March 9, 2023
Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Wendy Taylor. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Wendy, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today. Let’s talk legacy – what sort of legacy do you hope to build?
When I started West Place Animal Sanctuary in 2007, I chose to focus on serving farm animals rescued from abuse, neglect, and cruelty because there simply weren’t any organizations doing this type of work in our area. Nearly 16 years later, there still aren’t any other organizations focusing on farm animals who most desperately need help. West Place fills a rather substantial void in the animal welfare landscape in southern New England, and it is my intent that West Place will continue doing so, while growing, for generations to come. In order for West Place to exist in perpetuity and expand its services, our non-profit needs to own land. We have established a capital fund to facilitate the purchase of property through much-needed donations, which will make West Place a permanent fixture on the farm coast. Additionally, the ownership of property opens opportunities to Federal grants and other funding that is only available to non-profits who do not rent or lease their property.
I hope that my legacy is a shared legacy among like-minded individuals who believe farm animals are just as worthy of our love and care as dogs, cats, and other pets. Although I will always be the founder and the creator of this incredibly unique and special organization, it is only through the generosity of compassionate donors that my legacy will exist or matter. West Place has provided second chances to thousands of farm animals and wildlife, but sadly, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. West Place is poised to do so much more and make a monumental impact in the lives of animals, humans, and all who reside within our community for generations to come.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
I founded West Place Animal Sanctuary after a devastating house fire that claimed the lives of nine of my pets. To honor their lives, I chose to form a non-profit organization that would care for underrepresented animal populations. While there are many great organizations assisting dogs and cats, establishing a farm animal sanctuary was uncharted territory. There were no local organizations to learn from, no blueprints to follow, and far fewer grants available for the care of farm animals. I also started West Place without an endowment or seed money. Instead, I personally funded West Place through its infancy while still working full-time as the managing partner of my law firm in Providence. There is a reason why, according to Forbes, more than half of all non-profits are destined to fail or stall within a few years of their inception. Despite the challenges and obstacles, I have successfully guided West Place for more than 15 years, overseeing tremendous growth that has impacted thousands of lives (and counting).
Others have taken note of the passion, dedication, vision, and intrepid spirit needed to run this type of operation. I was named Rhode Islander of the Year by Rhode Island Magazine in 2017, and delivered a powerful and inspiring TED Talk during TEDx Newport in 2018. I have been the keynote speaker at press conferences and annual meetings held by other non-profit organizations, and was the recipient of the 2019 Best Friends Award given by the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association. Most recently, I was honored with a 2022 Leaders & Achievers Award from the Providence Business News. Of course I appreciate all of these accolades, but they really help to raise awareness about West Place and our mission.
Since 2007, West Place Animal Sanctuary has provided a permanent home and lifelong care to farm animals rescued from cases of abuse, neglect, and cruelty. Our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility, and we assist the towns of Tiverton and Little Compton in Newport County, RI, by providing temporary shelter and care to lost dogs.
West Place is the only organization of its kind in our area, and we serve all of Rhode Island and much of southern New England. We are a resource for municipal animal control and police departments, as well as statewide law enforcement agencies. We are also an official response partner of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and assisted their response to the largest case of animal cruelty in the history of the Northeast, which occurred in Westport, MA, in 2016.
West Place also serves traditional animal shelter and humane societies in Rhode Island who are unequipped to house or care for farm animals who have nowhere else to go. Despite the growing demand for our services, West Place receives no annual funding from the Federal or state governments, and relies on the generosity of individuals, businesses, and foundations to execute our life-saving mission.
Animal care never takes a day off and West Place relies on a diverse and robust volunteer corps to operate 365 days per year. The sanctuary nearly always operates at capacity, which means there are more than 100 animals representing more than a dozen species in need of daily care at any given time. Although West Place has been able to hire a small number of paid staff members, it is largely the adult volunteers and student interns who perform daily duties and provide our residents with love.
The local high school and college students enrolled in West Place’s popular Educational Internship programs gain hands-on experience within a working farm environment and receive a real-world humane education. They are immersed in farm animal care, wildlife rehabilitation, and working with lost dogs. Students observe and participate in veterinary visits, shearing, hoof trimming, dentistry, and more. They also have opportunities to participate in our food cultivation program, which includes farm-grown vegetables and fruits, and stewardship of our rotational grazing system and sanctuary grounds. Each day, animal lessons are given regarding nutritional requirements, exercise and conditioning needs, anatomy, and animal welfare.
Visitors will agree that West Place is as much a sanctuary for people as it is for animals. The beautiful 8-acre property includes nine pastures for rotational grazing; four greenhouses, an orchard, and a berry garden for on-site food production; a barn, a duck coop, and a peacock house; and an 80,000-gallon pond that operates year-round. There is even an historic cemetery on the property from the late 1700s, which predates my historic home by almost 100 years. While the animals enjoy the open space and the constant enrichment, it is the humans who immediately fall in love with this safe haven and the organization tasked with the emotional work of rehabilitating animals so they can enjoy their second act.
Through it all, West Place is cultivating a more compassionate community on the farm coast of New England.
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
Resilience is a necessity in the animal welfare world, but I faced my fair share of adversity before West Place even started. In 2003, I was the owner and managing attorney of a successful medical malpractice law firm in Providence, RI. On my way to court on a winter morning, I received a call from my assistant who informed me in no uncertain terms that my house was on fire. This devastating catastrophe turned my world upside down. I lost nearly everything, including my beloved pets. I spent the next several years rebuilding my home, repairing my life, and reevaluating my goals and purpose. When I was at my lowest point personally, I mustered all of the strength, determination, and resiliency I could to bounce back and create a one-of-a-kind organization. Ironically, through the healing of animals I was able to begin healing myself. And as much resiliency as I think I possess, it’s nothing compared to the resiliency of these incredible farm animals. Although they have suffered at the hands of humans and many were on the brink of death, they have learned to trust the staff and volunteers of West Place and show us as much love as we show them.
Though starting the sanctuary has been a big part of my journey, because of what we do, I am always faced with devastating loss, and almost 20 years after the loss of my own pets, we had a tragic occurrence that took the lives of so many. October 21, 2022 was the day that forever changed West Place Animal Sanctuary. In 15 years, we never experienced anything so heart-wrenching, demoralizing, and catastrophic. Despite more than eight months of precautionary measures, safety protocols, limited intake, and vigilance, the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) infiltrated our bird population and claimed the lives of gamebirds and waterfowl. Although HPAI had previously been confirmed in surrounding states like Massachusetts and Connecticut, West Place was the site of the first confirmed reported case in Rhode Island. State officials and the United States Department of Agriculture’s standard response was to euthanize any remaining domestic birds at risk of contracting the deadly illness.
During this unfathomable tragedy, we grieved the untimely loss of nearly 40 extraordinary souls who deserved better. The swans, turkeys, ducks, chickens, and geese we lost all had names, unique personalities, and stories. They left an indelible mark on staff, volunteers, and visitors. The scope and the speed with which this tragedy unfolded produced a whirlwind of emotions. Through it all, West Place still had dozens of other animals to care for.
As the executive director, I had no option but to lead my organization through this once-in-a-generation experience. I’m sure we all did some soul searching and questioned our purpose as an organization. After all, these were animals who had already been rescued once, and many long hours were spent rehabilitating them from injuries and illnesses only to have them taken in the blink of an eye. But at the end of the day, the best way to honor the lives of those we lost is to continue our important work and help future birds in need.
Less than a year after HPAI was first detected in South Carolina, more than 50 million animals have perished from avian flu in the United States. Most of these were production animals being raised for food, but our birds were family. Adding insult to injury, West Place faces a number of unexpected expenses related to avian flu and our efforts to bounce back. The deep cleaning and decontamination of bird buildings, the incredible amount of cleaning products and personal protective equipment, the gutting and sterilization of the pond, and the construction of a new chicken building all come at a high cost and were not factored into our modest budget. But we know what needs to be done to safely welcome back domestic birds in need of a safe haven, and with the support of friends and donors we are making progress. The Birds of West Place Memorial Fund was established to help us move forward during these dark times and improve upon an already distinguished organization. We will recover, rebuild, and restore our sanctuary in a variety of ways so that our birds will not have been lost in vain.
Can you open up about how you funded your business?
Many people forget that non-profit organizations are still businesses, and they require all of the same resources that any commercial business needs to succeed. When I decided to start West Place Animal Sanctuary, I never dreamed of how my idea to give back would turn into a full-fledged organization whose impact continues to grow.
Unlike celebrities’ foundations or non-profits whose Boards of Directors have deep pockets, West Place was founded on the simple principle of providing sanctuary to underrepresented animal populations. We are located on the farm coast of New England, an area with a rich agricultural history and many working farms that continue to operate today. Sadly, there is a need for an organization like ours in this area because horses, pigs, goats, sheep, and other farm animals have nowhere else to go. To prove this point, the largest case of animal abuse in the history of the Northeast occurred in the next town over, Westport, MA, and involved more than 1,400 animals. My goal was to meet the needs of the community and fill a void in the animal welfare industry, and the best way I knew how to do this was to just do it.
I am fortunate that I had a very successful legal career and was able to fully fund West Place through much of its early existence. There were no endowments, no bequests, and no magic formula to funding West Place. I transformed my personal property into a fully functional farm animal sanctuary, and paid for the construction of the barn and numerous outbuildings. Knowing that this was not a sustainable model, I also learned how to write grants and apply for funding. Unfortunately, the funding opportunities for farm animal and wildlife care pale in comparison to what is available for the care and adoption of dogs and cats. Being ahead of the curve and on the cutting edge of farm animal welfare definitely made things more difficult, but West Place has formed lasting relationships with several local foundations that believe in our mission.
For more than 15 years, West Place has operated on a shoe-string budget. Although I was the first employee, I went unpaid for the first decade. But as word got out about who we are, what we do, and where we’re located, the support started building. Although it is still a challenge to meet our operating budget each year, thankfully, I am no longer the sole funder of West Place. Not only has West Place become a sustainable organization, the participation and support of the community affirms that we are doing important work that people care about.
And now we have plans to improve and expand the sanctuary, as well as a plan to make West Place a premier destination on the Farm Coast. But plans are only plans without the financial support needed to bring them to fruition. This is why our reputation as a leader in the animal welfare industry is so important. We are embarking on a barn renovation, thanks to a generous grant and additional support from individuals and businesses. We hope to raise enough money to construct a new chicken coop specialized to the needs of gamebirds. But the ultimate goal is for West Place to own land and expand our services and offerings. There are some very real opportunities to do this in the near future, but they are also one-time opportunities. If we miss out on them, the trajectory of our organization will be significantly altered. I encourage everyone reading this to get to know West Place, learn why we have earned such a stellar reputation, and support our life-saving work if you believe, like we do, that our farm animal rescue, wildlife rehabilitation, and humane education efforts are worth it.
Photo with horse: Richard Dionne