Nestled in York County, Pennsylvania, Here With Us Farm Sanctuary is a permanent home for farm animals. Founder and caretaker Amanda Clark walks the grounds each morning, checking on the sanctuary’s 93 rescued animals. Cows, turkeys, pigs and other farm animals that were once abused or neglected make themselves at home on the sanctuary’s property.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the animals were missing visitors and friends, Clark said.
“The goats especially like seeing regular guests,” she said. “And I know the cows miss seeing my mom. She brings them blueberry-bread snacks, and they come running up whenever they see her.”
With stay-at-home orders in place, field trips, camps and spur-of-the-moment trips were canceled. But a Here With Us board member found a way to connect the animals with people.
The sanctuary began an animal pen pal program in late March. It posted biographies of the animals and their journey to Here With Us on the organization’s website. Visitors can go online and choose one of the farm animals to write to.
“We wanted to give kids and our animals some joy,” she said. “We’ve been doing it a few months now and starting to get responses back from the same kids.”
Some of the most popular animals have been Ronnie the steer, Chester the steer and Rosie the chick.
About 165 miles north in Dalton, Pennsylvania, the Indraloka Animal Sanctuary is also using pen and paper to connect with animals.
Indra Lahiri began rescuing animals in the late 1990s. She originally saved cats, dogs and horses, but after seeing how animals were treated at factory farms, she decided to add farm animals into the mix. She opened Indraloka in 2005. Lahiri began with a 30-acre farm with a few animals. This spring they moved to a bigger piece of what Lahiri calls “heaven on earth” with more than 300 animals.
From the start, education was also part of the sanctuary’s mission. Children with emotional trauma visit to work with the animals, and academic programs help students learn how to apply science, technology, engineering, art and math to tasks at the sanctuary.
Indraloka’s pen pal program was started several years ago by the sanctuary’s on-campus educator, Sarah Thornton. It was only for children who had participated in events. But during the pandemic, the team at Indraloka decided to expand it for all children.
“It was devastating for us to close our doors for our kids,” Lahiri said. “But [the pen pal program has] been such a tremendous success.”
In return for their letter, kids receive a response from their animal of choice (with the help of a sanctuary representative). Kids also receive a photo and sometimes even a work of art created by the animal!
“I believe the animals enjoy them,” Lahiri said. “We read all of the letters to them. Kids need animals, and animals need kids, too.”