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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Joanne Lefson Opens Africa's First Farm Sanctuary

From a Dog’s Tale to a Pig’s Tail

Farm Sanctuary SA. Photo by Joanne Lefson.

They say when you adopt an animal that animal’s world changes forever. Sometimes, though, our own worlds change when we bring a creature into our lives. For Joanne Lefson of South Africa, her world changed into one giant adventure after adopting a furry little mutt she named Oscar.

Back in 2004, the recently divorced Lefson was visiting the Cape of Good Hope SPCA animal shelter in search of a companion and after seeing this unique looking animal in kennel B5 was told that he would be put down the next day if he didn’t find a home. Lefson couldn’t let that happen and took him home on the spot. Oscar then made a name for himself in Cape Town winning the SPCA’s Mutt of the Year Pageant the same year. Lefson soon released that this little dog had a lot to show people. He proved that ‘mutts’ could be just as cute as any purebred and that shelter dogs make wonderful pets. But how to spread that message?

Lefson and Oscar. Photo by Joanne Lefson.
Not one to think small, Lefson came up with the idea to travel around the world with Oscar to promote shelter pet adoption. To make this idea reality she sold her house for funds and spent months planning and getting permits. She took this implausible trip in 2009 and 2010 published a book about her adventure called Ahound the World. The book is filled with globetrotting exploits, some funny, some touching and some slightly scary, but mostly the book is filled with amazing photos of Oscar at the world’s best known landmarks, such as the Pyramids of Egypt, the Colosseum in Rome, The Great Wall of China, the edge of Macchu Pichu and at the foot of Christ the Redeemer. These photos helped propel Oscar into the international spotlight as a champion of rescue pets everywhere.

Sadly Oscar’s life was cut short by a car accident in 2013, however, his and Lefson’s mission to help animals continues. Lefson never stopped promoting animal welfare and in 2016 opened South Africa’s first farm animal rescue shelter, Farm Sanctuary SA, opening on World Farm Animal Day, October 2. Lefson emailed What’s Pawsitive from South Africa to talk about her new life chapter.

The stalls at Farm Sanctuary. Photo by Joanne Lefson.
The Farm Sanctuary SA is home to abused and unwanted farm animals and currently has three pigs, two young calves, two sheep and 46 chickens. Lefson expects that number to grow. The mission of the shelter is that we as humans are getting farther removed from agricultural animals and that these creatures have lives to be valued and should be treated with respect.

“Being in the animal welfare field for quite some time,” says Lefson, “I so often heard so many declare their love for animals – yet literally be eating one at the same time – oblivious to the systematic cruelty involved with each bite. How this unbelievable disconnect exists is beyond my understanding. The sanctuary is not to judge or dictate eating preferences. It is a sanctuary space where we invite people to enter in, openly interact with these rescued farm animals and awaken a connection with these animals they would only really know as supermarket packages. It is my hope that in this experience, compassion for their plight is awakened.”

Bedroom loft at Stay in the Hay. Photo by Joanne Lefson.
One such creature is Baloo, a male calf. He was found tied to a settlement along Route 62 malnourished and could barely stand. He suffered because male calves have no monetary value to dairy farming and was simply discarded. Another sanctuary resident is Pigcasso, a large yet friendly porcine. Turns out she’s handy with a paint brush and the organization sells her artwork to the public.
After two years of planning and construction, The Farm Sanctuary is open and visitors can wander around and are encouraged to interact with the animals. The sanctuary also offers a unique B&B experience, “A Stay in the Hay,” an overnight accommodation in the barn’s loft bedroom. The stay includes a fresh organic breakfast in the morning.  The cost is R1500 (Rand) per night June-October and R2500 October-May (that comes out to around $105 and $175 US).

Bathroom at Stay in the Hay. Photo by Joanne Lefson.
The sanctuary also has its own organic garden and the produce grown will end up in the sanctuary café, The Garden of Vegan. The café offers smoothies and “Vurgers” vegan burgers. She says the café also plans to sell deli items like vegan butter and organic produce. The café will also host special chef-driven dinners called Vegan Cuisine Experiences for groups of up to eight people. The café is open Saturday and Sunday 11 AM to 3 PM.

Lefson says the shelter is needed because her country’s farm animals are not as sustainably raised as they were in the past.

Urban Hen Project at Farm Sanctuary. Photo by Joanne Lefson.
“Globalization means the loss of traditions and cultures in many areas,” she says. “Africa is still a raw continent, but the powers of corporate greed are filtering in. Factory farming is prevalent here. Most of the practices you would find in the States are here, just on a smaller scale. We aim to inform consumers what is going on within these operations and in doing so, hope to inspire consumers to make kinder, better choices.”

One program the sanctuary offers is the Urban Hen Project where the public can adopt hens. This will allow the sanctuary to continue bringing in more “spent” hens for rescue. Spent hens are those that used for laying eggs, but are considered “past their prime.” Most are sold to slaughter after only two years, however, hens have a life span up to eight years or even longer. Adopting out hens to families makes more room for others.

The sanctuary has an animal trainer and a vegan chef  on staff along with a small group of volunteers. People can sign up to volunteer on the farm and they must be 12 years old or older. The sanctuary states its mission on the website. “We believe in a food system that preserves our environment, supports our local communities, values our health and respects farm animals as sentient individual beings.”
Meet the residents at Farm Sanctuary. Photo by Joanne Lefson.

Lefson hopes to change people’s minds about farm animals through direct contact. “[I want to] provide the venue for the public to meet and interact with farm animals,” she says, “and inspire an awakened connection of compassion for their plight.”

The Farm Sanctuary SA is the only officially registered sanctuary on the African continent for farm animals. The sanctuary accepts donations on its website, but only in SA Rand and donations are not tax deductible tin the US. Guests can visit the sanctuary at Dirkie Uys Street, Franschooek 7690, about 75km west of Cape Town.

The Farm Sanctuary isn’t Lefson’s only project. The long awaited Oscar’s Arc is scheduled to open in November of 2016 and What’s Pawsitive will be learning more soon.

Oscar at the Sphinx in Egypt in 2004. Photo by Joanne Lefson.