Sanctuary Groupie: Yoga Animalia Project Blog

How Best Friends Can Heal Your Wounds: Levi & Romy

Levi & Romy, friends for life, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Levi & Romy, friends for life, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Levi and Romy were two of the first Farm Sanctuary New York residents I had the pleasure of meeting. The pair were sharing a stall in the Melrose Small Animal Hospital which also serves as the nexus of shelter activity. They had just come in separately not long before (their individual rescue stories are below), and though Romy had taken no time at all to bond with humans due to his long convalescence, Levi was still terrified. Romy would come bounding toward me when I entered their area, but Levi hung back; Romy would head butt, hoof, climb, and in other ways let you know of his need and demand for attention, while Levi seemed content to let his friend deal with us bipeds.

Levi & Romy playing with the Postal Peeps in their stall in the Melrose Small Animal Hospital, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Levi & Romy playing with the Postal Peeps in their stall in the Melrose Small Animal Hospital, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Romy & Levi, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Romy & Levi, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

A highlight of my Watkins Glen time was the first time Levi came up to me and started to hoof at my leg - a demand for attention that some of you might be accustomed to receiving from friendlier sheep and goats. Such a dramatic difference from when I first arrived and he would flee in terror. Whether it is a sign of his growing acceptance that the humans around him now are there to help him, or whether he just had a particular nasty itch he couldn't reach and I was a convenient scratcher, this gesture made me giddy. Perhaps it is a testament to the power of friends that Levi slowly started to not only allow people close, but eventually to demand attention himself. Maybe he saw the interaction that Romy had with us and this spurred his healing, and maybe Levi just needed more time to acclimate. 

Levi, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Levi, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Levi is now a bona fide friend to the humans, perhaps inspired by his best friend Romy. Watching the transformation from scared new rescue to loving Farm Sanctuary resident brought me so much joy, and now Levi and Romy get to live out their lives at the newest Farm Sanctuary site: Jon & Tracey Stewarts' Bufflehead Farms in New Jersey. Click here for a ridiculous cuteness overload video of their arrival. When the newest location is open, Romy, Levi, and their new herd will greet humans with the love and joy they have received, and maybe even inspire healing through friendship for visitors.

Levi, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Levi, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Yoga Animalia: Caprine - Levi

Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Levi was found, scared and emaciated, in Brooklyn. It is suspected that he somehow escaped a live market, as his Kentucky tags marked “meat” indicate he was transported in to the city. How he escaped is unknown and miraculous, as this boy has issues with his back that cause problems with his movement and he may possibly be a fainting goat. However he escaped, Levi found his way into the safety of Farm Sanctuary where his terror has started to abate, and he will receive a loving community to help him come out of his shell.

Levi, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Levi, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Romy, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Romy, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Yoga Animalia: Ovine - Romy

Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Romy arrived at Farm Sanctuary from a small permaculture farm that raises sheep for meat. He was left in the cold night after born, and, when found the next day, the effort and expense to heal the lamb outweighed his worth to them. Farm Sanctuary was able to get him the veterinary care he needed - several months worth of hospital trips and intensive antibiotic treatments. During that time Romy only had humans as companions, and to this day adores hanging out with people. This sickly lamb has become a loving and happy sheep, lavishing attention on his human and goat friends.

Romy, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Romy, Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, New York

Trekking to the East, or How to Spend $3000 Too Quickly

Back pedal with me a bit - back to the start of the Yoga Animalia Project journey on July 25th, 2015.

Well, it really started much earlier than that, like three+ years earlier when the concept of visiting and photographing all the farmed animal sanctuaries first entered my brain. But the important bit for right now is that after all that time, all that hesitation and indecision, I finally sat myself behind the wheel of my new-to-me 34-foot RV, christened Katie Kowhugger (in honor of the amazing human who is one of the people largely responsible in so many ways for this journey being possible) though as you will see, she earned another, less favorable, moniker.

With all my printed art safely stored on board, I set off with The Traveling Yoda as my copilot. We were D.C.-bound for the Animal Rights Conference where I would have a booth for the second year with the Yoga Animalia Project. Along the way I hoped to stop and see some family and friends, enjoy the scenery, and make my way diligently toward the east coast.

Yoda as my copilot - what could go wrong?

Yoda as my copilot - what could go wrong?

I'll tell you what could go wrong: just outside of Flagstaff on day 1 of travel, Katie Kowhugger decided to stall out. Luckily traffic was slowed by construction so I was able to ease off the road onto the too-tiny shoulder (Katie is 8 feet wide for those picturing the ease of fitting a car onto the shoulder) after about five minutes of start-stop incremental movements. Several hours after contacting roadside assistance and feeling a skosh sea-sick from Katie's rocking as traffic whizzed by, a very nice gentleman was finally able to get my RV hooked up to his tow vehicle. Katie did not make this easy on the poor guy, and thus was her Diva title established.

Not a view I relished...

Not a view I relished...

After a thirty-mile-an-hour tow to the repair shop, Katie and I arrived in Bellemont, AZ at Bellemont Truck Repair & Towing in the late evening. I parked in their lot and passed out. Hurray for taking your bed with you.

The next day they were able to get me fixed up with a new alternator, a minor miracle considering it was Sunday, and I'm quite grateful for the crew at the shop for being there. While waiting I walked and tried to be all meditative and not panicked. It sort of worked. Cost of repair: $550; cost to sanity: stress of delay.

I stopped for a quick vegan grub fueling at the Whyld Ass in Flastaff, some more walking meditation, followed by a joyous photo opportunity with a painted cow friend.

Photo Sadhana: parsva virabhadrasana Warrior #fortheanimals

Photo Sadhana: parsva virabhadrasana Warrior #fortheanimals

Getting into Albuquerque Sunday night came with a wash of relief yet also irritation for the short amount of distance traveled. My walking meditation hadn't ameliorated the anxiety about getting to the Animal Rights Conference in D.C. by Thursday for set up. However I was hopeful I could still at least see some family in OK, though my planned detour to Missouri and friends was out.

On Monday I was in the middle of a rather empty stretch of the 40 between Albuquerque and Amarillo when I decided to stop for needed caffeination. Katie stalled out on the offramp. I think panic tried to assert itself on my brain, but mostly I was just too tired by the first ordeal to feel much. I might have called her a behemoth at this point.

Another roadside assistance call and several hours wait later, I was on my way backward to San Jon, NM and a repair facility. This experience was markedly less pleasant than my time in Flagstaff, which is a cool town; San Jon, NM is essentially the repair facility and the neighboring one it wars with, plus a convenience store. I also felt extremely taken advantage of since I had little choice but to pay for the brand new fuel pump they said I needed. Cost of repair: $1800; cost to sanity: gray hairs and ground down teeth.

My caption for this photo that day on Instagram:  At one point while these nice guys struggled with my stubborn motorhome to get her towable, I kind of hiccup-giggled because the thought crossed my mind that my diva motorhome just wanted men underneath her again. That was better than screaming to the heavens or dissolving into crying fits, but those emotive states are rather near the surface just yet.

My caption for this photo that day on Instagram: At one point while these nice guys struggled with my stubborn motorhome to get her towable, I kind of hiccup-giggled because the thought crossed my mind that my diva motorhome just wanted men underneath her again. That was better than screaming to the heavens or dissolving into crying fits, but those emotive states are rather near the surface just yet.

I am sure there is something of redeeming value along that stretch of the 40, some beauteous flora or fauna or experience, however my only thought as I left San Jon, NM behind was of relief to be gone and driving east again. I take that back, there was one beautiful being I met while waiting for Katie to be fixed:

Yoga Animalia: Arachnid

Yoga Animalia: Arachnid

Just as I was entering Amarillo, TX I saw a highway patrol officer behind me, and then his lights flashed. As if pulling Katie off the freeway wasn’t challenge enough, I had to do it while a law enforcement professional followed me. I had read previously that it was always a good idea to get out of one’s RV so you weren’t towering above the officer from the doorway. This I did. He was cordial (and as a bonus, cute), explained that he had pulled me over because I was swaying on the road a bit and riding on and over the solid white line on the right hand lane’s edge as he observed. I offered the truism that I was still fairly new at driving an RV, and provided my registration as proof to that fact. Seriously, Katie is like 11 feet tall, she sways like a drunken frat girl in the slightest breeze despite her rather, uh, prodigious, weight, and it takes a lot of effort mentally and physically to keep her heading mostly straight. Since I was chipper and alert (stress proved useful at this point), he could clearly see that I was not drunk, nor was I exhausted and making poor driving choices. He let me off with a warning. Thank the spirits.

This experience would have been nerve-frying enough, but (and this is when Katie earned the full moniker of the Behemoth Diva) as I started her up to leave, my check engine light came on for a third time. I’m sure there were expletives, there might have been a freak out, I honestly can’t recall fully. However Katie had not stalled again, so I determined to keep driving and at least get to Oklahoma City where options for repairs would be better.

I had to cancel meeting up with my family living in northern Oklahoma, because now the timing to get to the conference in D.C. was reaching a critical point, and I had to make the decision whether to stay overnight to try and get repairs in Oklahoma City and lose valuable (and cooler) driving time, or keep going through the night. Looking at options ahead, I realized I might be in for expensive repairs, both in time and cost if I broke down for a third time beyond the city reaches; there wasn’t a whole lot of options after I left OKC. I parked near a Home Depot at about midnight that evening when I finally got into the city, researched a repair shop, and tried to sleep.

The first handstand pic of the trip, which attests to my stress level that I didn't think to do one before I was halfway across the country.

The first handstand pic of the trip, which attests to my stress level that I didn't think to do one before I was halfway across the country.

Stirring the next morning with plenty of time to get to the chosen repair place as it opened, I first went into the Home Depot to get a few items including pegboards for a new version of my booth display. The employee who helped me was so kind and helpful, and flirtatious, that I started the morning more hopeful and cheerful than I otherwise would have.

Maybe it was this positivity, but as I started Katie up the check engine light was nowhere to be seen. I tried it a second time, disbelieving, and still it remained off. I decided a repair shop visit was still wise. Wise maybe, but aggravating assuredly. I proceeded to four different repair shops that morning, each one directing me on to the next because they didn’t work on that specific problem, or were too backlogged to assist me. Finally the receptionist at the fourth place took pity on me, maybe because I looked like a crazed person about to lose his composure by then or because she is a nice lady, and called her service manager to describe the issue to him over the phone since they were booked solid and couldn’t look at Katie in person. The suggestion was made by how I described all my recent issues that it was just an oxygen sensor that had been malfunctioning, but been purged since I stopped. I crossed my fingers, prayed to a few different deific manifestations, and got back on the road four frazzled hours later.

This is the point where the third time proves to be the charm: Katie Kowhugger chugged along the 40 and didn’t stall on me again.

Bridge to new lands not ridden by drought, the Hernando de Soto.

Bridge to new lands not ridden by drought, the Hernando de Soto.

After a brief stop in Little Rock, AR where I thought the 95 degree with 95 percent humidity was going to kill me, we crossed the Mississippi River into Memphis, a joyous experience, because all that water not evaporating immediately was so novel to my desert-born self. It was less novel when outside the RV and the sweat was pouring over my skin. I discovered on this portion of the trip that Tennessee is a very LONG state, and I was not as near to my destination as I needed to be. That drive through Tennessee I mostly remember for how long it took, how many extra miles I tried to manage after driving twelve hours, and, blessedly, green things. I finally had to stop before getting to the Virginia border and pass out.

Virginia is also a long state, especially following the 81 that brought me up away from Knoxville and into Virginia proper. I really don’t know where the eastern states got all this space since I was under the impression it was all compacted and faster to zip around once you got away from the expanses of California and Texas. The lengthy trek through southern Virginia I only really broke up by trying to visit a vegan restaurant in Abingdon (which I forever could only remember as Abbadingdong) and failing utterly after finding myself in the too-tiny streets of its downtown, trying not to have a panic attack as branches scratched across Katie’s roof and I searched for the relative safety of the two-lane freeway.

By the time I was in Virginia, I realized there was absolutely no way I was making it to the conference in time for Thursday set up, and had resigned myself to postpone my frantic activity for the following morning versus frantically driving to try and make even a part of set up. Joyously that decision somewhat alleviated the stress of driving, and at about midnight I rolled into the parking area of the Hilton hotel in Alexandria, VA where the Animal Rights Conference would be held, exhausted and relieved to be stationary. 

Finally arrived and set up at the Animal Rights Conference 2015, ready to spread the love of sanctuary and meet amazing people speaking up for the animals.

Finally arrived and set up at the Animal Rights Conference 2015, ready to spread the love of sanctuary and meet amazing people speaking up for the animals.

I am finally writing this blog post more than five months after this cross country trek occurred; it is New Year’s Day of 2016 and I am in the umpteenth Starbucks of my travels in Savannah, GA. I have been trying to determine the immediate next steps to best continue photographing the remaining farm animal sanctuaries, and, surprise of all surprises, stressing about it. My funds are running low, Katie needs some important repairs, and my wheels are tired. But I am happy. The issues will resolve themselves, support and guidance will arrive when least I expect it, and I keep reminding myself to go with the flow and trust. It took me these months to put this story into words, partially out of logistical distraction, but also because I was being a bit superstitious writing about the repair issues thinking Katie would retaliate with more problems. However New Year’s Day seemed like a good day to reflect on what has passed in order to make space for what is to come. Looking forward into 2016 I vacillate between a bit of anxiety about the unknown, but also excitement. This quest will continue, perhaps after a pause, perhaps without, but with the joy that I have found in connecting to sanctuaries and the individuals who reside there. My 2016 wish is to live with my heart open, accepting the good and the less so as it shows up to support and challenge me, and I wish that for everyone too: that we all live whole-heartedly and cultivate our compassion. To a joyous 2016!

Namaste,

Cameron

Permission for Crazy: Starting the Yoga Animalia Project Journey

Sweet Pea, Peaceful Fields Sanctuary, Winchester, Virginia

Sweet Pea, Peaceful Fields Sanctuary, Winchester, Virginia

Five months ago I did something crazy: I moved out of my apartment into a new-to-me 34 foot-long motorhome I christened Katie Kowhugger and started driving east. It is crazy not because I am doing it, but because it took me so long to finally give myself permission to make it happen.

I have wanted to create photographic portraits of individuals living at farmed animal sanctuaries for several years. I was doing so in a small way at the sanctuary where I worked and the northerly location, but I longed to indulge wanderlust and visit the many sanctuaries spread across the US and Canada. It was an enormous endeavor in my head; I had only visited three other states and never left the country – travel was an unknown quantity in my life. I had a Google map of approximate sanctuary locations I had been building by finding sanctuaries on lists or on Facebook, and it was steadily climbing toward the hundred mark for just farmed animal sanctuaries. I was daunted by the thought of doing it. So I let it simmer, let myself hope and dream and discuss, but never take the strides to really do much about it.

Oreo, Farm Sanctuary's Animal Acres, Acton, California    One of my earliest, and personally poignant, portraits of Oreo calf to whom we had to say goodbye due to   irreparable health issues a month after this photo was taken.

Oreo, Farm Sanctuary's Animal Acres, Acton, California

One of my earliest, and personally poignant, portraits of Oreo calf to whom we had to say goodbye due to irreparable health issues a month after this photo was taken.

Fast forward past some challenging times, some joyous times, and many in between, I found myself unhitched from the stabilizing and comfort-making force of employment. I recall looking forward and back, fearful of what was to come, relieved and stressed by what had come before, and then taking a moment just to be present with the possibility of finally following this idea of becoming a traveling photographer. It was magical.

It was also terrifying, so drastically outside my comfort zone that my stomach rebelled on more than one occasion, and fraught with so many unknowns. And it was exciting. I dove into research on living a mobile lifestyle, started the quest for a mode of conveying me cross-country, looked at maps, updated my sanctuary list, purged clutter and hundreds of books I previously thought would need to be ripped from my lifeless fingers, and, most importantly, told everyone I was doing it. That was a truly scary task, because then they got excited for me, and a sense of being held responsible for this crazy idea hit me. What was I thinking??

Benatar, Animal Place, Grass Valley, California

Benatar, Animal Place, Grass Valley, California

Hairy Bob, Ching Farm Rescue & Sanctuary, Herriman, Utah

Hairy Bob, Ching Farm Rescue & Sanctuary, Herriman, Utah

My evolving map of sanctuaries.

My evolving map of sanctuaries.

By this time I had a few more sanctuaries with whom I had connected and photographed. A good portion of the California sanctuaries, one in Salt Lake City, and all the Oregon sanctuaries had created a sizable collection of portraits of the amazing individuals who live in these places. This helped the idea of visiting all the sanctuaries seem slightly less challenging. I only had seventy-five or so more to go.

During this process I tried to let every conceivable roadblock dissuade me. I could not find a suitable, yet affordable RV, guess that cuts it. How was I going to earn money? Better stay put and get a job. I was not equipped with a deep savings to finance such an expedition – best to build that up prior. I’m going to leave my family and what if something happens? Staying close by feels safer. I’m not a traveler. I don’t’ know what I’m doing. I’m afraid of snow (true statement, I don’t know how you non-Southern Californians handle that frozen water falling from the sky).

I was thinking so long and hard about how I could fail that I often forgot to think about how I could succeed. Luckily for my crazed brain and the future of the expedition I have some rather rational friends who gave me verbal, emotional, and, in one jarring case, physical slaps upside the head and reminders that this is what I had been DREAMING about doing. And I was, in small steps and starts, making it happen. The RV showed up. A friend walked me through the intricacies of driving and maintaining a motorhome. Some house sitting gigs appeared to help build up the resources. A beautifully generous friend for whom Katie Kowhugger RV is named made a contribution to getting me going. Friends helped me prep and clean and pack the RV for travel. It was the height of summer so I could stave off having to confront snow for a while.

Luke, Out to Pasture Sanctuary, Estacada, Oregon

Luke, Out to Pasture Sanctuary, Estacada, Oregon

Willow & I, Cotton Branch Animal Sanctuary, Leesville, South Carolina

Willow & I, Cotton Branch Animal Sanctuary, Leesville, South Carolina

And then I actually sat behind the wheel and drove off. I’ll save the story of the actual cross-country trek for another post; let it just be known that Katie Kowhugger earned the nickname “The Behemoth Diva” during that crossing.

As I reflect on the last few months of this still-in-progress journey -  the challenges, breath-taking beauty, occasional loneliness, joyous connections and new friends, tangential paths, small towns and large cities explored, the ever-increasing awareness of the California bubble within which I live - I find it needful to be reminded that at the heart of it was a leap of faith I took in myself: in my ability to learn and grow and pursue this dream, in the validity of my voice and my lens at work for the farmed animals residing at sanctuaries acting as ambassadors for those who are trapped in the processes of animal agriculture.  As I reflect I think of Willow, a rescued mini donkey living at Cotton Branch Animal Sanctuary in Leesville, South Carolina with whom I bonded fiercely, and I remind myself that she is why I am on this quest. I have the privilege of being connected to these individuals in my own way, and the joyous responsibility to share their stories and portraits because each one is an individual worthy of being known, and I want others to know them as well. So this journey is not crazy, it is my dream, and I give myself permission to pursue it.

Now excuse me while Katie Kowhugger and I continue heading south before the snow finds us.

Maddie & Lovebug, Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, Mehoopany, Pennsylvania

Maddie & Lovebug, Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, Mehoopany, Pennsylvania