I started working for Farm Sanctuary 15 years ago, and I'd previously worked at another sanctuary for 5 years. I started doing sanctuary work because I fell in love with it while teaching. So that's what I've been doing for the past 20 years. As National Shelter Director, I have a staff of about 50 people I supervise. I do a lot of training of caregivers, I frequently deal with animal emergencies, I'm constantly giving advice to other sanctuaries, and I'm dealing with people for everything from maintenance to rescue to healthcare - because caregiving is my big thing. I've worked with tens of thousands of animals over the years. Farm Sanctuary has 3 sanctuary locations - 2 in California, 1 in New York, and I'm overseeing all three, although I'm based in New York.

You can learn more about Farm Sanctuary here and help support our work through donating: http://www.farmsanctuary.org/

We were the first Farm Sanctuary founded 29 years ago, based on the principle that all animals should have individualized, quality care.

I also teach a course on providing care for sanctuary animals, particularly farm animals in a sanctuary setting, and that's mostly what I focus on - but I also do behavioral stuff with the animals as well, for people wanting to start farm animal sanctuaries.

We have an annual Farm Animal Care conference: http://www.farmsanctuary.org/events/farm-animal-care-conference/

And we have the Farm Animal Adoption Network (http://www.farmsanctuary.org/the-sanctuaries/home-adoption-and-placement/). It's a network that helps provide placement for rescued farm animals - because we wish we could rescue them all, but we've established this outreach network so we can ensure there's proper placement for as many animals as we can.

I also go out and speak often about farm animal sentience.

Victoria is helping me get started. AMA.


EDIT I thank you all for your interest in Farm Sanctuary, and you can learn more at www.farmsanctuary.org!

Comments: 122 • Responses: 49  • Date: 

peacechicken14 karma

Given all the horrible things you must encounter on a somewhat regular basis, how do you maintain mental health and optimism? Is daily life with all the "happy ending" animals enough, or is depression a constant thing you have to resist? That's often my biggest challenge, dealing with the dark world in which so many animals are living.

P.S. Thank you (and everyone at Farm Sanctuary) for all your tireless work! You are one of my heroes. <3

SusieCoston21 karma

Burn out is a huge issue on the shelter staff and something we attempt to address and try to get a handle on constantly. We improve with this every year. I and all my staff struggle with depression- it is not constant but it comes in waves. Winter in NY is horrid and seems to bring with it depression issues- exhaustion and seeing the animals not loving life like they do in the spring and summer. Heat in CA does the same. It is a constant battle- but the reward on the sanctuary is seeing animals who are so terrified come to life and be the individuals they deserve to be- seeing those personalities come out that were hidden by fear- and that makes it all worth while. We actually just added grief counseling to our insurance here too- and a hot line to call and set up appointments. It is hard to grieve for animals that others see as food. Thanks for this question- I could write about it for hours!

satosaison14 karma

Have you considered adding additional accommodations to your sanctuaries given the high demand? I have been wanting to spend a weekend at the NY sanctuary, but it seems to book for the entire year within a few days of opening.

SusieCoston20 karma

Funny you should ask. We are looking into doing just that. I hear it all the time and I am so happy that we get so many amazing visitors to our shelters. It is so beautiful on the farm!

IKingJeremy14 karma

What is the hardest part of your job?

SusieCoston25 karma

getting super attached to an animal who is sick or older and having to let them go

Spoonsy12 karma

Would you mind elaborating on farm animal sentience a bit more?

SusieCoston30 karma

farm animals are no different in their ability to feel emotions than your dogs and cats. We see them express a whole range of emotions daily- fear, happiness, grief, etc.

veggielove8412 karma

How do you recommend those of us who are already vegan go about increasing our positive impact and help more animals?

SusieCoston12 karma

See the answer below- and add to that- screenings of films about animals, speaking out in your own community. I went home and spoke at my church where I grew up. And I think really learning as much as you can- not just about the horrors but statistically what is happening and really making sure info is accurate. I love that I have worked with farm animals for so long that I can speak to who they are. The more knowledge we have the more power we have.

veggielove8412 karma

Where do you see Farm Sanctuary and the animal advocacy movement being in 10 years?

SusieCoston27 karma

I think we are at a tipping point- vegan and vegetarian are now in the vocabulary of most people and there are options that just ten years ago there were not. Celebs are eating these diets- gets the word out even more and social media is really allowing people to see what years ago we could not put out anywhere. We could not do ads because the meat and dairy industry would pull their ads if we did. The world is changing and I have hope that in ten years we will see a huge shift in our diets- towards more plant based. I also think we have to see a shift in farming- which to be sustainable without large factories has to be a huge meat reduction.

cheersandapplause12 karma

People seem to speak so differently about pets than they do farm animals. What are some of the biggest misconceptions you've heard from people concerning chickens, pigs, cows, or goats- either about their sentience, emotional value, etc? What are some of the best ways to really engage (rather than argue with) omni folks on the benefits of animal-free diets and farm animal sentience?

SusieCoston24 karma

I think it is easy to see them differently because the only exposure most people have to farm animals is when they see them in an environment that is not natural- where they are frightened, where they are overcrowded, not receiving individualize care. We see them here being themselves- happy, sad, funny, etc. When they are not frightened they grieve more outwardly, they play, they are just more comfortable being themselves. That is why sanctuaries are important- so people can see them as they should be. Not everyone can come to a sanctuary so social media thankfully allows us to show them too. I think there is such a misconception about their sentience- especially birds, since they seem to be harder to relate to than mammals. We see birds - especially mothers arriving with babies, who sleep with a wing wrapped around their child to protect them. It is incredible. I find that positive stories and stories of who they are tend to be the best way to engage people- not negativity that puts people on the defensive.

IKingJeremy12 karma

Do you have any heartwarming stories you can share about your experiences working with Farm Sanctuary?

SusieCoston21 karma

So many-and stories for every species. Check out the story of Tricia and Sweety=ABC news just picked it up. But I have so many more. Just this week we rescued a tiny little goat who arrived from the live markets in NYC- so terrified and shaking when you got near him. He is finally warming up to us and hopefully in a few weeks he will let us touch him. Animals at these live markets often see their entire families killed so they are often the most terrified but in the end come around to love us again.

veggienerd10 karma

Hi Susie! I love and respect your dedication to all animals and your ability to connect with each farm animal on a deep and individual level. You're one of my heroes and a great leader in the animal rights movement! More farm animal sanctuaries popping up in the U.S. and in other countries as well. What is your biggest piece of advice for these new sanctuaries who are trying to raise money and get their name out there? What are the biggest obstacles in founding a sanctuary, and how can people prepare for them?

SusieCoston12 karma

Start small- and do not think that rescue is the only thing you should be doing. Education with the animals on your shelters will created many more lives saved. With 10 billion annually in the US alone rescue is not making a dent in the system. Look at sanctuary holistically- we do rescue, education and advocacy. If you fill your sanctuaries with too many animals and have no time to raise funds you cannot afford to give them the individualized attention they need- and that we are saying as an animal rights community that they deserve. Don't feel you can do it alone either. You want to start slowly enough so that you can afford to have a staff- so you can have people who focus on various aspects. I think what I see the most in sanctuaries who sadly do not succeed or are always putting out fires is that rescues start out strong but then taking care of barns, doing healthcare, raising funds, etc. fall behind and you get in over your head. We teach a really great conference on starting a sanctuary that I recommend- and if we get more and more people we can offer it more often. It is on life- the Farm Animal Care Conference.

takethedayhoff10 karma

Have you always been vegan and if not when did you stop eating animal products and what was the biggest influence on pursuing a plant-based lifestyle?

SusieCoston17 karma

I was not vegan growing up and have been for about 20 years. I started out being vegetarian and then was questioned on why I didn't care so much about the birds and dairy cows. It was all about learning and being opened to hearing about the way my diet was affecting the animals.

IKingJeremy10 karma

What are the biggest mistakes that other farm sanctuaries make?

SusieCoston14 karma

Other mistake is purchasing animals- I could fill up 100 sanctuaries this year without giving money to the farming industry. It is sad, but that seems to be happening more with sanctuaries.

SusieCoston13 karma

Everyone makes the same mistakes but the biggest is taking on too many animals without being able to give them individualized care. That is no different than being a farm, which is what we are saying is bad. You cannot rescue them all but you have to care for who you take in- no differently than you would your dog or cat.

iway19 karma

This is amazing, thank you for doing an AMA. Since you see first hand what the animals go through, is it challenging to be tolerant of loved ones consuming animal products?

edit: wish to change word tolerant to understanding since this can come off as self righteous

SusieCoston7 karma

I always feel it is somewhat challenging especially when they seem to talk about it more knowing I am vegan than I think they would have if I were not. I feel you have to meet people where they are, however, since I put my parents, for example, through a bit of hell most of my teenage life- so me showing intolerance to them for not believing what I believe would be a bit hypocritical. I also see that by not fighting with them about it- by still loving people and just being who you are - many eventually change- maybe not completely but in some ways. My parents are eating far less meat, for example!

agirlandachicken8 karma

You spoke about compassion fatigue in an earlier message. With so many caregivers and animals to supervise and care for, how do you practice self care and re-charge your batteries, Susie?

SusieCoston13 karma

I surround myself with people who know me but also with people who are honest with me and tell me when they feel I am getting tired, cranky, seem burned out, etc. Recharging seems to come with lots of sleep- I sleep a lot on my days off, and my home, which is out in the woods, is my sanctuary. I also started doing this when I was older- I was thirty when I began and I had been through so much already in life that my coping skills were already established somewhat. I have no miracle cure for burn out but I do thing recognition is key!

alliechickenlover8 karma

I'm troubled by the amount of people who think having backyard hens for egg laying is a good idea. I have a small flock of companion hens myself and get called about taking in roosters occasionally. Are you also seeing this phenomenon?

SusieCoston13 karma

We are getting more and more calls every week about chickens needing homes; especially roosters. And when we do take in backyard chickens we often see they are not in good condition and have not been cared for individually. Most arrive with heavy lice and mite infestations, some with broken bones, many in bad feather condition, etc. It is shocking. We are seeing hundreds of chickens in municipal shelters as well, more each year. Many of these of course are roosters and most backyard flocks do not allow roosters. This issue is due to the use of roosters as packing material when people are buying birds on line and having them sent via the mail/or getting them from tractor supply companies, etc. and chicks are not properly sexed. The system again is flawed. That is why we never advertise our chickens as good egg layers, because we want our chickens to be companion chickens! They are amazing individuals and the eggs should not be what you are looking for.

veggielove847 karma

What is your favorite vegan restaurant?

SusieCoston14 karma

that is so hard but I really still love Candle 79! I love DUNWELL DOUGHNUTS and Vegan Treats for the sweets! I love Crossroads when in LA and Sage. ENDLESS great vegan food right now.

lindaalgggazi6 karma

I've noticed that "back yard sanctuaries" have been popping up everywhere. One such sanctuary near my home appears to actually be a hoarding situation, as the woman who runs it does not have funding for food or proper shelter, but keeps bringing animals in. What should someone do when they see this type of situation? Call animal control?

SusieCoston10 karma

You can reach out to the sanctuary owners but sadly this is happening more and more each year. we receive so many calls about backyard sanctuaries and the conditions the animals are living in. Before you support any sanctuary it is always best to know who they are. Social media is a great tool to get out the message but it can be deceiving when it comes to pictures of happy animals. We invite anyone to check out our sanctuaries and to ask us anything. If there is a hoarding situation and you are not seeing a change sadly you may have to call someone in. You can also reach out to us at [email protected] and we can attempt to help.

IceRollMenu26 karma

What can an individual person do for farm animals, apart from adopting or donating?

SusieCoston9 karma

volunteering at sanctuaries, participating in activities -see our Compassionate Communities page on our website, doing vegan meetups, starting veggie groups in your community, getting connected to like minded people wherever you live, etc. There are endless ways to help.

Jeffums6 karma

What's the deal with airline food?

SusieCoston23 karma

it is terrible

deathbatcountry6 karma

Do you ever send animals to other sanctuaries? Perhaps to make room for a more severe case? Are the animals lifetime residence once they get there?

SusieCoston11 karma

Definitely. We send animals from big cases to many other sanctuaries. We work with other sanctuaries during big rescues. Again- there not enough space for all the animals needing homes- and even with those animals being placed it is a drop in the bucket when you think of the 10 billion killed annually in the US alone.

deathbatcountry8 karma

Thanks for all you do! I had the pleasure to hear Gene and Bruce speak back to back at the Philly and Rehoboth Beach vegfests. All of you folks involved at Farm Sanctuary (and all the other sanctuaries are true heroes)!

SusieCoston10 karma

thank you for saying that. I will let them know! We have an incredible staff- every single person. We are very lucky!

alliechickenlover5 karma

Do you adopt animals out to the public? If so, what are your criteria for adopters?

SusieCoston10 karma

we do adopt out many of the animals we rescue and our adoption policies are very strict. We adopt out to vegan and vegetarian homes with very few exceptions (we have adopted out to some of our vets) because it is the one way we can safeguard that these animals will not end up being used just as egg layers, or even more frightening slaughtered. We follow up with our adopters and we do not do adoptions off site or allow people to pick up animals-we have to see the facilities where they are going. The process is harder and there are fewer homes, but the alternative is horrible. We are seeing more and more industrial animals in public shelters- and many are likely coming from adoptions from sanctuaries- since there are very few other ways to get these breeds of animals. Again- we are not making a dent in the system and each life does count, but we really do owe every animal who steps foot into our lives the life they deserve and not a continuation of the life we took them from. If you are interested in our adoption policies, or in adopting please go to our website www.farmsanctuary.org and look under adoption and placement.

alliechickenlover4 karma

This is useful information to have. I too am troubled by seeing sanctuaries prefer quantity over quality in adoptions. I don't understand why anyone would bother saving an animal to then not ensure they end up in a safe home. Thank you for everything you do!

SusieCoston5 karma

Thank you! I do wish we could save them all, but sadly that is not possible so those who we can save deserve the best care they can get!!

SusieCoston11 karma

also we keep animals with lifetime health issues, since we have so much experience with special needs animals. We do a great deal of work with Cornell dealing with industrial birds who have the more severe health issues. We do not place animals who need tons of ongoing care or who have behavior issues.

lukey9716 karma

Is there any hope of seeing "factory" type farms come to an end any time soon? It seems like their ties with government are too strong. What can an ordinary person do to help?

SusieCoston18 karma

i have hope that they will stop- people are becoming more aware of the affects on the environment, their own health and of course the animals and without them with the number of people we have animal ag is not sustainable. It has to end.

lizzybefree5 karma

Do you ever rescue animals by purchasing them from livestock auctions or directly from producers?

SusieCoston13 karma

We do not purchase animals because we do not want to put money back into the industry that we are trying to stop. There are more than enough animals to rescue and paying for them just gives money for more to be purchased. I have seen this so many times. Egg laying facilities love to sell their birds for 1-3 dollars a piece, which seems like nothing, but they end up with pickup costs and transport often making no money from the "spent" hens or losing money so that money they make just helps them refill the barns. Buying a calf at auction is the same- it goes right back into enslaving another being. Saving one by giving money to the industry is not really rescue.

taco_bread3 karma

How do you rescue animals then?

SusieCoston9 karma

We rescue animals through cruelty cases with local law enforcement, during natural disasters removing factory farmed animals from these areas, and some are dropped off. Transport accidents are also a way we get animals to the shelters. Downers at local stockyards are also rescued by us.

Frajer5 karma

which animal is your favorite?

SusieCoston13 karma

that is the hardest question of them all. I love Sonny with my entire soul- he is the calf rescued during the filming of @theghostsinourmachine, I love Adriano sheep from a horrible backyard butcher case and his beautiful mother who was a breeding ewe- Florence, I love Miranda Lee- my favorite chicken on the planet rescued from a cage free facility, Nikki pig from the Iowa floods, and just about every farm animal I have ever met- They are all special.

IKingJeremy4 karma

Have you ever thought about writing a book about your experiences, or a "how to manual" for starting a Farm Sanctuary?

SusieCoston9 karma

I have and I think I will eventually. Right now we have so much going on at Farm Sanctuary but that is definitely part of the future plan.

veggienerd2 karma

This is a great idea. I can't wait to read this book in the future!

SusieCoston7 karma

thanks! I cannot wait to write it!! I have hundreds of stories of the animals- I feel like I need to get them all down and not lose them. I wish the whole world could spend time with farm animals and see them the way I get to see them. I feel very blessed.

veggienerd1 karma

I can't even imagine how many animal stories you have collected over your time working with so many animals! Getting to read a book with individual animals rescue stories would be the next best thing to visiting a sanctuary, I think. If everyone came to visit Farm Sanctuary (and I think they really should ;)), there would be many more vegans in the word!

SusieCoston4 karma

I agree- and thankfully through social media and video, etc. we can get more and more of these amazing stories out there!

IKingJeremy4 karma

What are your thoughts about Peta?

SusieCoston16 karma

Peta and every animal organization do amazing work and each reach different audiences. We need all methods of reaching people to get animal abuse to stop.

PEEnKEELE4 karma

How does your family support you in your career? If you have non-vegan family or friends, what is your relationship like with them (given that you have devoted yourself to the well-being of all animals)?

Thanks for your work!!

SusieCoston9 karma

My family is just plain supportive. It would not have mattered what I chose to do. They do know, however, that this what I was meant to be doing- my calling as my mother says- and I agree. They are super supportive and I am very lucky!!

veggielove843 karma

You are a hero to so many people in the animal protection movement--and to so many animals. Who are some of the people you look up to?

SusieCoston8 karma

Wow- there are so many. I wish I was Jane Goodall for example- I feel like I spend enough time with farm animals to have that same relationship, but wow- she is incredible. I look up to people like Jo-Anne McArthur who has the strength to get photos of animals in all the horrors of all the various industries that exploit them-witnessing all of that suffering but still creating this beautiful work so people can see what she sees. I look up to Gene of course- I came here because of him. He is the kind, patient and tolerant member of the FS family. He calmed my angry soul. I look up to so many of my co-workers. I look up to my caregivers. each one has something that I do not have- some piece of them that makes them complete what we do- that makes us function better as a team. I look up to undercover investigators at all the different organizations that do this work- I find that so incredibly hard. The list is endless. I have so many people I see as heroes!

Armchair1233 karma

What's your view on lab-grown meat?

SusieCoston16 karma

I don't think I would eat it but I am all for it if it saves lives!

IKingJeremy3 karma

What is the most difficult part of starting a farm sanctuary?

SusieCoston12 karma

Money to care for them is not easily raised- especially once you are started and taking in animals. Also you cannot take in everyone and saying no is very difficult. We teach a conference- you should sign up- this year it is September 25-27

lindaalgggazi2 karma

Do you ever host care classes for chickens in California? I saw your comment below about adoption and would love to care for my own little flock someday, but don't know how?

SusieCoston6 karma

We are going to start doing this- based on the number of requests we get to do so. We have twenty years of experience giving chickens proper care so very excited to share this. Stay tuned and we will let you know when it is happening!

clairdelynn2 karma

Thank you for your work! I hope to someday visit farm sanctuary. What would you say is the best way to encourage others into a more compassionate lifestyle?

SusieCoston8 karma

By being patient with others and really reaching out and meeting them where they are. If you are a good cook, unlike myself, inviting people for a very delicious vegetarian/vegan meal and just being warm and positive is a good start. I think people want food that they like. Everyone has a gift- artists, chefs,writers, story tellers, etc. and using that gift to spread the message is a great way to contribute and encourage others to be more compassionate.

zenhornseance2 karma

Amazing, just amazing work you do. How old were you when you realized you preferred to love and care for animals and not use them for food? I do believe this current generation of children are far more conscientious about animal rights, so there is hope for our future. How do you de-stress when you go home at the end of the day?

SusieCoston7 karma

I think I always knew I preferred animal care but I did not know how best to go about it. Vet school seemed to desensitize and I didn't think I could handle it at the time. When I turned 29 is when I started realizing that this was all I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was where I fit. I agree that children are much more aware and much more compassionate even with farm animals. I am hopeful. As for destressing- I surround myself with more animals! I have my own little sanctuary at home. I also just relax and spend time at home chatting with friends, but also just being! I also love my work!

veggielove842 karma

How do you recommend educating people about the myth of so-called "humane" meat, dairy, and eggs?

SusieCoston12 karma

I find just being honest. Explain what that actually means- don't leave anything out and explain how the industry high-jacked a word that used to mean something very different. There is no such thing as Humane Meat!

KinOfMany2 karma

What would you recommend to someone who wants to help form a sanctuary when there isn't one in the entire country?

SusieCoston4 karma

This would take days to answer but you should come to our three day workshop- Animal Care Conference in September. We have had people from Australia, Germany, England, and Japan attend.

lizzybefree2 karma

Do you have any thoughts on the value of 4H and FFA?

SusieCoston4 karma

I think we are teaching kids to be desensitized. Kids love animals and we are asking them to raise them to kill them. I think given the choice so many kids would really want to save them- still raise them but have them live out their lives. I have seen some seriously devastated kids at FFA and 4H fairs.

sweet__leaf2 karma

How can I help? I'd love to volunteer but there aren't any Sanctuaries in my area.

SusieCoston5 karma

where is your area? You can always do an internship but I know that is not possible for everyone so if you cannot again go to our website and check out compassionate communities, volunteer at one of our events (if you can travel this far), and write to us for more ideas at [email protected] Thanks!!!

sweet__leaf2 karma

I'm in South Florida! Also, what you're doing is awesome, thanks so much for your work!

SusieCoston5 karma

There are sanctuaries in FL, Kindred Spirits in Ocala, Rooterville is in that same area. And there are more and more popping up in FL. But always feel free to come here! I suggest not in the winter since you are from FL~!

acechad2 karma

How important is a quarantine period when you bring new animals to your shelters? How long are your quarantine periods?

SusieCoston7 karma

Very important. I cannot stress that enough. Many of the animals we bring her do carry disease. We test each species for a variety of diseases before they are put into our flocks and herds and before they are adopted to homes. Also some diseases do not show themselves right away- orf in goats for example can take a few weeks to come out but it is highly contagious. We also never let animals out of isolation until they are parasite free.

TheSpiderDog1 karma

I've wanted to start my own sanctuary for a while. I'm not being able to afford any property yet, but I think I have enough time. Is it more beneficial to have your own or donate to an existing one? Do you have any advice for starting up?

SusieCoston3 karma

I just saw your question and so sorry I did not answer it today. I was doing this for the first time and overwhelmed. I have had multiple opportunities to start my own sanctuary and I would never do it. I love the work but being a part of a very established sanctuary allows us to continue to learn, continue to improve, and not always just put out fires- not always have emergencies, etc. which is the nature of sanctuaries especially when you first start. There is also not enough funding within the animal community for all the new sanctuaries popping up and people want to see results- not just rescues but happy healthy animals, good visitor programs, and happy healthy staff, etc. They want change because of the sanctuary- at least that is what our donors expect. I also recommend that you either get a job at an existing sanctuary for a few years- come to our conference, and really know what you are getting into completely- there is nothing like this work to compare it to in the real world. We still have spaces in our conference for this year but it fills up fast! Thanks for writing!

alliechickenlover1 karma

What's your best advice for preparing to become a farm animal adopter?

SusieCoston6 karma

contact us and we will give you all you need to adopt any of the species in our care. We want our adopters to be prepared for a lifetime with these special animals.

vanessa37491 karma

What advice would you give to someone dreaming of starting their own sanctuary one day? Funding, connections, getting animals, volunteers, charity status, etc?

SusieCoston3 karma

see the answer below but again- unless you have already worked with farm animals in a sanctuary setting you need to do that before jumping in on your own. Once the animals are there unless you have a huge volunteer base or staff, which are hard to afford, you will not be able to properly care for the animals, fund raise, and educate the masses! It is a full time job for me- I work 12-14 hour days, rarely take days off and I am one of a huge staff. It is all consuming if it is your own place and you do not have a staff. Come to our conference!!!! Check it out on line.

lula2488-3 karma

What mild inconveniences irritate you in the public?

SusieCoston5 karma

what do you mean specifically?