Allison Scott didn’t realize that chickens could have personalities until Tina jumped on her head. “She’s a really, really friendly chicken,” said Scott.
Scott, 14, of Potomac, met Tina, and a host of other barnyard friends at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary.
“I went out there thinking the chicken was some dumb animal, but I was wrong,” she said.
Scott is not the only person who has such revelations when they visit Poplar Spring. “A lot of people don’t realize how distinct these animals are,” said Sarah Farr of Chevy Chase, program director at the sanctuary. “When people come out they realize things that they never knew about these animals.”
Scott volunteered at the sanctuary and hopes to do so again. “It was really fun, I got a new perspective on animals,” she said.
The sanctuary is a non-profit organization, which does not receive any government money. “We still rely very heavily on volunteer help,” Farr said.
Scott volunteered at the sanctuary which is run by Terry Cummings and her husband, Dave Hoerauf. The two moved to the 430-acre property 17 years ago, and opened the sanctuary seven years ago.
“We just started seeing some things that were being done to farm animals that weren’t very nice,” Cummings said. “I was told that farm animals are exempt from animal cruelty laws.”
They opened the sanctuary and only care for farm animals that have been abused or abandoned. Currently, the farm has approximately 200 rescued animals. The first animal they ever took in, Petunia the Pig, had been crushed by a barn door in southern Virginia when she was a piglet.
They were told that she would not survive, but Petunia lives still, along with 33 other pigs. The pigs at Poplar Spring are big, many weighing 600 pounds. Most pigs would reach 600 pounds, were they not killed for meat, Cummings said. “We let them live out their whole life,” she said.
Letting them live is starting to cause a problem common in Montgomery County, overcrowding. “We’re really very close to being full,” Cummings said.
The sanctuary now has to be more discriminating in which animals it will take in. They wish to continue with their mission of caring for abused animals. “We really want to be here for those situations,” Cummings said.
The sanctuary only rarely takes in animals from individuals, and typically deals with governments. After an animal is found the local animal shelter will usually wait five days before handing it over, Cummings said.
She has never had someone try to re-claim an animal from her. The sanctuary would only very rarely adopt animals out to individuals, and only if they had the capacity to care for it.
The other major goal of the sanctuary is education. “This is a really great place for people to come and learn and visit,” said Farr.
The sanctuary is open for tours every day of the week. Visitors can see the different animals and are permitted to touch most of them. “The people do get to interact with the animals, Cummings said.
The sanctuary seeks to teach the visitors about the ways farm animals are treated on most farms, frequently kept in small cages or pens until they are killed for meat.
“I think that the sanctuaries play a part in changing the way that people think about these animals,” Farr said. “I think education is a really important part of changing how people think about these animals.”
There is no fixed charge for the tours, but the sanctuary asks for a donation of $2 per person.
The sanctuary is open to group tours, and showing the children around is one of Farr’s favorite parts about working. “They’re just naturally in tune with the animals,” she said.