The first time I visited Lancaster Farm Sanctuary in Pennsylvania, I drove right past it. The expansive Mount Joy property is tucked into a neighborhood like a rural speakeasy. Down a long driveway and around a windy gravel path is the animal sanctuary owned by Jonina Turzi and Sarah Salluzzo.
The property also includes a large house, divided into sections to best serve its purposes: the bottom floor operates as an office and merchandise room, the second floor is their living quarters, and the third floor has guest rooms for hosting friends or fellow animal rescuers. The property also came with a shamelessly friendly cat named Leroy who deemed the new owners acceptable to stay.
A leap of faith
Turzi and Salluzzo met through mutual friends and interests. Soon into their relationship, they became involved in animal advocacy through legislation, but they wanted something more tangible. In 2017, the pair decided to start Lancaster Farm Sanctuary. At the time, they both had other jobs and Turzi also owned a yoga studio in Lancaster. Because Lancaster is such a hub of agriculture, it was a good place for an animal sanctuary, where they began to rescue cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, sheep, and goats.
In 2020, they decided to expand into a larger place a couple of miles down the same road. The new space is nearly eighteen acres of pasture, compared to the three acres of habitable land in their previous location. More space means they can have the capacity to rescue more animals and answer animal-related calls from concerned neighbors or local police.
Running an animal sanctuary is hard work. Says Salluzzo, “It is easy for us to work together, but there is nothing easy about running a sanctuary. This work is all day every day. It is vital that we have good volunteers and community support to function.” Volunteers sign up for weekly or biweekly two-hour shifts, during which they clean and feed the animals. Common chores include mucking barns, laying out fresh bedding, and making sure water dishes are filled with clean water. And, of course, there is always time to befriend the lovable residents of the sanctuary, who demand attention and cuddles. Although Salluzzo and Turzi own and pay for the house, all of the animal rescue and care is donor funded. Turzi and Salluzzo also sell tickets to sanctuary tours and events and sell merchandise like T-shirts featuring their beloved cow, Jude.
Each day at the sanctuary starts with breakfast for the animals, cleaning all living areas, and health checks.
In the evening, everyone gets dinner and is tucked into bed. They learned to care for the animals through past lived experience, training, a lot of reading, and studying any way they can. Explains Salluzzo, “We ask a lot of questions of our vets and try to learn as much as we can to continually improve the care the animals are receiving. Jonina is a doctor of physical therapy, and, although the animals do have varying anatomy from humans, a lot of the basic principles are the same, which has been invaluable to the rehabilitation of many of our animal residents.” They also have a couple
of vets who frequent the sanctuary regularly and consult over the phone.
After spending an hour and a half at the sanctuary, I already knew the names and personalities of a handful of animals. There was Nan the goat, who liked to use my leg as a scratching post for her head, and Gertie, an introverted sheep who preferred to observe me from afar. Every animal at the sanctuary has a story—some sadder than others. Salluzzo recounts the story of Luna, a sheep, who was rescued from a livestock auction: “Some friends of ours were able to get Luna to the sanctuary, where we got her medical help. After months of rehabilitation, she was finally back to good health. She became best friends with Zack, a sheep who loved to eat apples with her. She lived two great years at the sanctuary before passing away from a disease she had previously contracted. She was so happy here, and we miss her.”
Connecting with the animals
Connecting humans with farm animals is an important part of Lancaster Farm Sanctuary’s mission. Salluzzo and Turzi offer Saturday morning tours so people can have a personal experience at the sanctuary. “I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that animals are very similar to humans in how they process past trauma and deal with their emotions,” Salluzzo says. “We always joke that jealousy seems to be the most universal emotion in humans and animals. Anyone who has some pet friends at home is probably familiar with this [phenomenon]. There are a few animals here at the sanctuary who get very upset if they feel like someone else is getting more attention than they are.”
I can attest to the emotional side of animals. On my second visit, we headed to one of the barns to visit Maya, a calf that had been dealing with some scary medical issues. She had been headbutted by an overzealous goat earlier in the day, so they were trying to keep her safe. But she was indignant over being kept away from her animal buddies. When Turzi let her out, she strutted in the opposite direction like an irate toddler, making huffing noises and having a tiny calf tantrum.
After she cooled off, she followed Turzi into the pasture to reunite with her furry costars. The afternoon sun had burned off, and the field was filled with happily munching goats, sheep, calves, and Jude, their inquisitive steer who kept taking huge licks of my flannel shirt. Kevin the goat figured out how to open my camera bag by pulling the zipper with his mouth.
It was easy to fall in love with these animals and start questioning my own food choices. It’s no surprise that the entire team at the sanctuary is vegan. It’s also why the sanctuary’s tours are so transformative. Though Turzi’s identity is almost inextricably intertwined with being vegan (and she has the animal tattoos to prove it), she is careful to be encouraging and nonjudgmental, approaching my diet with curiosity and suggestions like “How do you feel about kidney beans?” Her knowledge of animals is impressive and expansive, and it’s clear she and Salluzzo are the perfect people to answer this calling.
For more info, visit lancasterfarmsanctuary.org