“I am here to share love and joy,” announced Catskill Animal Sanctuary founder and executive director Kathy Stevens as she greeted me with a hug inside The Homestead, the refurbished 1813 home available to Sanctuary members for overnight stays. From there, we descended into the low-lying valley where she and her staff provide endless love for her rescued former farm, or “farmed,” animals.

Raised on a Virginia horse farm surrounded by animals, Stevens always wanted to make a difference. First, she taught high school English in Boston for a decade. Then, seeking a new challenge, she focused on three insights—animals, suffering and education—which after discovering the world of nonprofit sanctuaries (refuges for abused and abandoned animals) became her purpose.  

Strolling the property, a dilapidated former racehorse farm that she and her supporters restored with grit and determination, Stevens joyously yelled out “I love you!” to every animal we passed. None, like aging horses Ashley and Pliers, inseparably together for 35 years as mother and son and rescued last December just hours before scheduled gunshots to the head, could know how close they came to death.

Or did they?

“Animals want what we want,” Stevens said as she showed me how to calm a chicken with a neck massage, and then introduced Tucker, a gentle growth hormone-induced giant of a cow. “They are not mindless ‘somethings,’ but thinking, feeling, intelligent beings with distinct personalities and a desire for love, safety and friendship.”

Circuiting the farm with Stevens, and then again on my own, visiting with Amelia the Pig, Violet the Goat and the empty eye-socketed Appaloosa horses Buddy (inspiration for Steven’s first book, Where the Blind Horse Sings) and Mirage, it all made sense. They knew why they were there, and they were incredibly happy about their second leases on life.

Stevens’ mission is unambiguous: to end the suffering and exploitation of animals by humans. For the many groups that visit here, she understands that they may not leave committed to redesigning their lives to make that happen. Rather, her aim is that people leave more open-hearted and open-minded to far more positive alternatives and solutions, which for any organization is the first step to effective and lasting change.