Founded in 2007, West Place Animal Sanctuary is thriving
April 14, 2022
By Ted Hayes
Maggie, a goat rescued from Westport six years ago, catches up with West Place executive director Wendy Taylor.
Tiverton attorney Wendy Taylor never imagined that West Place, the animal sanctuary she founded in her back yard in 2007, would be anything other than a hobby — a small non-profit she hoped would shed a little light after a dark personal time.
Fifteen years later, Taylor's legal career is long over. She works absurdly long hours, has approximately 100 hungry mouths to feed every day, keeps her eyes open in a never-ending search for funding, and doesn't get as much sleep as she used to.
But walking through the West Place's eight acres one recent afternoon, accepting occasional leg nudges along the way from Diane the pig, Taylor seemed content:
"They all want to be here; you can see it in their faces," she said of the ducks, pheasants, llamas, peacocks, donkeys, pigs, goats and all other manner of creatures that call the sanctuary home.
"Whether they're young or old, they're with us for a long time," she said. "They've been through hell and back, and we're not going to send them into that situation again."
A peacock prances in its pen one recent afternoon. The sanctuary's permanent residents currently number about 100.
Taylor, West Place's executive director, now oversees a sanctuary that has grown beyond anything she'd ever imagined. Sprawling just north of the Pardon Gray Preserve, West Place has brought comfort to many hundreds of injured, forgotten, neglected and abused animals from across the northeast and beyond. Taylor has become a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and oversees a staff of two other employees and dozens of volunteers and high school and college student interns. Though it's grown tremendously since its early days, Taylor believes West Place can continue to grow. It's clear the need is there, she said.
'We keep growing'
By now, many know the story of West Place's founding.
In February 2003, a devastating fire at Taylor's Main Road home claimed the lives of her nine beloved pets. Though the home was rebuilt, Taylor was devastated by the loss of her animal friends and in the months and years that followed, had a fundamental shift in thought. Though the fire was a tragedy, she began to see it also as an opportunity to re-shape her priorities, and as an impetus for doing good. What better way to honor the lives lost and to lead an impactful life, she asked herself, than to save the lives of other animals?
Four years after the fire, West Place was born, and Taylor left her legal career to tend to it full time.
West Place is a true sanctuary. Though it contracts with the towns of Tiverton and Little Compton to take in strays temporarily, and also temporarily lodges wildlife in need of rehabilitation, most of its residents are there for life, and will never leave.
"We only take in from neglect and cruelty cases," Taylor said. "We take in the worst of the worst cases (and) we put together the programs that bring these animals back to life. We give them a place where they can be safe."
West Place has brought in donkeys from Texas, neglected pigs from Johnston, and nearly 70 animals caught up in a massive animal cruelty case discovered in Westport six years ago. Many of those Westport animals are still there.
When they get to Tiverton, the sanctuary's new arrivals are given exercise and feeding regimens that gently bring them back to health, and are then set free to wander and waddle the sanctuary grounds — at present, a barn, stables, a host of pens, vegetable gardens, greenhouses and a koi pond, though Taylor wants to add an addition to the barn and possibly acquire more land.
Though Taylor was initially able to do much of the work with the help of volunteers and a five-member board of directors, West Place found its first full time worker employee in operations manager Kelly Rogers, a former volunteer who started working full time in 2020.
Patrick Cole, the sanctuary's director of development and communications, followed in May 2021, leaving his job at Johnson & Wales after about two and a half of years of volunteer work at the sanctuary.
"I feel like I was on the leading edge of 'The Great Resignation,'" he said. "A lot of people were reassessing their lives, and I was one of them. But looking back, I wish I had done it sooner. I'm glad I did it — it's a lot of hard work but I love it."
Apart from the chance to make a difference in traumatized animals' lives, Cole decided to take a sizable pay cut to join West Place after realizing the non-profit's potential.
"I definitely did it for the love, but also because of the potential this organization has to grow," he said. "We've made it this far by being very resourceful and we want that to continue."
Donkeys Timothy (the big one) and Charles (the little one) catch up with Wendy Taylor and Patrick Cole. The donkeys arrived from a kill pen in Texas.
Key to growth is fund-raising, and last year West Place established the Bobbert Memorial Scholarship Fund in memory of the curious, goofy and beloved llama that called the sanctuary home from 2010, when he was saved from a traveling petting circus, until his death at West Place in January 2021.
While the Bobbert fund has funded private scholarships under its umbrella, BayCoast Bank announced last month that it will establish a scholarship under the fund to benefit students in West Place's educational internship program, which provides high school and college students with hands-on experience working with sanctuary animals and injured or orphaned wildlife. It is the sanctuary's first corporate scholarship.
“The grant to support the Bobbert Memorial Scholarship Fund provided us with an opportunity to fund a unique educational program that not only transforms the lives of the student interns, (but) also serves to transform the lives of the many animals that the sanctuary cares for," said Julie Ramos Gagliardi, First Vice President of Corporate Giving and Community Relations at BayCoast Bank.
Taylor said she was thrilled to get news of the scholarship from BayCoast. While it will directly impact the lives of the sanctuary's many furry and feathered residents, she is glad that students who are awarded will be given the financial means to help pursue their education away from the sanctuary.
As for West Place's future, both Cole and Taylor say they don't know what's in store. But they hope to continue to grow and accept more animals, and honor the legacy of the nine pets lost 19 years ago:
"The animals here are so inspiring because of their resiliency," Cole said. "Their ability to trust humans after all that's been done to them is inspiring. They know that we are here to help."
NOTE: For more information on West Place, including how to volunteer, how to get involved in the scholarship fund or how to apply for a scholarship, click here.