By Steven Chan
New England News + Media Appearing in 401 Ocean State Magazine, SOCO Magazine, New England Monthly, and REVEAL Connecticut
There is a beautiful home dramatically poised on a hill adjacent to the Pardon Gray Preserve on Main Road in Tiverton, Rhode Island; it’s an enigma of sorts; overlooking pastoral fields, dense woodlands, and the Sakonnet River, it, unfortunately, is sometimes admired for its aesthetic value, rather than the important work taking place on the 8-acre farm.
Not uncommon, many taking a drive to Little Compton mistake it for an upscale BnB, private resort, or club; they fail to realize that nothing could be further from the truth. It is a nurturing habitat responsible for saving the lives of our most vulnerable creatures.
It began in 2007 when Wendy Taylor, a successful medical malpractice litigating attorney and managing partner of the firm, received a call while driving to work one morning. As she describes it, “I was enjoying the day when my phone rang, and I heard, ‘Wendy, your house is on fire;’ It was devastating . . . especially because I lost all of my pets.”
The hurt was profound; the home, a complete loss, could be replaced, but not the affection her animals provided; grief followed the tragedy.
Given time, Taylor rebuilt her house but was left to decide how she would handle the pain of losing her animals. Then, came a choice she never looked back on; “I decided to open a place that would focus on saving rescued animals.”
With a desire to help the most underserved animal population, since dogs, cats, and other household pets have significant community support, Taylor focused on farm animals. A monumental task, due to the diverse type of accommodations required along with the difficulty of their large size, appetites, plus medical and socialization issues, the youthful, small-framed attorney took off her suit, put on jeans and boots, and started the West Place Animal Sanctuary.
For years, Taylor was solely responsible for the farm; she poured her heart, and resources into building a location that would meet the needs of animals in peril. After years of passionate dedication, Taylor concluded help was required if the Sanctuary continued to grow, so she took on volunteers. After becoming recognized for bringing animals back from the brink of death—on a national stage—and getting licensed as a wildlife services provider, she added a few paid staff members to the team.
Taylor’s unspoken talent is the ability to enlist those who listen to her story; she has built a solid organization of volunteers and interns while keeping to the original plan of low overhead, returning all resources to the care and upkeep of the animals and their homes.
Designated as a wildlife rehabilitation center, plus extensive experience with farm animals subjected to injury cruelty, and unspeakable conditions, West Place is recognized for its responsiveness when called into action.
In 2016, the largest animal cruelty case in New England and beyond made headlines when authorities discovered a tenant farm in nearby Westport, Massachusetts, housing 1,400 animals in appalling conditions.
Initially, many animals were too far gone and passed, but in a recent interview with a local radio station, Taylor shared her involvement in the case. “We took 67 animals from the farm after I worked on-site, for five months, with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).” Many survivors remain at West Place Animal Sanctuary without visible traces of a horrid past.
A tour of the facility is insightful and a satisfying experience; roaming around the pens, corrals, and fields, over 100 residents interact. While they appear happy and well-adjusted, most continue to need significant medical care and human interaction to further their recovery.
Each animal has a name and a story; some are difficult to hear, but what makes it worth listening to is the effort, dedication, and success, of the people who donate their time and financial assistance to the emotionally charged issue of animal abuse and recovery.
The West Place Animal Sanctuary is defensive of its flock and isn’t open to the public—at will, nor should it be confused with a ‘petting zoo.’ “We are very protective of the animals; many have been harmed at the hands of humans,” Taylor explains. “We want to educate and maintain a safe environment for visitors and animals.” With this reasoning, visitor programs have been created so the community can have access with reasonable expectations and enjoy learning about the importance of the organization’s mission.
There is a great interest in the West Place Animal Sanctuary by young adults, partly due to the internship program. High school and college students are enrolled in the experienced-based curriculum allowing credit and an opportunity to decide if working with this population is satisfying and could become a career. According to Taylor, “Many of our interns have gone on to higher education based on their involvement here; we are looking to attract more participation as we expand.”
The Sanctuary is considered a “closed-door” operation; it’s not often they find new homes for relocation; the animals require so much care that the last thing anyone wants is to create a repeat of past abuse. In most cases, the animals will remain in Tiverton for the remainder of their lives, given the love and attention previously stolen.
On the horizon is the dream of expanding the footprint of the West Place Animal Sanctuary; the surrounding area would best be served if the farmlands were preserved rather than left to urban sprawl due to new housing demands. The non-profit group is looking to raise enough funds to acquire a nearby property that will allow them to continue their efforts while maintaining the landscape as it has been left since descendants of the pilgrims settled it.
For more information or to get involved with the West Place Animal Sanctuary, call 401-228-6800, or go to westplace.org.