Angels of Assisi offer sanctuary

FINCASTLE, Va. (AP) Wilbur the three-legged pig was going to be named Lucky.

But Steve George said there were already too many other "Luckys" on the farm.

Wilbur, whose leg got caught in a fence, is one of about 100 farm animals who have come to Harmony, temporarily located at the north Botetourt County farm owned by the founders of the nonprofit group Angels of Assisi.

Harmony, which began a year ago, is a sanctuary for farm animals who need good homes. Horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks and any other large animal can retire on the 90-acre farm, where George, the farm manager, and a couple of other employees provide care, food and companionship for the rest of the animals' lives.

"If your grandma goes out and breaks her leg, you're not going to dispose of her," George said. That's the same philosophy the group is taking with the animals.

George worked at the farm where Wilbur lived until he joined Angels of Assisi full time last September. Rather than leaving the pig to be killed by the farmer, George brought 7-month-old Wilbur with him to Harmony. There, Wilbur has his own stall in the barn and is fed, watered and given affection and medical attention when needed.

Angels of Assisi spokeswoman Shelly Alley said the organization has been working with Virginia Prosthetics to see about getting Wilbur the leg he needs.

Harmony was a natural extension of Angels of Assisi, which was founded in Roanoke in 2001. The organization's mission statement says it is "dedicated to the preservation and care of all living creatures." Its initial efforts focused on offering low-cost spay and neuter services and pet adoption opportunities, both of which are still available.

Alley said Harmony is the organization's way of making a statement about animal abuse.

"It's a way for us to speak for the animals that don't have a voice themselves," she said.

Angels of Assisi purchased 11 goats last summer because it heard they were bound for a factory farming environment, which can squeeze high numbers of animals into small spaces before they're slaughtered. Assisi representatives intervened to provide the goats with a home and what they hope will be a long life.

The organization also purchased Hershey, a Scottish Highlander cow who has seizures, at an auction to prevent her from becoming someone's dinner.

Georgette is a month-old lamb who follows George around like a puppy. During Georgette's birth, the farm manager pulled her and her brother - who died as an infant - from their mother, who was weak from a glucose deficiency and unable to deliver. George has hand-raised Georgette, whose mother is being nursed back to health. The lamb was named after its caregiver.

"They all have a story," Alley said.

"Too many to tell, actually," George added.

Most of the animals came after word spread about Harmony, that it would be willing to help a farmer who has decided to get out of the business, Alley said.

Angels of Assisi hopes to buy about 300 acres in Botetourt County soon so it can permanently establish Harmony, develop educational facilities and host school groups and visitors. Once settled in a new location, Harmony will be equipped to accommodate more animals.

Among the farm sanctuary's educational missions will be teaching visitors about the value of a farm animal's life and making them aware of factory farming environments.

"It's kind of the best way to tell the story," Alley said. "If we arm the people with the knowledge and the education, they can make their choice."

In the long run, Alley hopes Harmony supporters will sponsor animals by covering their expenses.

Another goal of the organization is to do pet therapy with some of the smaller farm animals like lambs, kids, dogs and cats. George recently took a lamb and a kid to Springtree Health and Rehabilitation Center in Roanoke on a trip to visit a relative, and the animals were a hit.

"I got so many 'thank yous' that day," he said.

All males at Harmony are neutered because Angels of Assisi doesn't want the animals to breed. Alley said neutering is an easier procedure to perform and recover from than spaying the females. Offspring born to impregnated animals that come to Harmony can be "trained" for therapy trips to nursing homes or used for educational purposes when school groups visit the farm.

Source: AP - AP Wire Service