At Farm Sanctuary, we’re afforded the unique opportunity to witness the incredible bonds farm animals form with their families when given the chance.
Take Julia pig, once used as a breeding sow at a factory farm, who today is free to roam, root, and wallow in the mud with her now-grown babies. Their fellow sanctuary residents Olive and Aretha goats, pregnant at the time of their rescue from a backyard butcher, gave birth in safety and will be able to stay with their babies for life. And Liz cow, sent to sanctuary by a caring guardian whose small dairy farm had failed, is able
to keep and raise her son Cashew (along with adopted son Jerome), unlike her peers in the dairy industry.
Dana visiting with her goat buddies
Dana offers Amorosa chicken a treat
Dana shares a laugh with Marjorie goat
Aretha, rear, watches over Min, one of her twin daughters.
Stories like theirs are cause for celebration. But they’re
the exception, rather than the rule. In our work, we are also fortunate to know
so many animals who’ve inspired us with their resilience – their ability to experience adversity and heartbreak,
and learn to thrive in spite of them. Take Ari steer, born at an auction for
so-called “spent” dairy cows, whose mother was taken away to be sold for
slaughter just moments after he was born. Now a happy, healthy two-year-old,
Ari has built a new family at Farm Sanctuary, centered around his best pal, another
rescued steer named Nik. Or Bob Harper pig, who fell off a transport truck as a
piglet in the meat industry and came to our New York Shelter alone, but found
an inseparable companion in his best pig buddy Eric.
Eric and Bob Harper.
They serve as inspiration for all of us who work to make the
world a better place for farm animals. But their stories are especially
poignant for Caregiver Assistant Dana Penman, whose own life has been affected
by a painful separation from family.
“So many of the animals that come to Farm Sanctuary
have either been taken away from their mother or had their children taken away,
and that is something I will always feel connected to,” Dana says. “Whether
it’s a calf or a piglet or a chicken, I will have that desire to make them feel
safe and secure for the rest of their lives.”
Dana bonds with young Scott lamb.
Many of us grew up loving dogs and cats, but disconnected
from the farm animals we are raised to value only in connection with
commodities such as meat and milk. But when people meet and interact with these
animals up close, they’re often surprised to find just how similar they are to the
companion animals we’re more familiar with. Many people come away having drawn the simple conclusion that all beings – farm animals no exception – deserve be
loved, cared for, and afforded the opportunity to live life on their own terms.
At Farm Sanctuary, every work day for Dana is a day
spent helping animals do just that. And the ability to help our residents move
beyond tragedy to live out their lives in peace is a true calling for this
Baby Pecan and mom Cheryl.
“My heart is filled with joy for
the beautiful mothers who get to live out their lives with their babies,
like Cheryl and her boy Pecan, or Willow and Josie-Mae. It’s nice to just sit in the presence
of these beautiful animals and know that they are still able to trust and still
able to find happiness. It gives me hope and helps to keep me in the present
moment, for which I have a lot to be happy about.”
Dana with Willow goat, who is raising daughter Josie-Mae at our New York Shelter.
At Farm Sanctuary, animals are
free to spend the rest of their lives with their families – either their
biological families or the ones they build themselves. “Sometimes, family is
not the one you were born into but the one you choose, and that certainly is
the case for Jerome calf,” Dana says. “I am overjoyed to see how Liz and Cashew have accepted, loved, and nurtured him since he came to
us.” Often for the first time in their lives, animals rescued from cruelty,
neglect, or indifference are able to form close-knit bonds with the beings who
make them feel happy, supported, and valued.
Jerome joins Liz and Cashew’s family at Farm Sanctuary.
These days, Dana also draws strength from the family she has built
– including her wife, Lauren; their son, Dylan; and the various human and
animal friends who empower her to be the best version of herself she can be. But she also pays homage to her roots by remembering the lessons she’s
learned, crediting influential people like her Grandma “Taffy” for helping her
build the type of life she is proud to lead.
“My Grandma Taffy … has always had a special place in my heart,”
Dana says. “Before she passed, she wrote a book for her grandchildren telling
us her timeless words of wisdom. She told us to look for beauty in nature, feel
for concerns of the world, and have passion.”
Dana was at a crossroads in her
life when she decided to take Grandma Taffy’s words to heart and embark on a career path
that was truly meaningful to her.
“I was at a junction in my life
where I was yearning for ‘that job,’” she recalls. “I didn’t know what ‘that
job’ was, but I knew I was at that time in my life when I wanted to not only
make a difference in the world around me, but also set an example for my son,
Dylan. It is important to me that he knows I will support him no matter how
crazy his dreams may be and will urge him to follow his heart. This is when I
decided to apply to intern with Farm Sanctuary.”
Dana poses with fellow interns and their cow friend Stella.
From the moment Dana arrived at
our New York Shelter, she felt her Grandma Taffy’s presence. “I know that she
would have loved it here,” she reflects. And on one day in particular, Dana
says she received a special sign that helped her conclude that she was on the
right path. That memorable moment took place at Farm Sanctuary’s Rainbow Bridge
Memorial, a beautiful and tranquil spot at our New York Shelter where beloved animals who
have passed on are remembered and honored.
Stones at the Rainbow Bridge Memorial.
“I was asked by Mario [Ramirez, New York Shelter Farm Manager] to do some
weeding around the Rainbow Bridge one day that I was on his cleaning service. He took me
there to show me what needed to be done, and wanted to show me the memorial
stone he had made for his companion animals that had passed. As he pointed it
out, I noticed a stone right next to his that said, ‘Precious Taffy. Forever
Taffy’s memorial stone helped Dana honor her grandmother’s memory.
“As soon as Mario left me to do my work, I sat down next to
Taffy’s stone and cried. I was so happy to finally have a sign that I had made
the right choice. I felt her more than I ever had since her passing. I make it
a point to eat lunch there every so often so I can say I had lunch with my
Grandma. I know that stone was made for someone else, but I hope they will
someday know just how deeply it touched me to see her name written right there
for me to see every day.”
Dana had completed her first 200-hour
yoga teacher training course just two weeks before her internship began. But
after spending time at the New York Shelter, she felt an even stronger pull
toward Farm Sanctuary life than she did toward teaching yoga, and she realized
that she could spread peace and mindfulness in a different but equally valuable
way here. Dana joined our shelter staff in August, and she reports that in the
months since, she has learned more about herself through her work for farm
animals than she ever thought possible.
Dana beams after a muddy encounter with Sleepy pig, who was kind enough to share some mud-puddle residue after a wallowing session.
She feels fortunate for the opportunity to work on behalf of these
amazing animals, and says they inspire her to value the gifts that each day
brings. “Despite the physical demands of the job, I feel more energetic and
peaceful,” she notes. Her work requires her to be in the present moment at all
times, focused completely on our rescued residents and working to meet the individual
needs of each animal she works with.
Her days start bright and early;
by 6:30 a.m., she’s already on the sanctuary grounds and ready for a day of
hard but rewarding work. Throughout the day, she interacts with the animals in
our “Sheds” area, specifically, providing the care, love, and attention that
each resident needs and deserves.
“I grab my med kit and veggies
for Mouse [pig] and head up to Sheds to start administering meds for the
animals,” Dana says of her morning routine. “I walk into the R&R barn where
the pigs are sleeping, and turn on the light. As soon as they hear me unlocking
the gates, they all pick their heads up and wait for me to come give them their
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that are hiding their medicines and
vitamins. I say good morning to them all and then leave to go check on everyone
else.” From there, the day progresses through feeding and providing water,
distributing hay, and monitoring the animals to ensure that each one receives
the attention he or she needs to thrive.
Mouse at Farm Sanctuary after returning from a stay at Cornell.
For example, Dana spends a
considerable amount of time each day helping her buddy Mouse practice with
his prosthetic. Mouse, rescued last fall from a backyard butcher in New York’s
Hudson Valley, came to us with a leg that had been broken but left untreated.
The leg was withered and unusable, but through extensive treatment at the Nemo
Farm Animal Hospital at Cornell University and continuing physical therapy here
at home, Mouse is making wonderful progress!
Mouse has been hard at work building up the amount of time he is able to use his prosthetic leg at a stretch.
Dana instills grace and humor in
every activity, whether it’s cheering on the progress of residents like Mouse or
enjoying lighthearted moments with her fellow sanctuary staffers. Caregiving work
is often difficult – long hours, tough challenges, and moments of heartbreak all come
with the territory – but every member of the team also receives healthy doses
of fulfillment, strength, and resilience in return. And that’s what Dana
chooses to focus on each day.
Dana enjoying a moment of levity with Tatiana goat.
Working with animals who have painful
pasts has helped Dana to treat herself with the same level of love and kindness
that she extends to our residents. And this compassionate point of view has
been instrumental in helping her evolve into the effective advocate she once longed
Dana with pal Benedict goat, who was rescued from a backyard butcher. Benedict lives with ongoing neurological issues, but he doesn’t let them get in the way of his fun!
“I had been vegetarian off and on
since high school, but had never known or understood what veganism was until I
moved to Nashville about five years ago,” she says. “There was a fairly big
vegan community in that area, and that time now seems like a blur of devouring
animal-rights books, documentaries, and studying the environmental impact of factory farming. What started out as
concern for the environment soon developed into a personal conviction regarding
the way animals are viewed and treated. Once it all made sense, I was a little
upset with myself that it had taken me that long to get there. I had always
said I loved animals and wanted to work with animals, yet I was not vegan. I
had to extend a lot of grace to myself (and still do), because I believe that
veganism is a journey of learning and correcting your behavior to align with
As Dana points out, it can be
disheartening to look back on things we might have done differently, or changes
we wish we’d made sooner. But treating ourselves with patience and kindness is
an important step in extending compassion to all.
Sweet Gary calf was very lonely when he arrived, but with love and support from compassionate friends like Dana, he’s receiving the comfort and care he needs to thrive in his new life at Farm Sanctuary.
On leaving her former career plans behind to work with rescued farm
animals, Dana reflects: “This decision has positively affected my whole family.
My wife is happier, I am happier, and our son has transitioned so well and is
very happy. I had spent far too long at a job as a bar manager because it paid
the bills, but didn’t fulfill me. It is very important that I now get to lead
by example for Dylan in that money does not mean much. You should never stay at
a job because the money is good. You should stay at a job because it fills your
heart with joy. And that is how I feel here at Farm Sanctuary.”
As a member of the Farm Sanctuary family, Dana continually inspires
us to honor our gifts and celebrate joy where we find it. Her warm, nurturing
personality is an incredible asset to our residents and staff members alike,
and we’re honored to have this compassionate humanimal on our team as we work
to make the world a kinder place for farm animals.
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