We’re more than halfway through the visitor season at our New York Shelter, but there’s still plenty of time to meet some of the incredible animals who call Farm Sanctuary home! If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to get to know farm animals up close, a sanctuary tour is a wonderful way to meet some amazing ambassadors for their species and learn how you can make a difference for farm animals just like them. Every animal has an inspiring story of survival, resilience, and healing; here, they are given the respect they deserve and valued as the unique individuals we know them to be — and with help from our tour guides, their miraculous transformations and rich personalities come to life. Senior Tour Guide Ben Araya is one of our most dynamic farm-animal advocates, and as he enthusiastically introduces visitors to our rescued residents, he works to foster connections with farm animals and give guests the tools they need to live in accordance with their compassionate values. Ben snuggles with Dana and Harper, rescued from the Hudson Valley cruelty case last fall. Ben spends some quality time with Katherine in the sheep barn. Much love for good friend, Katherine. Ben spending some quality time with Katherine. Ben and Shelter Manager Jill Tedeschi escort a lamb rescued from Cattaraugus County to safety. Ben serves a hearty vegan meal during a recent Hoe Down event. Ben introduces tour guests to Grace sheep. Ben prepares a delicious vegan lunch at last year's Hoe Down. Tour-guide antics Ben and caregiver Abbie Rogers, with chickens rescued from the Cattaraugus County case. Ben leads guests on a tour of the sanctuary. This year marks Ben’s fourth season as a tour guide – his first as our Senior Tour Guide – and we greatly value his leadership as we conduct public tours, host events such as our upcoming Hoe Down, and keep our Visitor Program running smoothly. His expertise is invaluable in helping to train newer tour guides, and his affable, approachable personality helps him inspire so many people to make compassionate lifestyle choices they can feel good about. Ben’s active lifestyle dispels the notion that eating animal products is necessary for maintaining physical health. On the contrary, Ben — an avid trail runner, biker, and rock climber — is a prime example of how easy and fun it can be to fuel our bodies with plants and without causing unnecessary harm to animals. During the course of a tour, Ben refutes some of the common misconceptions people have about plant-based diets – the idea that humans need cow’s milk to get enough calcium, for example, or that those who eat a vegan diet do not get enough protein. Instead, as Ben happily explains, certain brands of plant-based milks contain 50% more calcium than cow’s milk, and The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics fully endorses a plant-based diet as healthy for everyone from infants to adult athletes. Ben helps visitors see pigs like Eric as friends, not food. Ben’s own compassionate journey began with an intellectual decision, demonstrating how aligning our actions with our values is a logical course of action – a way to make an informed choice rather than simply following a traditions we’ve grown up to accept as the norm. “I went vegan in 2008. I was inspired by the punk bands I was listening to at the time and the literature I was reading,” Ben explains. “I was becoming more educated on different social issues and learned that the way animals are treated in our society is analogous to the other social injustices we experience in our culture.” As with other minority groups throughout the course of history, society generally objectifies farm animals, viewing them as property to be used rather than as living, feeling beings. But with people like Ben advocating on their behalf, farm animals are rapidly gaining recognition as the unique, sentient individuals they are. And as he introduces members of the public to our rescued residents each day, his knowledgeable yet easygoing nature helps more and more people see that farm animals have lives and personalities as rich as those of our companion animals at home. Ben carries a lamb to safety during our recent rescue in Cattaraugus County, NY. Looking to take his animal advocacy one step further and admiring Farm Sanctuary’s work to improve the lives of farm animals, Ben decided to apply to our internship program so he could make a difference firsthand. He came to our New York Shelter in 2011 and spent the next two months working alongside our caregivers, forging relationships with our rescued residents that would last for years to come. Working directly with our residents, and seeing how their lives have changed since their arrival at sanctuary, gave Ben a profound appreciation for their journeys, inspiring him to share their remarkable journeys with others. One such individual is Julia, a former gestation sow rescued from abuse on a factory farm, whose resilience continues to inspire Ben to this day. Julia was hours away from giving birth at the time of her rescue in June 2012, which coincided with Ben’s first season as a tour guide. He feels fortunate to have been able to assist with her delivery, and even got to cut the umbilical cord of his namesake, Ben piglet! Witnessing Julia’s transformation from frightened cruelty survivor to joyful animal ambassador and loving mother has been especially heartwarming, and whenever Ben introduces guests to Maggie and Liza – two of Julia’s babies who now live with our main pig herd – he is delighted and proud to share how far this family has come. Before her rescue, Julia had never been able to raise any of her babies, but that all changed at Farm Sanctuary. The animals at our sanctuaries are no different from the billions of farm animals who pass through the meat, egg, and dairy industries each year; the only difference is that here, they are free to be themselves and protected from cruelty. As Ben leads guests into each barn, he shares our residents’ incredible rescue stories while explaining how countless individuals just like them continue to suffer on factory farms and smaller operations where animals are exploited for profit. But here, Ben gives a face and a name to the beings who are typically considered commodities – and in the process of doing so, he inspires thousands of visitors each year to consider how they can create a more compassionate world for all. “I basically get to rub pig bellies professionally,” Ben laughs. But those belly rubs not only delight residents like best friends Andy and Joan pigs (who roll over like dogs and grunt happily in response), they also help visitors to see just how similar farm animals are to the dogs and cats who more commonly enjoy human protection – inspiring countless people to change their conceptions of animals who are commonly viewed as food. One of Ben’s favorite parts of his job is introducing guests to pigs like Andy, helping them connect with these animals on a personal level. In his years at our New York Shelter, Ben has formed meaningful relationships with many of our rescued residents, but several of these friendships have been especially close, making his work all the more effective. By showing how powerful interspecies friendships can be, Ben inspires others to follow his example and open their hearts to the profound relationships we can form with farm animals when we view them with respect and compassion. “One of my favorites is Diane cow, because she loves it when I scratch her hip,” Ben says. “She’ll turn her head and start sticking out her tongue when I pet her, and she’ll follow me around to keep petting her. Diane is one of Ben’s closest farm-animal friends. “I also love Freckles sheep, because when he spots me in the barn he’ll come right up to me, even when I haven’t seen him in a few months. Sometimes it’ll be a little embarrassing because I’ll have guests in the barn and I’ll encourage them to pet Freckles, but he tends to walk away from my guests and just stand by me. He’ll tap me with his hoof until I pet him. Gentle Freckles has formed an especially close bond with Ben. “Elsa turkey is also great; she follows me around until I pet her. Elsa turkey, who was left anonymously at our New York Shelter as a baby, is one of Ben’s closest Farm Sanctuary pals. “Also, Marge pig loves it when I’m in my garden. [Ben lives on site.] I throw her weeds over the fence and sometimes I’ll even pick the good stuff, like kale, and feed it to her. She really loves veggies; whenever I call her name she comes running to the garden fence – she knows she’ll get a treat!” Marge pig knows that Ben has access to the best treats (such as kale!). These close bonds are what Farm Sanctuary life is all about – living in harmony with all beings and planting seeds of compassion wherever we go. Ben shows us just how rich our lives can be when we are guided by love and kindness – and we deeply value all that Ben does to facilitate meaningful connections between farm animals and the humanimals who love them. “Being at Farm Sanctuary is amazing,” Ben says. “I am so fortunate to be able to educate people every season on how animals are treated and to encourage them to eliminate their consumption of animal products. I feel like I am so lucky to be able to make a career out of something that aligns so well with my values.” Cecelia turkey enjoys a special under-the-wings massage, courtesy of Ben. We feel just as lucky to have Ben on our team as we work to create a kinder world for all. His positive example allows us to see the compassion that exists all around us – and he teaches us that the more we speak up for animals, the more the world will listen.