PENOBSCOT — Peace Ridge Sanctuary represents paradise for animals suffering from abuse or neglect.
Just ask Popcorn the Turkey, born earlier this year and destined to fatten quickly before the year-end holidays: Rescued when only a few days old, he now struts through the Peace Ridge farmyard — and he will never adorn a Thanksgiving dinner table.
Just ask Missy the Pig, badly mistreated at her former home: Rescued from deplorable living conditions, she now spends her days relaxing in a fenced enclosure at Peace Ridge Sanctuary and her nights sleeping in the Pig Barn constructed last winter.
Like all other animals living at the sanctuary, Popcorn and Missy will never be converted into meat, and they will spend their lives in farmyard comfort.
And for many domestic pets, arriving at Peace Ridge Sanctuary means escaping certain death.
Daniella Tessier founded Peace Ridge Sanctuary in 2001. A 501(c)3 since 2001, the sanctuary shelters abused, neglected, [and] exploited pets and farm animals, said Portland resident Dennis Morelli. He and his wife, Melissa Andrews, serve on the nonprofit’s board of directors. Morelli is the organization’s vice president, and Andrews is its treasurer.
Stressing vegan ethics, Peace Ridge Sanctuary occupies 7 acres at 653 Back Ridge Road, which connects Route 1 in Orland with Route 15 in Penobscot. Animals receive medical care, and a part-time barn cleaner works daily in the various barns where animals are sheltered at night. Volunteers also help care for the animals.
“It takes a lot of people to maintain and keep the animals,” Morelli said.
According to Andrews, animals arrive from different sources. Some people surrender their pets; animal control officers bring in some animals. Peace Ridge Sanctuary has rescued 900 animals since 2001.
The sanctuary shelters many farm animals, including chickens, ducks, geese, goats, pigs and sheep. Many farm animals arrive via a lot of abuse and neglect cases, Andrews said.
The Bunny Barn currently shelters some 24 rabbits, some rescued from research laboratories, others left by people who no longer wanted to raise rabbits. Living with a surrogate rabbit mother in the Bunny Barn are three young black bunnies recently left in a cardboard box on the sanctuary’s driveway. As with every other animal that passes through Peace Ridge Sanctuary, the young rabbits will be neutered or spayed.
Inside the Bunny Barn, rabbits live in small groups in separate pens; the rabbits also access an outdoor area protected by a deep-set fence and overhead wire.
On this pristine September morning, ducks, geese and three domestic turkeys wandered across the farmyard mottled by sunlight and shade. Bred to adorn Thanksgiving Day tables, the turkeys interacted easily with Andrews and Morelli.
Among the turkeys is 6-month-old Popcorn, shipped by mail to a Houlton feed store when a poult. Deemed too sick to be raised to full size, Popcorn would likely have died had volunteers not brought him to Peace Ridge Sanctuary. There, he was placed on a calorie-reducing diet to limit the natural weight gain bred into domestic turkeys. Now a svelte tom, Popcorn has reached the age when he fans his feathers.
“He’s quite the character,” Morelli said after luring Popcorn into camera range with a proffered green apple.
Other farm animals ranged from rams named Adrian and Rocky to 15 guinea hens. “The majority of ours came from a backyard flock,” Morelli said. Other animals include 35 chickens, several goats, a 600-pound Hampshire-cross pig named Missy, and a Vietnamese potbelly pig named Hemlock. Prominent in the paddock with the sheep and goats was Theo, a 5-month-old Jersey veal calf taken away [from his owner] on a cruelty case, Morelli said.
“He weighed 75 pounds when he came here. He should have weighed 170 pounds, He was all skin and bones,” Morelli said as Theo sought attention by playfully pushing his head against a visitor’s L.L. Bean slacks. Now a sleek young cow, Theo responded well to his feed and care.
Farm animals are available for adoption, but not many people are willing to provide appropriate homes.
Dogs often arrive from southern ‘kill’ shelters, Andrews said. She explained that up in the Northeast, there are really progressive spay-neuter programs that reduce the numbers of cats and dogs that can breed. Similar programs are less prevalent in the South, where pets often live outdoors.
“They’re all unaltered, they’re all breeding,” Andrews said. “The shelters down there are overrun with dogs and cats, particularly dogs.” To create space for accepting more animals, shelter operators euthanize unwanted animals after a period of time, perhaps one week or two.
“We’ve partnered with certain shelters in North Carolina to rescue as many dogs as possible,” Morelli said. Other Northeast animal-rescue groups participate in these efforts.
Through online and phone contact with shelters, animal-rescue groups learn which dogs are destined for euthanization. According to Andrews, Peace Ridge Sanctuary seeks to bring up two to four dogs at a time, often in conjunction with other rescue groups.
Some volunteers bring Southern shelter dogs north by vehicle. A free transport van travels from North Carolina to New Jersey, and volunteers bring the dogs up from there, Andrews said.
Other dogs travel on flights arranged by Pilots N Paws, whose members are pilots who volunteer to fly dogs from Southern shelters to the Northeast, she said.
Peace Ridge Sanctuary has rescued some 450 dogs since 2001; most go to private homes after undergoing medical and temperament testing at the sanctuary. A few live there permanently.
“It’s hard. You can’t save them all,” Andrews said. “We can save more dogs if people are willing to [provide] foster homes for dogs.” Peace Ridge Sanctuary provides the food and medical care for foster dogs.
Peace Ridge Sanctuary has launched a capital campaign to purchase a larger site. Ideally, it would be south of Bangor and would encompass at least 100 acres, a pond for waterfowl and woods in which trails could be constructed, Morelli said.
Other goals include establishing an internship program and completing a four-stall quarantine barn currently under construction. For his Eagle Scout project, Scout Isaiah Albert is coordinating the barn’s construction, which is being built by volunteers.
The quarantine barn will shelter sanctuary animals that fall ill and new arrivals that must be checked for parasites and other medical conditions, according to Andrews.
Peace Ridge Sanctuary will host a Gentle Thanksgiving Celebration on Saturday, Nov. 2. Visitors are invited to bring fall crops — apples, cranberries, greens, pumpkins and squash — to feed the animals. Then visitors will travel to the South Blue Hill Grange for a reception, a silent auction and a vegan buffet dinner prepared by vegan chefs.
Tickets are required for the Gentle Thanksgiving Celebration. To obtain tickets or RSVP by Tuesday, Oct. 15, email email@example.com or call 326-9507.
Andrews and Morelli invite people to visit Peace Ridge Sanctuary and meet its farm animals. “Most people don’t have the opportunity to interact with farm animals any more,” Andrews said.
To arrange a visit, call 326-9507.
To learn more about Peace Ridge Sanctuary, go to peaceridgesanctuary.org or facebook.com/peaceridgesanctuary.