Michigan sanctuary gives respite for wounded animals, people
Ossineke — Everyone needs to be wanted, from humans to horses to a sheep named Special Ed.
On an unpretentious parcel of land south of Ossineke, the Sunrise Animal Sanctuary offers refuge and welcome for animals that have been abused, neglected, or cast out of their homes.
It is also a place where people battling addiction can feel like they are valued and needed, despite their scars.
Snorts, grunts, and friendly nickers mix with the woody smells of animal feed and mulch at the sanctuary – a farm where 30-some horses, handfuls of goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, cows, and ducks, and a donkey named Jack seem to adore the people who care for them.
Many of the sanctuary’s workers are in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. Some paid employees and some volunteers spend hours upon hours at the farm, tending to the animals, fixing fences, and kissing soft noses.
Like many of the farm’s residents, Big John – a giant, gentle Belgian draft horse who begs for nose rubs – was once unwanted, saved from a kill pen by Jessica Glenn-Beatty and Jason Beatty, who run the sanctuary.
He understands being unwanted, said Jordan Purol, as he and volunteer Angela Verville gave a tour of the farm last week.
Purol has been employed at the sanctuary for a month. After a dozen years in recovery and many years of employers turning him down, the job offers him a chance to build the better life he wants to have, he said.
“It feels good to finally feel respected,” Purol said. “I’m not used to that.”
Verville, a volunteer at the sanctuary for the past year, knows she’d be in a very dark place if it weren’t for the farm.
She’s been sober about five months, Verville said, and addiction is a daily struggle.
But, as she scoops food and mucks out stalls, she doesn’t think about using.
“When I have a bad day, I come here,” Verville said. “It helps me release that bad day.”
Fenced fields stretch behind a large barn full of slanting sunlight, where an arena offers space for the equine-assisted therapy and therapeutic riding programs offered by the sanctuary.
The animals who live there haven’t had an easy life, and the humans who care for them understand what that’s like.
Big John has the run of the field, along with several dozen other rescued horses. Some came to the farm starving or injured, with a club foot or lame.
Boo, a white horse blind in both eyes, gets picked on by the other horses.
The thin, shy outsider is her favorite, Verville said, as Boo nuzzled her shoulder.
London and Paris, two horses raised together, had to be separated because of fighting.
“But you guys will be back together again, I’m sure,” Verville reassured Paris, who, she said, misses her adopted brother.
A blind cow named Ray, turning a red and non-seeing eye toward his visitors, has a gentle nature under his angry look.
Ray walked in circles when he first got to the sanctuary. Now, he has a cow friend – because a friend can help you see, Purol said.
Several rotund pigs galumphed through several inches of mud, deceptive pig smiles on their upturned snouts. A pig pen is dangerous, Verville said, warning that pigs will eat anything, including humans who hold still for too long.
A wooly tripping hazard, Ed the sheep stuck close to the humans as they toured the farm, appearing unexpectedly behind them or colliding with their hips.
A new addition to the sanctuary, Ed the sheep regularly bumps into fences, trees, and people. They call him Special Ed, and they adore him, Verville said.
Rescued animals stretch in all directions at the farm – a grumpy turkey who attacks legs but still gets loved, a gang of six devoted chickens who go everywhere together, Jack the donkey who was brought inside for comfort after his friend died.
Many of them are free-roaming during the day and could leave if they wished.
They don’t, though.
For those who have experienced being unwanted, a sanctuary is a good place to be.
The sanctuary is always in need of volunteers to groom and feed and care for the animals, and it’s open to visitors who just want to spend a few peaceful minutes with animals who are happy to see them.
Verville hopes more people in recovery will find their way to the sanctuary, where, whatever their past or present, they are needed, valued, and understood.
“It really is like a big family here,” Purol said. “It makes you almost feel normal again.”