s outstretched arm. This acceptance of friendship stirred great pride and gratitude within Ben’s own heart. And seeing that turkey take to his gesture inspired him to visit more often. Soon, the turkeys began perching on his arms, shoulders, and even his head. It was a magnificent experience for Ben to see firsthand how the power of compassion could influence others’ lives. But he would soon discover that by extending kindness to others, he was also changing his own world. And those tiny turkey steps up to his head planted a seed of compassion – a thought that would one day sprout and implant itself in his heart and change his own life in ways that he never thought possible.
Jackie enjoys an elevated view courtesy of Ben.
Jackie’s pal Barry investigates this perch-worthy Humanimal.
It was among the more memorable moments that affirmed this was the right place for Ben. When he first applied for the job nearly two years ago, he figured he would be a good match for the physical labor that farm work requires. “I had heard that Farm Sanctuary was hiring from a previous worker and I needed
a job, so I put in my application,” Ben says. “I didn’t know much of the place or of the people before I began.”
Also new to Ben was the notion of following a plant-based lifestyle. All staff and volunteers must adhere to a vegan diet while working alongside our rescued residents, and in return, we respect their right to exercise their own values in their personal lives. But Ben would gradually come to see that the decisions we make in our day-to-day lives are very personal for the animals involved. And as he worked alongside our rescued residents, he developed a gentle inner strength to match his physical abilities. Over time, Ben started to see that there is even greater strength in compassion – that we can leave a tremendous impact when we align
our actions with our compassionate values and have the courage to embrace what we know to be right.
Ben visits with the late, great Thunder steer.
Everything changed on March 27, 2016: the day Ben recognized the importance of extending peace to all beings, above and beyond the ambassadors for their species he tends to each day. “I finally learned enough about what it meant to be vegan and that it meant so much more than to stop eating meat, but to put care and compassion above all else towards all living things.” For a long time, we valued Ben’s commitment to our rescued residents, from tending to the animals’ basic needs to helping us rescue frightened newcomers from dire circumstances. But something changed when Ben put the pieces together regarding how his actions contributed to the lives of animals just like his beloved friends at sanctuary. His work, while always important to him, has become even more meaningful. Because now, Ben has the tools in place to make a difference in all areas of his life – and with this realization, Ben truly gives all of himself to ensure that our rescued residents and the countless beings just like them are forever regarded as someone, not something.
Ben and Susie welcome Willow and Josie-Mae goats to their new home!
And Ben’s had plenty of these special someones cheering him on along the way, emanating the unconditional love that Ben now confidently reflects back at them. Ben marvels at the opportunity to get to know these beings on a personal level; to be invited into their world and share their space with them. While Ben is especially fond of how playful and entertaining the goats can be, Dotty holds a special place in his heart; and from the day that Farm Assistant Kevin Weil introduced the pair, Ben has been moved by Dotty’s
friendship and acceptance of the humanimals in her life. “We had gone up to the Upper Pig Barn to clean it that day, and Dotty came walking in. Kevin showed me that I had to first introduce myself to Dotty before she would greet me, so I proceeded to kneel down on the floor next to her and bow my head a little bit – and Dotty came over and lowered her head and rubbed hers against mine.”
Sebastian pig is another favorite, because in getting to know him, Ben could see that he is just like any – and all – of us. He has a rich, multi-layered personality. He has his preferences and dislikes. And despite his reputation for being a bit of a “bad boy,” he simply wants to be valued as the incredible individual we know him to be – as a being greater than some of the qualities he presents and above all, as a treasured friend. “I like Sebastian pig for being who he is,” Ben explains. “He’s just like a human – he’ll be docile one minute and friendly, but if his mood changes he can be grumpy. I find him to be one of the most misunderstood pigs of them all.”
And rounding out his porcine love is Linus, one of Julia’s babies, whose gentle nature complements Ben’s own quiet strength. “Linus pig is the sweetest, kindest pig there is. I have never seen him grumpy or in a bad mood.”
Above all else, Ben is a true mender at heart – from his interests in skills ranging from woodworking and
bushcraft to computer repair, to his gentle approach in healing our rescued residents’ hearts. “Most of the time I enjoy just laying back and relaxing from the stressful world we live in and just take in the peacefulness of the outdoors,” Ben reflects. And we are so grateful that Ben chooses to extend this
inner peace to all of the lives he touches at Farm Sanctuary each day.
Ben extends a branch to Lulu and Tatiana goats at this year’s 4th of July Pignic.
Of his time at Farm Sanctuary, Ben reflects that he has gained some great lifelong friends – animals and
humanimals alike – as well as a strong work ethic and improved communication skills. But most of all, he uses his tools to foster connections with others. And these days, the animals he helps add as much to his life as he does to theirs – and we are incredibly grateful not only for Ben’s work on the farm each day, but for
offering his heart in helping us create a more compassionate world for all.
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