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The Newsroom: Articles: Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary

Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary
by Cheryl Kucsera, PSAS Volunteer

Nicholas the rooster, Poplar Spring Resident
Photo by Tom Kucsera


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Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary is one of only about a dozen animal sanctuaries in the country that rescues, and provides a permanent home for, farmed animals. The Sanctuary is located along the C & O Canal, about 25 miles from Washington, D.C. in scenic western Montgomery County.

Terry Cummings and her husband, Dave Hoerauf, are the co-directors of Poplar Spring. When they moved to the farm 15 years ago, most of the acres of the farm were already leased to a man who raised cows for beef. Terry and Dave befriended the gentle, trusting animals, got to know them as individuals and named them.

Early one morning, Terry woke to hear the cows mooing very loudly and sounding very upset. When she looked out the window to determine what was causing the cows to be so distressed, she was horrified to see them being beaten into a trailer. She and Dave were saddened as they realized their friends were being hauled off to be slaughtered. What Terry and Dave witnessed that day had a profound impact on them and led them to make the decision to go vegetarian. That was 12 years ago.

Within a short time, Terry, who has a degree in Animal Science from the University of Maryland, and Dave, who studied Zoology at the University of Maryland, began contemplating an idea to turn Poplar Spring into a sanctuary for farmed animals. While checking into whether such an undertaking was feasible, they began to realize just how great a need there was for such a sanctuary. When they presented their ideas to the owners of the farm, they were met with support for the project. Terry and Dave's dream became a reality: Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary was opened in January 1997. Today, more than a hundred animals -- pigs, cows, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, geese, ducks, horses, mules and rabbits -- call the 400-acre sanctuary home.

Beula the Cow, Poplar Spring resident
Photo by Tom Kucsera

The main mission of the Sanctuary is to rescue abused, abandoned, and neglected farmed animals. The animals come through Humane Societies, area animal control departments and rescue organizations. They come from various situations where they have suffered unimaginable cruelty and trauma at the hands of humans. As a result, most of the animals are in very bad shape -- both physically and mentally -- when they arrive at Poplar Spring. But from that moment on, their lives take a positive turn. They receive whatever veterinary care they require, are provided with nourishing food and fresh water, and sleep in comfortable barns on clean, soft hay. In addition, they are treated with love, patience and respect -- a brand new experience for most of these animals. Understandably, most of the animals are frightened and mistrustful when they first arrive. However, thanks to lots of patience and TLC, they become very friendly and many actually enjoy being around people.

In addition to providing a home for former farmed animals, Poplar Spring also recognizes the importance of saving a place for wildlife.
In the D.C. area, as in many parts of the country, a lot of wildlife has been forced out of their natural habitat due to development. For this reason, the Sanctuary also serves as a wildlife refuge. Poplar Spring works with Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation, who release rehabilitated wildlife at the Sanctuary.

The third important objective of the Sanctuary is humane education. The Sanctuary gives tours as part of their goal to educate others about the plight of farmed animals and to promote the humane treatment of, and respect for, all animals. Numerous school classes, scout troops, church groups, humane societies and other groups have taken tours of the Sanctuary, during which time the visitors get the opportunity to meet, and interact with, the animals. They learn that each animal has a name and hear the story as to how he or she came to be at the Sanctuary.

A tour of the Sanctuary allows visitors to see animals, who they usually associate with food, as individuals. They observe that these animals have just as much personality and individuality, and are every bit as affectionate, playful, companionable, and sensitive, as the animals with
whom they share their homes.

Kerry the Goat, Poplar Spring resident
Photo by Tom Kucsera

Interacting with the animals causes many who eat meat to consider expanding their circle of compassion by asking the question: "Which animals do you eat and which animals do you pet?" Out of respect for Poplar Spring's residents, visitors are obliged to adhere to one rule, which is that no meat is to be eaten on the grounds of the Sanctuary. This rule has presented many opportunities to enlighten visitors about the effects that their food choices have on other sentient beings. By far, the most persuasive ambassadors for the nameless victims of factory farming are the Sanctuary's residents themselves. (This year, 10 billion factory-farmed animals will be killed for food in the U.S.)

Poplar Spring residents enjoying some country mud
Photo by Tom Kucsera

With so few homes available to farmed animals, it comes as no surprise that Poplar Spring gets daily phone calls from all over the country. Poplar Spring makes every effort to take an animal in need. Unfortunately, the Sanctuary isn't able to take every animal who needs a home. One of the determining factors as to whether or not the Sanctuary can provide a home for a needy animal is the limited barn space. This means that Poplar Spring can only take the worst cases -- those animals who have been severely abused and neglected -- such as cows Beulah and Caroline who were found neglected, and had almost died of starvation, on a dairy farm in North Carolina; goats Kerry and Camille, and Violet, a cow, who came from an extreme neglect situation; Heidi, a goat, who came from a starvation case; chickens Henrietta and Nicholas, who were victims of the Santeria cult; Darcy and Tally, former race horses, who nearly became meat; and a truckload of slaughterhouse-bound pigs who had been abandoned in D.C.

Thanks to Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary and its supporters, the stories of these and many more animals have happy endings. These animals will never be sent to a slaughterhouse or be killed. They will be allowed to
live out their natural lives in peace and contentment. They can enjoy the fresh air and sunshine and the grass beneath their feet as they roam and play in the peaceful, open pastures. They can enjoy the companionship of
other sanctuary residents and have the opportunity to develop friendships. Animals on factory farms are denied all of these simple pleasures.

On a sign at the entrance of another farmed animal sanctuary is a rewording of the last few lines of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty:

"You have nothing to fear and so your story ends. Your troubles are all over and, here, you have a home."

This is the happy ending to the story of each of the animals fortunate to find a home at Poplar Spring.

You can learn more about Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary by visiting:

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