Caring for rescue animals provides rejuvenation for busy volunteers

Caring for rescue animals provides rejuvenation for busy volunteers
Andrea Johnson with the horses Amanda and George

Their large dark eyes question as they push soft muzzles over the worn wooden fence, blow hot breath onto outstretched hands, and deeply inhale the scent of strangers. The horses, Amanda and George, who is named for the character in the children’s book, Curious George, are the official welcoming committee for CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm, which is named after CJ, a beloved dog.  Like every animal at the farm, endangered or harmed by humans, these trauma survivors remain friendly and interested in people. Volunteers from both historic districts, who serve at CJ Acres, have found not only a way to help animals and promote animal welfare, but also a rejuvenating escape into rural Northeast Florida.

Kim Lamb of Fairfax Manor, who has volunteered at CJ Acres for 10 years, found the non-profit, all-volunteer organization through Volunteer Match. She said that its time and schedule flexibility made it possible for her to escape to the country and help care for the animals.  Like many who visit the farm, she unexpectedly also found a best friend.

“My heart melts the moment I see adorable Opie, who is the sweetest, gentlest donkey.  But it’s not just Opie.  All the goats, pigs, horses, cows, sheep, chickens, ducks, and turkeys want our attention and love. They enjoy belly rubs, have friends and relationships among themselves and with us, and like to be talked to,” Lamb said. “Turkey was the last meat I had not given up, but after I met Tom Turkey out at the farm, with his funny personality that can’t be ignored, that was it. It was easy to stop eating turkey after I got to know Tom.” 

Lamb’s personal herd includes her German shepherd named Bunny and her rescue cat, Edward. She is a RailPros project manager.

Andrea Johnson learned about CJ Acres at the Jax Veg Festival and despite her busy career as an accounting internal auditor for a Riverside firm, she has made time to volunteer. The little girl who dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, now wishes she could pull on her dirty farm boots more often.

“I love driving to the farm… leaving the hectic pace of daily life and work behind to slow down.  It’s incredibly beautiful out there any time of year, with floating butterflies and birds singing, crickets chirping, buzzing insects, and frogs croaking. We can see stunning sunsets, wide clear night skies and endless stars.  Time flies when I’m working with the animals. I always have a feeling of gratitude that I can help in a variety of ways, from feeding or cleaning stalls to public events, doing whatever is needed along with other volunteers of all ages and backgrounds,” Johnson said. 

Lee Sackett, founder of CJ Acres and animal rescuer for 30 years, relocated his farm animal rescue from North Carolina to rural Clay County in 2003 for better weather.  This former advertising executive operates the closest farm animal rescue to Jacksonville and responds to emergencies throughout the Eastern U.S. and nationwide. He is FEMA-certified for disaster rescue and has coordinated with PETA.

Sackett has instant recall of rescue situations and details about each animal – all named – who reside on the farm. Thanksgiving turkey refugees are obvious; other stories are painful to hear. Animals come from law enforcement confiscations, cockfighting rings, hoarding, abandonment, abuse or neglect, removal ordered by an HOA, landlords, and community or zoning restriction violation authorities.    

Owners lose their land, become ill or die, and families may not want any animals left behind. Individual rescuers or organizations close or reach capacity. COVID-19 has increased calls for help from owners who unexpectedly lost income and can no longer afford to keep their animals, Sackett said. 

As a child, Sackett was never permitted to have a pet. He was told that when he became an adult, he could have as many animals as he desired.  At the first opportunity, he literally “bought the farm” and began to fulfill his personal mission to help animals. The result is a modern-day Dr. Doolittle – a laid-back comedian whose funny jokes and positivity lighten the difficult topics of abuse, abandonment, cost of care and placement for large animals with potentially longer life spans.

“The number of animals in need of rescue, ongoing care and rehabilitation for potential adoption, grows every year. Medical care and food are most costly. Regardless of national crises that cut donations or cancel fundraisers, the monthly bill for 10,000 pounds of grain and produce to feed the 125 residents of the farm must be paid. Bread, canned food, and treats cost extra,” Sackett said.

The CJ Acres team is committed to promote responsible animal stewardship, compassionate consumption and to share information about vegetarian and vegan diets. They work to bring people and animals together, to interact and communicate through pre-scheduled, socially distanced farm tours, family friendly activities, events, or a variety of volunteer opportunities for big-hearted people ages 18 and older. 

Interaction and communication with farm animals can surprise some people. They learn that every animal has an individual personality and traits just like any beloved domestic pet dog or cat, said Lamb and Johnson. Getting face-to-face with a friendly farm animal can influence attitudes toward meat consumption and the treatment of food animals, in a respectful, informative way.

Sackett has only one rule for new residents – to play nice. Wide open spaces, plentiful food, consistent training, verbal guidance, re-direction, and the occasional squirt from a water bottle result in feral cats, chickens, and former cockfighting roosters living peacefully together. Words for desired behaviors such as “stall,” are taught to simplify work for volunteers, and each species has its own set of verbal commands to avoid command chaos.

For any animal to make it to safety at CJ Acres, Sackett said the stars must align and they basically hit the lottery, because most are destined to be consumed for food or to become a product ingredient in North America or elsewhere in the world. Even unwanted horses, or excess wild mustangs rounded up from Western states for auction, may be bought for a few dollars per pound by “kill buyers”, and transported out of the U.S. to Canada for slaughter under the most inhumane conditions imaginable.

Moodini, the 1,500-pound Brahma steer who thinks he is one of the resident mustangs, escaped being “processed” at an Oviedo slaughterhouse by smashing a gate and hiding in a neighborhood backyard. Because he had no ear tag, chip, or brand he was able to be legally claimed by rescuers. 

Sackett said that residents “get healthy, then educated” at the farm with some clearly set on higher education. George, the horse who is on the logo, is the longest resident. He takes delight in opening doors by crunching the doorknob. He is especially pleased if he can lock volunteers in or out. George can also turn the water and lights on and off. Opie the donkey is currently focused on how to use keys left in doors.

 CJ Acres relies on community support from mailed checks or online donations through its website. It welcomes volunteers, as well as individual or corporate sponsors. Any assistance is greatly needed and appreciated and there are free or low-cost ways to support their mission, the farm and animals, Sackett said.

The 11th Annual Dine with the Swine fundraising event will be held at the farm on Saturday, Oct. 3, from 6 – 8 p.m. The all-inclusive, catered five-course vegan meal with wine pairings for ages 21 and older is by advance ticket purchase only. Tickets at $43.75 per adult are available on the website.  Current social distance recommendations and all safety precautions will be followed.  Each guest will receive an etched wine glass as a thank-you gift.

CJ Acres is grateful for its support partners: Publix, which has donated leftover produce for more than a decade; Disney, Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods, Starbucks, Ethos Vegan Kitchen, Kirschner’s Korner, Unicorn Web Development, Carpe DM, and the Clay County Fair.

Contact CJ Acres by email at info@cjacres.org, its website at www.cjacres.org or www.facebook.com/cjacresanimalrescuefarm. The website provides ways to donate, support, attend volunteer training, schedule a free guided tour, or view its wish list. All donations are tax deductible.  Checks may be mailed to CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm, 5728 Jones Creek Road, Keystone Heights, FL 32656.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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