Children are commonly encouraged to love animals, evidenced by the prominence of zoo trips and significance of childhood pets that many of us can recall from our younger years. One type of bond rarely fostered in modern America, however, is that between farm animals and young humans, or any humans for that matter.

We learn from an early age to love domesticated animals, revere exotic or wild animals, and eat farmed animals. One local charity in Verona, Wisconsin stands out against this narrative with its mission to provide care for farm animals in need, nurture people through the human-animal bond and foster respect and kindness toward animals and each other.

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The Heartland Farm Sanctuary was founded in 2009 by Dane Barre, a survivor of childhood trauma with a passion for creating a now-flourishing environment for mutual healing, growth and fun among youth and rescued farm animals. At first, the sanctuary began with two Nigerian Dwarf Goats, but now the barns burst with nearly 80 animals.

According to Shelter Director Alecia Torres, the humane education camp now runs for 11 weeks every summer, and Heartland conducts two animal-assisted therapy groups for children with special needs and those impacted by trauma.

I have volunteered at the sanctuary twice now, and I can attest to the transformative, compassionate atmosphere brought on by making connections with animals typically given a little thought and a lot of abuse.

One of Torres’ favorite stories of transformation is about a pot-bellied pig named Lily. Removed from neglect, found morbidly obese and blind next to her frozen, deceased partner, Lily has been helped through many obstacles before coming to the sanctuary. She arrived on a sled, depressed and unable to walk. It took one year before Lily could leave her stall.

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Finally, she was able to move in with the elderly pig Harley, the two of them always arguing and cuddling together like real sisters. These days, Lily is known as “the mall walker” and has many friends in the barn. Of course, Torres noted, “all of our animals teach us something and help us grow.”

Heartland is not the only sanctuary for farmed animals in the United States, but there aren’t many. Their work in Verona impacts many lives and changes many hearts, offering a unique space for humans to find compassion for a neglected class of animals.

Heartland Farm Sanctuary welcomes work groups if you and your friends or colleagues feel inspired to explore the barn and its mission.

Claire Clark ([email protected]) is a sophomore double majoring in mathematics and geography, and is the activism chair for the Nature and Animal Lovers’ Association.