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Tiverton woman operates animal sanctuary for the (once) neglected, abandoned, abused

April 23, 2022

By Linda Borg

Kelly Rogers of Bristol, the operations manager at West Place Animal Sanctuary, checks for ticks on a donkey named Timothy.

On 8 acres of farmland north of the Pardon Gray Preserve, alpacas roam with donkeys and miniature horses, chickens mingle with turkeys, and a pig called Jack accompanies visitors on their tour of the property.

Call it a Peaceable Kingdom.

Wendy Taylor calls it the West Place Animal Sanctuary, home to roughly 100 farm animals who were neglected, abandoned or abused in their former lives.

Now in its 15th year, West Place has a storybook feel. Animals roam freely throughout the property. The pigs, Jack and Diane, root among the chickens while a lone turkey fans his feathers in a full display and pecks at a visitor’s ankles.

Reem Alshehry, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry at UMass Dartmouth, holds Red, a Rhode Island Red rooster, at the farm in Tiverton.

The sanctuary grew out of a devastating loss. In 2003, Taylor‘s house on West Main Road was destroyed by a fire that killed all nine of her pets. That led Taylor, who was a lawyer, to reevaluate her life. Three years later, she founded the animal sanctuary, which she ran as a one-woman show until a couple of years ago.

“I had to do something to balance the scales,” she said.

Although Taylor owned two goats, she was decidedly not a farmer.

“I lost dogs and cats,” she said. “Emotionally, I couldn’t rescue dogs and cats again. With farm animals, I saw there was a need. No one was doing it.”

Taylor has come to love farm animals in the same way she loves domestic animals.

“They are just as sentient, just as intelligent, just as inquisitive as dogs and cats,” she said. “They need humans and we need them.”

Each animal on the farm has a story, some more heartbreaking than others.

Tat the turkey was rescued right before Thanksgiving after he slipped and broke his wing, which had to be amputated.

The two donkeys were on their way to a kill shelter in Texas.

The alpacas were little more than skin and bones when rescued, with nothing but mud to eat.

The pigs, Jack and Diane, were so obese they could barely walk, their skin cracked and pale. Now they get regular spa treatments, their skin massaged with coconut oil.

“They came in as a hospice case,” said Patrick Cole, director of development and communications, one of only three paid employees.

Nothing matched the horror of the animal cruelty case in Westport, Massachusetts, where 1,400 farm animals were found living in squalor. An official response partner with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, West Place rescued 67 animals, including 45 koi fish, several peacocks and a few goats.

Pam Young of Providence cleans up to goats' pen at West Place Animal Sanctuary.

Cole tells countless tales of one animal taking another under its wing, like the duck who raised turkeys.

The most memorable animal is Bobbert, a llama with an oversized personality who was saved from a traveling petting circus and became the sanctuary’s unofficial mascot, welcoming guests. After his death last January, a scholarship was established in his name.

The farm relies on a bevy of volunteers, who come twice a day to feed the animals, work in the greenhouses or fix what’s broken.

Cole came to West Place as a volunteer in 2018. By spring, the birds would line up to be fed when they heard his car turn into the driveway. He became its first full-time development director last spring. He jokes that he was part of the “Great Resignation.”

“During COVID, I realized I wanted to get back to animal world,” said Cole, who left a career in marketing and development. “I felt I could move the needle.”

The farm is about more than rescue and wildlife rehabilitation, however.

West Place is also committed to training a new generation of humane volunteers, enrolling dozens of students in its summer and school-year programs. There, students are immersed in farm animal care, wildlife rehabilitation and working with lost dogs. Students learn everything from the animals' nutritional requirements to exercise and conditioning needs, from anatomy to animal welfare.

West Place, which relies on donations and the occasional grant to survive, wants to make sure that it can continue to offer student internships free of charge. The animal sanctuary is hoping to attract corporate sponsorships and received its first one, from Bay Coast Bank, last month.

Taylor, now in her 50s, has no regrets.

“Fifteen years have gone by in the blink of an eye and here we are. We’re not done yet.”

Linda Borg covers education for The Journal.


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