Woodstock Farm Sanctuary Internship

On Monday, November 14, 2022, I began a one-month Animal Caregiving Internship at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls, NY. You may recall that I previously volunteered here for one day last fall, during my sanctuary road trip; I spent most of the time mucking/cleaning out the cow barn, and also had the chance to meet some of the other animals. That sanctuary really made an impression on me, perhaps mainly due to the fact that I was there for several hours — but also, I just got a really great vibe from it, as the kids say these days. I’d been thinking of applying for an internship since last December, really, yet I didn’t make plans to apply until this summer. I had to make sure that my dog, Zuzu, would be all set — which she is — and that I wasn’t going to miss anything while being away. The minimum length [for the internship] is one month, and some people will do it for longer, and may do it either part-time (2 or 3 days a week) or full-time (5 days a week); yet, I didn’t want to be away from home for the entire holiday season, even though being here for Thanksgiving means I don’t have to deal with the uncomfortable situation of being a vegan surrounded by non-vegans, as well as a dead bird on the table. 

I arrived in High Falls on Sunday afternoon, and my mom drove me at stayed at a local Airbnb; you see, my VW isn’t reliable enough to drive that distance, and thankfully, if I ever need to go anywhere, there are staff here with cars. I’ll be needing to go home in a couple weeks for my dad’s retirement party (on December 1st), and it looks like I’ll be taking the train to NYC and possibly driving home to Westerly with my brother and his girlfriend. Also, the staff do grocery runs on Thursdays — and other days, if needed — so, even though I brought a lot of food with me, it’s probably a good idea to stock up. I’m not a cook, so I’m a bit of a lazy vegan, as I tend to rely on frozen/pre-made meals and easy things like bagel sandwiches. 

Anyway, my mom and I had an early dinner this past Sunday — I had vegan pizza! — and then I spent the rest of the evening settling into my new abode. I have my own room and bathroom, although the bathroom is attached to another room, which is (fortunately) vacant. The accommodations onsite here at the sanctuary are basic, but that’s fine. I have a bed, plenty of shelving for my clothes and such, a working shower, basic kitchen appliances, and even a space heater. I was actually pretty cold the first night, probably because there’s a draft from the outside. But, then, I found a space heater in the intern lodge and that has helped a lot. Whenever I need to warm up after being outside, I’ll just sit in my room with the space heater on full blast, with the door shut, and relax. 

Day 1: Monday, November 14, 2022

Monday was my first official day as an intern, and I got started early, working 7 a.m.-3 p.m (with a lunch break). It was very cold, but fortunately I knew to dress in layers. I ended up taking off at least one layer by the end of the day, especially when the sun came out and after I’d warmed up by just being active. I know it seems like a weird time to do this, to volunteer at a place where I’d be outside so much and where it’s feeling more like winter by the day. Yet, it’s also good for me to see how sanctuaries operate in the New England area in the wintertime, assuming my own sanctuary will be in Rhode Island. 

The first day, I opened, which meant I got to be one of the first people to see certain animals. I also learned how to safely go between bird areas, as they’re still dealing with the avian flu and you can’t be too careful. They do still require masks inside the medical building — basically the intern headquarters — which I wasn’t so keen on, yet I’ll obviously follow the rules.

I met and worked with so many animals on that first day alone: goats, sheep, cows, pigs, cats, turkeys, chickens, and more! I also started to do some heavy lifting, and knew I’d soon be sore (which I most certainly was). Even though I’m not a morning person, it was certainly nice to be done so early and to take that first warm shower. After finishing work, I’ll take a shower, maybe have a snack, catch up on some emails and such, have dinner while watching the news (until I decide to turn off), and then watch a couple episodes of something(s) on my iPad. There’s a TV with a Roku in the intern lodge, but as I’m not the only one living here, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to turn that on. I’ll actually have the lodge to myself at the end of my internship, which will be kind of nice (and probably not too lonely). 

Rubbing a pig's belly is pretty great

Day 2: Tuesday, November 15, 2022

On my second working day as an intern, I worked the later (aka closing) shift: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. It was actually nice to sleep in a bit, even though I’d gone to bed pretty early the night before. (Seriously, I think it was almost 9 p.m., which is indeed early for me). And, because I’d already been shown some things the day before, I was on my own for a bit, primarily filling up water bowls in what they call the “North” section of the sanctuary grounds. That included some chickens, geese, and ducks, all of whom are mostly OK. There’s only one rooster in that area who likes to chase after people, so there’s a trick to block him from entering the coop. It’s pretty cool getting to pet some of these guys, especially since I’m missing my avian pals back at Foster Parrots in Hope Valley, RI. Of course, with the avian flu, I needed to spray and scrub my boots in-between enclosures/areas. 

I was able to take my time with those chores and still finish them before lunch; that’s one great thing about the way they operate here at Woodstock: they’re rarely in a rush and it’s a fairly relaxed, “chill” atmosphere. It helps that there are plenty of staff members, as well as year-round volunteers and interns. (However, it seems like they might be hard-pressed for interns this winter, so look into it!). Anyway, yesterday was still pretty cold, although it’s nice to be able to go into the medical building to warm up. After lunch, I helped make cow balls–the day before I’d watched fellow intern Mimi make pig balls–which are special treats for our bovine residents. I hadn’t done any baking in a while, but it was pretty easy to follow the recipe. It did feel weird to mash it up with my hands, but it’s better than touching poop (which I probably have done at some point)! 

I also helped with closing, which is basically the reverse of opening, and I made friends with two of the cats — apparently there is a third who I haven’t seen yet — who live onsite. They were both on my lap, at separate times, which is something I’ve missed, as I haven’t lived with a lap cat in several years. It was also pretty cool seeing the sheep herd, who are occasionally allowed to free roam, walking around and staying (mostly) together. And, again, when work was over (at 4:30-ish) I did pretty much exactly what I’d done the day before, and enjoyed another warm shower. I didn’t end up going to bed nearly as early, despite still being tired. I knew I wouldn’t have to get up too early the following morning. 

This Thanksgiving, remember that turkeys are friends, not food

Days 3-4: Wednesday & Thursday, November 16-17, 2022

Wednesday and Thursday of the first week of my internship were my two days off; for full-time interns, you typically work 5 days and then get 2 days off (in a row). It’s like a regular work schedule, except you might work weekends. I wonder if they purposefully schedule new interns to only work two days to start, so they’re not diving right into a 5-day schedule. Regardless, the only thing I had planned for my time off was an official sanctuary tour at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Even though I was already pretty familiar with the sanctuary grounds and with the residents, it was still good to get a detailed, official tour (seriously, I don’t know how people remember all of the animals’ names!). 

Mostly, though, on these days off, I relaxed in the intern lodge, worked on some writing, wrote this blog (hey!), and occasionally ventured out to say hi to some of the animals. Unfortunately, interns aren’t allowed to go into the cows’ enclosures alone, due to safety concerns, which is a big bummer; I love cows, and they’re an amazing reminder of why I’m vegan. I will, of course, follow the rules, and am happy to pet theme through the fence and while they’re in their barn eating. Sometimes, we may be allowed to accompany caregivers and/or other staff in there, although as a new-ish intern, I may not be able to do that yet. 

This group of sheep is allowed to free-roam on occasion, and I once saw them outside the intern lodge

Days 5-9: Friday-Tuesday, November 18-22

I’m clumping my 5 days in a row together, as it’s too difficult to remember exactly what I’ve done each day that I’ve worked there. This time, I worked 5 days in a row, which is typically for any job, really — but for such a labor-intensive position, it’s not easy. And, that’s one reason why I wanted to do this internship: to get a chance to see first-hand how sanctuaries operate, and how much work is involved, in order to be better prepared to start my own sanctuary. Obviously, I’m going to start much smaller (there are 400+ animals who live here), with nowhere near as much funding, yet everything I’m learning can be used towards my future sanctuary in some way or another. Plus, I’m getting stronger and getting more comfortable with things that I’d never done before, like driving a mule (golf cart-type thing). 

Friday, my first day back after my two days off, I worked the later shift, starting at 8:30. It’s nice to sleep in a bit, for sure, although I think I may prefer the earlier shift, because you’re done so early. However, I’m not really a morning person, so I don’t know…anyway, on Friday, I worked with a part-time staff member, Rita, still learning a few new things here and there. Even though I’m all trained, I’ll continue to learn how to do new things (hopefully), although of course we’re always allowed to ask questions. 

It has been extremely cold, and it’s especially noticeable first thing in the morning when I have to be in the med building by 7 a.m. Friday was the only day this work cycle I’ve worked the later shift, so I’ve actually gotten used to getting up early (and going to be relatively early, too). So, I wake up at 6:15, do my morning routine, have breakfast, get all bundled up, and walk as quickly a s possible over to the med building. Usually, when I’m there, there’s plenty to keep me busy, including laundry, dishes, sweeping, etc. 

The last working day this cycle (Tuesday), I got to do something entirely new: observe the medical treatment of goats (and one sheep), and even assist in the treatment, where possible. The assisting mainly involved holding goats’ horns while the caregiver did what was needed — for example, cleaning a goat’s ears. Goats are quite strong, as you can imagine, although most of them are pretty gentle and friendly. As good as it is to have a routine and to know what you’re doing, it’s also useful to learn something new, especially for someone like me who’s planning to start a sanctuary (which will most likely have goats and sheep). 

Fortunately, too, the weather is already warmer and most of the animals can be outside (sometimes, it’s too cold for certain animals, such as chickens, to be outside). This is why it’s great to dress in layers, because I can easily take things off that I don’t need, which I often end up doing. Sometimes, too, I’ll change when I take my lunch break (in the lodge), especially if my clothes are extra dirty and/or wet — a common occurrence. 

These chickens didn't seem to like the way I was changing their bedding

Days 10-11: Wednesday-Thursday, November 23-24, 2022

After working 5 days in a row for the first time, it was good to have two days off, including Thanksgiving; now, originally, I’d planned to come home for the holiday, as we were planning on having a big crowd (20, including myself). Then, I realized that it’d be difficult to take the train on Thanksgiving — I needed be working on Black Friday — and also realized that it’d be excruciating for me to coming from a sanctuary where animals (including turkeys) were treated with compassion to a non-compassionate meal. I hadn’t seen any family at Thanksgiving since before the pandemic, and this was my 6th Thanksgiving as a vegan. Every year, it became more and more difficult to be surrounded by carnivorous offerings, so how lucky was I to get to spend my Thanksgiving in 2022 with fellow vegans?

The onsite vegan meal consisted of such things as a "phone baloney" sandwich, farro, polenta cubes, and various dessert (not pictured)

I did end up FaceTiming back home, mainly so that I could say a quick “hello” to everyone. There ended up being 17 people, as two other people couldn’t make it. I did feel somewhat guilty about not being able to see all of those family members like that; it’s really the only thing we get to do that. (It’s my mom’s side of the family, who live in CT/MA). I FaceTimed while I was outside at the sanctuary, and was tempted to do so while in front of the turkeys — that’s a bit much, even for a hardcore vegan like myself. I was nothing but pleasant and cheerful on the call, because what’s the point in food-shaming? 

Days 12-16: November 25-29, 2022

The next 5 working days went by pretty quickly, as I was busy and mostly did the same things: replacing and cleaning water bowls/buckets for the ducks, geese, and chickens on the North side of the sanctuary; changing the bedding and towels for those chickens; cleaning the automatic waterers for the senior and teen pigs; cleaning, filling, and skimming the waters for the potbelly pigs and bunnies; doing laundry; sweeping the medical building; and doing dishes. 

One thing I got to do that was different was preparing and giving out balls filled with peanuts to the pigs; the teen/younger pigs were extremely interested in them, whereas the senior pigs were interested, albeit quite a bit slower and not necessarily in a rush. Also, two new turkeys arrived, although because they’re still in isolation-quarantine, we can’t visit them. If the weather is warm and clear, however, the staff will open one of the doors so we can get a look at them. 

These two were lucky to be rescued before becoming Thanksgiving dinner, yet they were still de-beaked and de-toed

On my final day of work during this cycle — Tuesday, November 29 — I finished a bit early in order to get ready to be picked up by my mom. The original plan was for me to take the train on Wednesday all the way from Rhinecliff, NY to Westerly, and I’d already purchased tickets. However, I quickly became stressed trying to figure out how to get to the train station, which is 30+ minutes away from here. It’d be too much to ask a staff member here to go out of their way to bring me there and pick me up, and Uber seemed unreliable and expensive. So, just a couple days before I was set to go home for my dad’s retirement party, I asked my mom if she’d be willing to drive here to pick me up. Thankfully, she was, and she did all the driving, even though I’d offered to drive on the way back; my car still sucks, so I don’t mind driving hers (a BMW with a back-up camera and other amenities) from time to time. 

Days (Home) 1-4: November 29-December 2, 2022​

We arrived home a little before 7 p.m., and I was very happy to see my little Zuzu (the rescue chihuahua mix I’d adopted about 2 years ago), and she was equally happy to see me. She’d gotten used to following my parents around and to sleeping with them at night, so she seemed confused as to what to do that night. Eventually, though, she did end up in my bed. 

The following day, I returned to Foster Parrots for my regular Wednesday shift; it was so wonderful to see my avian pals after having been gone for 2.5+ weeks. I’d been there 2 times/week for over a year, so I’d gotten accustomed to being there quite often. When I (hopefully) get a full-time job, I’ll only be in one day a week, which is still enough. The birds seemed extra happy to see me, if that’s possible (it probably is). 

Burt the flirt, as I call him, is a hyacinth macaw who has been my friend for years; his partner, Jub-Jub, used to like me too

I stayed just long enough at Foster Parrots to feed my typical section and to say hi to my normal pals, although I didn’t get a chance to say hi to Rose (scarlet macaw), who was eating when I stopped by at the end of my shift. I also left my water bottle there, which is something I do quite often; normally, I can pick it up the next time I’m there, but the next time wasn’t going to be. for a couple weeks, so I decided to come in the following day for a little bit. 

Late that night, my brother and his girlfriend — who both live in NYC (well, technically, Queens) — arrived, when we were all still asleep. Of course, I woke up briefly when Zuzu started barking a bit, because she has very sensitive hearing.

The following morning, I finally met my brother’s girlfriend, Ashlie, who had been at Thanksgiving. Later that morning, I went back to Foster Parrots to pick up my water bottle and to hang out with Rose, who was of course elated to be with me. I also chatted with Karen Windsor, the co-founder of the sanctuary, and a few others who were in that day. They’re being extra careful with the avian flu, as is Woodstock, and is having all volunteers and staff wear shoe covers when in the building — minimal visitors are allowed at the moment. 

That night, the 5 of us (Ashlie included) attended my dad’s retirement party, and it was quite the shindig, let me tell you. Supposedly, 150 people had RSVP’d and even though there may have been a few who didn’t attend, there were probably more [than that] who crashed the party. People spoked about my dad and what is was like working with him; he has been a surgeon at Westerly Hospital for 33 years, and his official last day will be 12/31/22. 

My dad's friends/colleagues, who planned the party, dressed up a mannequin in one of my dad's lab coats and then had people sign it

We were there pretty late, as my dad had so many people to hug, thank, etc. We realized that he probably knew every single person there, whereas, for example, myself and my brother knew very few; it’s always awkward when someone recognizes you and you don’t remember who they are and how they know you. When you haven’t seen people in a while, it’s easy to forget what they look like. Regardless, it was good to chat with people I hadn’t seen in quite some time, and then after all of the speeches there was dancing (and a DJ). I danced as long as I could, even after my feet started hurting from my high-ish heels. Sometimes, you hear a song, like fellow vegan flutist Lizzo’s “About Damn Time,” and you need to dance.

The following morning, on Friday, my dad and I left to head back to Woodstock for the remainder of my internship. It was very generous of him to offer to do that, especially since he was going to drive to Vermont immediately afterwards. Unfortunately, the drive was a bit stressful, with some random, unexplained traffic (that’s the worst) and my parents dealing with the craziness of applying for Medicare and trying to get social security. (My mom is already retired). I think they have it mostly figured out. 

Anyway, we arrived back at the sanctuary around 3 p.m, and both walked around for a little bit while he met some of the animals. He’s not vegan or even vegetarian (neither is my mother), yet he obviously sees the connection between the animals and the food that most people eat. I tease him and often give him a hard time for consuming animal products, but I won’t do this for most people — especially for those I don’t know too well. I advocate for veganism and for a cruelty-free way of life whenever I can, although, once again, I don’t force it on anyone. 

Days 17-21: December 2-6, 2022

On my first day back — Friday — I didn’t work, and mainly just unpacked. I also met my new housemate and fellow intern, Melissa (aka “Missy”), who drove here all the way from Missouri! Sometimes I wish I had a car, though that might keep me away from the sanctuary; I really only need it to get groceries, and the staff helps us with that. Missy’ll be here for about 3 months, which is a long time, though you may remember that the minimum internship length is one month. 

Anyway, my first day back (Saturday) after having been off for 3 days was good, albeit rainy. Unfortunately, I’d left my raincoat at home in Westerly; yet, fortunately, they have plenty of brightly-colored raincoats right here in the intern lodge. Sure, they’re big, heavy, and don’t necessarily keep you warm, yet they at least keep you dry. They’re especially helpful when you’re outside for long periods at a time, because the animals always need food, water, and bedding (and attention!). Saturday was only Mimi’s last day. Looks like Missy may be by herself for awhile after I leave.

Speaking of, on Sunday, Diana (the shelter manager) returned from her vacation to ask me if I would be interested in and able to extend my internship. I was, of course, immediately flattered, because they wouldn’t have asked me if I wasn’t doing a good job. I know it’s also because they really need the help, so I did consider the possibility of extending it. Three weeks had already gone by so quickly, and I could easily picture myself being here longer. Yet, after talking it over with my parents, it was determined that it made the most sense for me to come home on the previously decided-upon date; I should really be home for the holidays, and my mom had already booked a non-refundable reservation for a Hampton Inn nearby. My last working day will be Tuesday, November 13, and my mom will arrive sometime on the following day. I’ll use that time to pack, say goodbye to the animals, etc. 

The next couple of days mostly went by in a blur, as I continued to work hard and enjoy spending time with my animal pals (birds, primarily). Even though the days were a bit chilly, it was always better when the sun came out; definitely made a difference in the temperature. 

Not long after I took a selfie while holding my chicken friend, Clyde (above), I got another pic with a chicken pal. Well, nearly every time I’d gone into this one particular coop to change the water and bedding, this one chicken (whose name I didn’t know), jumped on my back. And, she did it again, and I found out her name is Elinor (they have bands with their names on them). Diana happened to going into that coop at that exact moment, so she snapped a picture of this rather large chicken on my back. Note: The reason these chickens are so big is that they are specifically bred for meat, bred to be much bigger than they’re supposed to be. 

My handsome buddy, Clyde, is a delight; he's a ladies' man and actually will attack men.
Her name is Elinor! (my grandmother's name)

Days 22-23: December 7-8, 2022

Not too much to talk about here, except that these were my final two days off, and I mostly utilized them to relax in the intern lodge, look for jobs, do some writing — and, of course, take the time to visit with the animals. 

Maybelle is the oldest cow in residence, and one of the beautiful cows I've ever seen! They're all beautiful, really.

Days 24-28: December 9-13, 2022

The last 5 days of work went by really quickly, as I knew they would. The weather was kind of all over the place, from warm and in the 40s to 12 degrees (!!) in the morning and even a full-blown snow day. I actually didn’t mind the snow day too much, as I didn’t have to drive a car, and the mules we drove seemed to work pretty well. The only problem was that I’d forgotten to pack snow boots, and the work boots I had — which my parents call “Alaskan sneakers” — are sturdy and comfortable, yet not warm. Thank goodness for hand and foot warmers, which were extra helpful on the day when it was brutally cold — which, as it turned out, was my final day of work (Tuesday the 13th). 

During this time, I was finally able to go into the cow pasture/area, under the supervision of a staff member, of course. Most sanctuaries aren’t this strict; however, the managers at Woodstock have felt it necessary to make these kinds of rules, due to previous incidents (which I may have already mentioned). I went into the so-called “teen cow” area, which is also where Heathcliff — the 6-month-old calf — lives. 

This is a Max, a relatively young steer who's super friendly and even gives kisses! (Don't let the horns fool you).

And, just like that, the internship was over. Well, technically, I wasn’t going to leave until that Wednesday (12/14), but the work-related part of my internship was finished. I was relieved and ready to be done, but not because I hated the work; obviously, there’s something about every job that you may not particularly like — for example, for this one, it’s a bit tedious to clean out water bowls and automatic waterers. Yet, it still needs to be done; and, because it’s for the animals, that makes me even more motivated. I definitely toughened up even more, as I can tolerate inclement weather (rain, snow, cold temps) a bit more than before. (Key word: “tolerate.”)

It was difficult to say goodbye to my animal pals at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, although I missed my dog, Zuzu, and my avian pals at Foster Parrots. But, it got me thinking: Maybe this is really what I want to do? Woodstock is currently hiring for a full-time caregiver, yet they do not provide [permanent] housing, and it’s a rather expensive area in which to live. Regardless, it’s still a possibility. Anything’s possible, really. 

This is one of two adorable Cornish girls, who are just months old. She decided to jump on my shoulder on my last day.

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