By the third week of the Animal Sanctuary Compassion Tour we had traveled nearly 5,000 kilometers. It seemed like for most of our journey across Canada we had been followed by overcast skies, colder-than-average temperatures and more precipitation than either of us had planned for when we committed to living the #vanlife.
Arriving in Aldergrove, British Columbia to warm and sunny skies felt like nothing short of a miracle.
Our last sanctuary stop on Canadian soil was Happy Herd Farm Sanctuary and we were most certainly happy to be there!
Happy Herd Farm Sanctuary sits on four beautiful acres in the Fraser Valley. We were meant to meet Diane Marsh, one of the co-founders, upon arrival but Diane got called away to tend to an animal in need. She volunteers with Critter Care Wildlife Society who called her in a panic to see if she could help an injured skunk out of town.
Happy Herd is fortunate to have the dedicated support of regular volunteers and we were fortunate that Christina, one of the volunteers who helps out on the farm every week with her husband Paul, was there to step in and show us around.
Happy Herd specializes in taking in farm animals from slaughter and situations of abuse or neglect. For most of the residents, Happy Herd becomes their forever home. Christina takes us through the different pastures, simultaneously introducing us to the animals as she doles out fresh fruit treats to them.
We’re followed by “the supervisors,” three turkeys named Mo, Larry and Leonard, who keep a close watch on our movements.
Including ducks and chickens, the Happy Herd is home to nearly 80 animals. Many of the animals roam together during the day but have their own sleeping quarters at night.
As we enter the first pasture, we’re greeted by a sheep named Karma, and two goats named Rusty and Abigail. Abigail arrived at Happy Herd after a SPCA intervention on an abandoned farm. The older girl was so malnourished that she only had four teeth left and her horn had snapped off at the vet’s tender touch. She was covered in lice, was suffering from infections and was easily spooked by other animals. After some tender care and patience, she now happily roams with the rest of the herd!
We spend some time with goats Farley, Finn and Mowatt before Diane returns from her rescue mission. Unfortunately, the skunk was too far gone to be saved but Diane was there in its final moments. “I like to be there to hold their paw when they pass,” she says.
Last summer, another SPCA intervention at a foster home (of all places) led to a pair of potbelly pigs arriving at Happy Herd. As it turned out, one of the pigs was pregnant and shortly after her arrival she gave birth to a litter. All piglets were healthy except one, Garth, who was about ⅓ the size of his siblings and barely alive. He grew strong and healthy after receiving ‘round the clock intensive care but when he was reintroduced to his family, they rejected him. Thankfully, Garth seems to have found a friend in Baby, one of the softest, most beautiful donkeys we have ever met. She may also be the sweetest.
“Baby is the godmother to all our new rescues,” says Diane. “She demonstrates a kindness and calmness that makes everyone immediately feel at home, no matter what the species.”
Baby is also close friends with Betty Big Nose, a potbelly/feral cross pig, and Lucy, who arrived as a piglet but is now a full-size “commercial” pig.
Happy Herd Farm Sanctuary doesn’t expressly talk about veganism with visitors, instead they use the tours to educate guests about what the animals were destined to become were it not for some compassionate intervention. “I’ll show them Lucy – and she’s five years old,” says Diane.
“Most pigs of her breed are killed at 7-9 months because they’ve been bred to grow so quickly. They grow so little over the next year that it’s not profitable to keep them any more so they’re sent to slaughter.”
We end our visit at Diane’s home, which she shares with her husband Stephen, their cats and dogs and Percy the elderly potbelly pig. They got Percy 14 years ago and Diane is the first to admit that even though Percy lived with the family, they didn’t immediately make the connection between loving Percy while still eating bacon.
The couple moved to the property 9 years ago as a place to retire from their busy careers and a place where Diane could rescue old chickens. “I wanted to save the ugliest chickens I could find and give them a home,” she adds. “It brought me so much joy to make them healthy and give them a life.”
That joy would grow when she came across Desi, a week-old calf who she brought home from a meat auction. Diane had to hit the ground running as she learned how to care for a bull but was amazed to see how quickly Desi bonded with Baby the donkey.
A year later, again at an auction in search of some chickens in need, Diane heard the cry of a day-old calf. Venturing to the pens in the back of the auction house, two young Jersey cows ran towards her. Whether it was instant love or out of desperation, the brothers locked eyes with Diane and she swears they spoke to her. Scooter and Sparky came home with her that day.
Seeing their growing family of animals interact with one another and express unique personalities established that connection between what she felt and what she ate. “Animals open minds and hearts,” she says. “That has become our mandate.”
In time, the locals started visiting the animals and suggested that Happy Herd become a become a sanctuary. Happy Herd has been operating as a sanctuary for the past five years and just this year received registered charity status. They rely on the dedicated helping hands of volunteers like Christina and Paul, and the financial support of monthly and one-time donors.
Running a sanctuary has its challenges and it’s certainly not the relaxing retirement plan that Diane and Steve had in mind. Though they haven’t had a holiday together in four years, “it’s in our hearts to save more,” says Diane.
This article is part of a series from The Animal Sanctuary Compassion Tour; The Seva Life’s 10,000 kilometer road trip across Canada and the United States to visit and volunteer at animal sanctuaries and raise awareness about compassionate living.