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Heartland Farm Sanctuary Helps People by Saving Animals

By Jim Caton

With the difficulty we seem to have housing homeless people, it can be easy to forget that we humans are not the only ones who live here and who need food, shelter and care. Dana Barre, executive director and founder of the Heartland Farm Sanctuary, provides a staggering statistic to remind us we are not alone. "There are more than 50 million farm animals in Wisconsin, but no shelters dedicated to helping farm animals until Heartland was founded in 2009," Barre says.

But how do farm animals become homeless? Barre explains that many animals are mistreated or simply unwanted, and that "they are often either abandoned or remain with the owner who no longer wants to - or is able to - take care of them." Barre saw this need and took action. About ten miles west of Madison, on 80 scenic acres of rolling hills and forest, she established Heartland, Wisconsin's first, and still its only, shelter dedicated to farm animals in need. Since 2009 Heartland has taken in and cared for almost 300 farm animals.

"And," says Barre, "we have become a resource for state shelters needing information about how to care for the farm animals they do take in from the public or law enforcement." Such an undertaking is clearly a labor born of a great compassion that embraces all life, so it's not surprising that Barre's compassion was not satisfied with caring only for the animals.

An important component of Heartland is its Animal-Assisted Therapy program. "At Heartland, we believe in the power of people and animals to rescue each other. We welcome at risk and special needs youth and adults who seek out our animals for comfort and a chance to learn new skills and give back." Therapeutic programs Heartland offers include Barn-Time, for children ages 7-12 living with a special need, and Animal Hearts, for youth and families impacted by trauma or loss. "Animals are such natural healers," Barre says.

"They don't judge us; kids don't feel pressured to discuss their problems with the animals (although many often do!); and they are wonderful to snuggle with! Youth who have experienced trauma and loss find healing at our barn, too. Children who have been abused or are homeless can relate to our animals' stories of abuse and homelessness, and by helping provide daily care for our animals, the kids get a handle on their own situation."

The Barn-Time program pairs a University of Wisconsin student with a youth with developmental disabilities to do activities with Heartland's animals, Barre explains. And Animal Hearts "is another program which helps traumatized children and their families in sessions facilitated by licensed therapists. And soon we are starting up a program for Veterans and their families." In addition to providing these wonderful therapeutic programs, Heartland Animal Sanctuary further serves its surrounding community with what it calls its "humane educational" programs.

Heartland takes an interesting approach to teaching children about animals. As its web page explains, the sanctuary provides "an experiential basis for children to learn about animals in a way not found in the traditional classroom. We stress that, although we may look different on the outside, we are all the same on the inside."

That insistence on the shared feelings of humans and animals seems to underlie everything Heartland does, and makes the sanctuary appealing for parents who want to help develop such compassion in their children. "Our most popular program is our summer day camp that is held for ten weeks each summer," Barre says. Kids of all abilities get to help with barn chores and animal care, and also do a lot of fun and educational activities with our counselors on our 80 acres of farmland, forest, and prairie. We hold a similar camp on Saturdays in the Fall and Spring."

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An English teacher for twenty-five years, first at a college near Buffalo and then at...

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