Emma, Linus, and Cruz came to VINE Sanctuary after being seized by authorities from a petting zoo where they had been neglected and underfed. A year later, Linus and Cruz appear to have fully recovered, but Emma’s growth remains stunted by her early brush with starvation. We were very happy, then, when two sanctuary supporters stepped up to sponsor her. We asked Emma’s sponsors to share their experiences with us and other sanctuary supporters. Meg York replied with this touching essay. It turns out that sponsoring a sanctuary resident is even more rewarding than we realized…
We brought apples. We heard they are Emma’s favorite.
Standing on the pasture’s dirt road, we could see beautiful black-and-white Emma by the fence. Jocelyn peered down into our Tupperware container, selecting the perfect slice. When she raised her head she was surprised with a big brown nose. Linus nudged and nuzzled, gazing up at us with his sweet-but-mischievous eyes. His big tongue reached for the apple.
“Okay, okay!” Jocelyn laughed, giving Linus the slice. Linus chomped away gleefully, one eye on Emma and the other on the magical Tupperware container of all things wonderful. We called to Emma. The young cow held back, nervous and afraid. Linus didn’t mind Emma’s timidity, continuing to nose Jocelyn as if to say, “I’m here. Don’t forget about me. I like apples, too!” We offered Linus another piece. I guess Emma decided she didn’t want to miss out on all the fun, so she slowly made her way over.
Emma took a few steps and then stopped. Jocelyn selected an apple slice and offered it to Emma. She inched her way toward us, took the apple slice, and immediately started sniffing around for another. We chuckled, pulled out another piece, and offered it to her, stroking her cheek and giving her little scratches behind the ear. She was soft yet tufty, her coat thick with endearing winter shag.
As we handed Emma another slice, Jocelyn felt a tug on her sleeve. Apparently Linus was not finished looking for treats because the button on Jocelyn’s jacket had suddenly been replaced with slobber. “Linus! You little sneak!” Linus stared back blankly as if to say, “What?” We all laughed as he stood there, chomping and chewing without a care in the world.
We spent the next few minutes walking with the cows, listening to Miriam tell stories about the various sanctuary residents, and taking in the peacefulness of the place. Everyone here is loved. Everyone here is safe.
My partner Jocelyn and I moved to Vermont about a year and a half ago. I came to study animal law at Vermont Law School, and immediately joined the school’s animal law society. Shortly thereafter, Aram reached out to me. I was elated to hear that there was a sanctuary in the area.
I’m not sure whether it’s the small state, the closeness of the animal rights community, or the shared interest in helping animals, but it soon seemed like our paths were always crossing. I met much of the VINE staff while working to save the Green Mountain College oxen, Bill & Lou. I ran into VINE staff again in New Hampshire, where we had all shown up to testify against a recently proposed ag-gag bill. We rode around together in the Snoobaru, getting to know one another a little better, sharing vegan lunch, and trying not to disturb pattrice as she prepared to present one of the best testimonies of the hearing.
I called VINE. Miriam answered. I told her that Jocelyn and I wanted to sponsor an animal for our families’ Christmas gifts, and she suggested Emma. We sent in our donation and in return VINE sent us information packets to give to each of our family members containing photos of Emma, a bit about her history, and suggestions of ways to help all of the Emmas of the world by refusing to participate in animal exploitation. We made a collage and presented it to our families Christmas day. It went over well. I mean, really–is there any better gift than the gift of life?
Jocelyn’s birthday is on January sixth. To celebrate, we decided to visit Emma and VINE Sanctuary. Miriam was pulling her truck in as we arrived, the bed full of animal food and supplies. As we loaded our arms with boxes and bags, we couldn’t help but be reminded of just how much work goes into running a sanctuary. After getting everything into the house, Miriam pulled on her boots, coat, and gloves and said, “Want a tour?”
We followed after her as she walked us through the property, greeting hens by name and relaying stories. We learned about the roosters rescued from the cockfighting industry and pigeons used for racing who had been destined for death. We saw the energy and effort that goes into rehabilitating chickens who have been bred in such a way that causes them to struggle against their own bodies just to survive. We saw a lot of labor, but we saw even more love.
We crossed the street and headed to the cow and sheep pasture. Cheryl stopped her tractor for a minute, greeting us with warm recognition: “Oh! Emma’s sponsors!” We couldn’t help but smile. We said hello to the cows, sheep, and emu, giving them their space when they wanted it and loving on those who would let us.
We headed back to the house where Aram made us tea and gave us samples of his homemade vegan coconut ice cream. We sat around the table and talked for a bit, bodies warmed by the woodstove and hearts warmed by new friendship.
Sponsoring Emma and becoming a friend of the sanctuary has been one the most rewarding experiences of the year. Every month, Kathy sends us updates and shares little stories about Emma-her enthusiasm over fresh snowfall, her friendship with Linus, and the playful interactions she has with Cheryl, her full-time caretaker. One of my favorite stories about Emma came in February’s sponsorship email:
Cheryl was adding water to the troughs one day when Emma came to one of them to drink. Cheryl saw her, said hello and then walked away to get something. Shortly after Cheryl turned around, the hose fell out. She went to put it back in and make sure that it was deep enough so that Emma didn’t get wet. So Cheryl went into the feed room, and again the hose fell out. Now it’s true that the water pressure does cause this to happen, so she hadn’t figured it out, but did note that Emma stayed there drinking undisturbed, which she thought somewhat odd. Finally Cheryl caught Emma playing her little trick of nudging the hose out of the trough and then going back to drinking like nothing happened!
Sponsoring Emma has not only been a wonderful experience for Jocelyn and me, it has also had a profound impact on our families. Joce and I have been working to share the vegan message with our families for years, but they have always been resistant. Perspectives have been changing, and I attribute much of this to their connection with Emma. Through sponsoring Emma, receiving emails, and learning about VINE, our families have come to see Emma as someone, not something. And if Emma the cow is important, if her life is precious, aren’t they all?
Our families are not vegan, but they are getting there. My parents have stopped eating beef, and Jocelyn’s family has been receptive to more plant-based meals. Emma’s history as a petting zoo novelty has opened the door to discussing the plights of animals in captivity with family members who never before saw a problem with it. A couple of weeks ago, Jocelyn flew out to visit her family. When she walked in the front door the first thing she saw was Emma’s photo, framed and prominently displayed.
When we chose to sponsor Emma, we thought we were saving a life. This experience has been so much more. Hearts and minds have opened, potentially leading to the safety and sanctuary of countless additional lives. Friendships formed and grew; connections have been made. We are so thankful that we chose to sponsor that beautiful girl, and will continue to use gift-giving opportunities as a way to give back to those who give all.
For the animals, for Emma, always.
The staff at VINE thank Meg, Jocelyn, and all of the sponsors and sanctuary supporters who make our work possible. Visit our sponsorships page to learn how you can sponsor Linus, Cruz, ALFie, or another sanctuary resident.