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Happy animals in a beautiful location? Take us there right now.

Every spring, like clockwork, I start dreaming of living the farm life. I imagine myself frolicking in a field with baby goats or leaning lazily over wooden fences while watching snuffling piglets pester their mothers. Sounds like a perfect weekend escape after a long, dark, and—let’s face it—weird winter, right? Well, this might just be our lucky year, thanks to Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York.

Farm Sanctuary isn’t just any old farm stay. In fact, it isn’t really a farm at all—it’s a national nonprofit that operates homes for farm animals that have been rescued from cruel and abusive conditions. The organization has three locations, including two in California, but the one in New York is the only location with overnight accommodation. Better still, for this year’s visitor season starting May 1, the farm is unveiling three gorgeous and rentable tiny houses. So yes, this really is a place where all your bucolic dreams can come true.

The sanctuary started in 1986 as an organization that investigated animal cruelty in factory farms. But according to cofounder Gene Baur, once they started visiting farms and stockyards to document conditions, they couldn’t help but rescue some of the animals they found along the way. Eventually, they set up a permanent location in New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes region, right next to the 9,000-acre Sugar Hill State Forest.

“It’s been an evolution,” says Baur. “People started visiting and wanting to hear the animals’ stories, so we put up a Visitors’ Center. Then people wanted to stay overnight, so we put up bed-and-breakfast cabins.”

The peaceful atmosphere proved immensely popular, and cabins started booking out quickly. The next step in the Sanctuary’s evolution was an addition of three beautifully designed tiny houses—complete with bathrooms and kitchens. The bright and chic spaces also have big glass doors and porches, which offer guests a sweeping view of the fields and some of the 500 frolicking animals that call the Sanctuary home.
The setting is serene, but it’s really the genuinely happy animals that make a visit to Farm Sanctuary so memorable. As the nation’s largest and most effective farm animal rescue and protection organization, Farm Sanctuary is, first and foremost, a home for the animals. There’s even a sign at the entrance that reads, “You are now entering the animals’ sanctuary, please remember you are a guest in their home.”

“We want to engender a respect among our visitors for the animals and to encourage positive interactions,” Baur explains. It’s up to the animals whether or not they want to interact with people.

But in this nurturing environment, it’s no surprise that many of the animals have come to love interacting with humans. “We have sheep that love to be petted. When you walk away, they’ll paw at you like a dog would to say, ‘Please stay here and keep petting me!’”

On your next visit to Farm Sanctuary, you may have the pleasure of meeting Benedict, the sweetest, friendliest little La Mancha goat, despite having lost the use of his back legs. You’ll recognize him by his snazzy set of wheels. Or you might become acquainted with the charming Jerome, a calf who was rescued from a dairy farm and adopted at the Sanctuary by Liz, a cow, whose own calf, Cashew, is Jerome’s new best friend.

Baur with Opie, a departed member of the Farm Sanctuary family

“A big part of our message,” says Baur, “is that these animals are individuals who have feelings and we should treat them with respect.”

Farm Sanctuary is open both to overnight stays and day visitors, and offers daily tours of the grounds ($10). It is a vegan facility, so they do request that if visitors bring picnics, they keep their food choices vegan. Overnight visitors are treated to a delicious vegan breakfast of dairy-free yogurt, oatmeal, pastries, and fruit. If you’re not afraid to get your hands a little dirty, the Sanctuary also offers a variety of volunteering experiences—just be sure to let them know you’re interested two weeks before your stay.

Not in New York? Farm Sanctuary California facilities—in Orland and Acton—are open to day visitors, although only Acton offers a tour. Next year, Farm Sanctuary will open its fourth location in New Jersey with a little help from Tracey and Jon Stewart (yes, that Jon Stewart!). You can even get a virtual head start on visiting the farm and meeting two of its most lovable porcine residents—Anna and Maybelle—over at The Daily Squeal.

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