By Melissa Nightingale
Sheep that think they’re dogs, Houdini goats, and massive pigs – they’re all one happy family at the Black Sheep Animal Sanctuary near Otaki.
Black Sheep is home to more than 200 animals, including cows, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, chickens, and a friendly cockatoo named Casper.
“We’re a farm animal sanctuary so we focus on ex-farm animals and not companion animals, which is what most places focus on because they’re cute and they’re easy to rehome,” animal caretaker Coces Vehreschild said.
Many of the animals came to the sanctuary under dramatic circumstances – rescued from slaughterhouses and taken from factories.
One sheep, Mossbeard, who died earlier this year, was plucked off the side of the road as a lamb when a woman driving past saw him being attacked by a seagull.
The seagull ate half of his tongue, but Mossbeard was still able to lead a happy life at the sanctuary, thinking he was a dog.
“If you pulled up and left the car open he would be in the front seat . . . he would herd the other sheep. He would round them up and stuff. He really thought he was a dog.”
He had trouble holding food in his mouth due to his tongue injury, which lead to him dribbling cud down his front and staining it dark green – prompting the name Mossbeard.
“People say how can you tell the sheep apart,” said sanctuary founder Kate Waghorn.
“For me it’s like a room full of people. They all look different and all have different personalities.”
She is yet to meet any type of animal that doesn’t have a personality.
Another character at the sanctuary is Vincent the goat, who enjoys being around people so much that he repetitively escaped his pen and made multiple surprise appearances during the interview.
He was found in Aro Park after his mother and brother were hit by cars.
Many of the goats at the sanctuary were due to be slaughtered, only having been born so their mothers would produce milk for farming purposes.
Not all of them are from farms though. Two of the goats were found walking down the street in Porirua, and another one was tethered outside a holiday park, which Waghorn said was not a pleasant experience for goats.
“They don’t even really like grass much,” she said.
Then there were the pigs – Horace and Dorris were also rescued as piglets from a factory farm. There were 11 piglets in their litter and one was dead and half eaten by rats when their rescuers spotted them.
“They took two then panicked because they had two piglets.”
The two piglets had turned into huge, strong pigs, which Vehreschild warned was what happened with most pigs.
“There’s no such thing as miniature pigs. We highly recommend not getting house pigs.”
Waghorn said there were still people in New Zealand who thought they could get miniature pigs that would stay small and adorable and make good house pets, but this wasn’t the reality.
Some could end up weighing hundreds of kilograms, and even as piglets are particularly strong and muscular, meaning they can wreak havoc in people’s homes.
The sanctuary is also home to a few bunnies, including two whose burrow was destroyed when someone was working on their driveway.
Another rabbit, Freckle, came to the sanctuary with a brain parasite causing it to have a tilted head. Freckle has now been cured and is best friends with Mindy, one of the driveway bunnies.
Some of the chickens were rescued from battery farms and, having spent their entire lives in cages squished between other chickens, didn’t even know how to walk.
Vehreschild said there was “no hierarchy” for the animals at the sanctuary.
“We take a duck in as well as we take a cow or a pet to the vet,” she said.
Nine volunteers live on-site to take care of the animals, while more than 60 volunteers run other operations, such as the three op shops in Miramar, Newtown, and Otaki.
All of the profits from the op shops go to the sanctuary.
People can also donate money, building materials, time and food if they want to contribute, or pick an animal to sponsor.
Sponsoring a rooster could cost as little as NZ$10 (US$7.36) a month, while other animals were a bit more.
People can visit the animal they sponsor on an open day.