Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Jack Lessenberry

Animals find sanctuary in Michigan couple's labor of love

MANCHESTER, Mich. - They would make us cry, if they could talk, these silent survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Some have heartworm and some are recovering from the other kind of worms, but they are safe now.

So is Jefferson, the steer who engineered his own escape from a Detroit slaughterhouse two Christmases ago. And Boris, the wild boar who was brought in as a baby, half dead and starving, by a hunter who may have shot his mama.

There are chickens whose beaks were cruelly snipped off and hogs without tails, and a survivor or two of cruel medical experiments.

And there is Brave, a beautiful and winning race horse who was destined for dog food after a slight injury shaved six seconds off his best time.

Welcome to Sasha Farm, whose owners call it the largest farm sanctuary in the Midwest. For Dorothy Davies and her husband, Monte Jackson, there is no higher purpose than rescuing and protecting animals.

"They deserve it," Dorothy said last week, looking over 65 acres that look like some vision of George Orwell's Animal Farm, if the animals had been kind to each other. In the background, rescued cats lie about languidly; Bam Bam the goat smashes his horns against a barn door, and four exotic donkeys bray.

She was getting ready to head off to Gulfport, Miss., to bring back more hurricane dogs. Some of the first batch are now in foster homes; a few, incredibly, were reunited with their owners.

When she gets back, it will be to sit most of the day at the computer and the phone, trying to raise money to keep Sasha going. There are about 250 animals now here permanently, and it costs $90,000 a year to keep them fed and cared for.

Dorothy, a youthful-seeming 57, grew up in Garden City, a working-class Detroit suburb of small bungalows. But from the time she was a little girl she always wanted a farm with lots of cats and dogs. The couple bought this place in 1981, with no idea of founding an animal sanctuary.

What did it was 4-H, the kids' farm organization. The kids are supposed to get baby animals and raise them from scratch and then send them off to be killed. She remembers with a shudder the day the truck came to get the animals; the kids all crying, parents yelling at their kids.

They tried to have a chicken barbecue. They managed to kill one chicken, and then turned vegan. That was the end of 4-H for her family. She managed to buy a few goats and save them.

Gradually, other animals were saved. There is a flock of ancient pigeons, liberated from a shoot in Pennsylvania a decade ago.

Then there was a neglected border spaniel puppy named Sasha, who grew up to ride herd over the growing menagerie for 17 years.

Sasha Farm was partly named for him. But it is also an acronym for Sanctuary and Safe Haven for Animals. It certainly is that. "Nobody does it as well as Dorothy," said Jennifer Sullivan, who has been wildlife coordinator for the Michigan Humane Society. "It's sad she can't take even more animals."

Sasha's moment of fame came when a steer managed to escape from a slaughterhouse and trot for a mile down Jefferson Avenue in Detroit, something that made the national news.

That got national attention. Donations poured in until the slaughterhouse owner agreed to sell the steer. He isn't cheap to feed. "We need money, supplies, volunteers and money," Ms. Davies said, laughing.

They have one full-time employee, and a few volunteers, including Jill, who is working on a PhD in French literature but comes here when she can, drawn to the animals.

A few years ago, Dorothy gave up her job as the town librarian. What happens, I wondered delicately, when the couple isn't up to it any more?

"That's what we worry about," she said.

Three years ago, Sasha Farm became an officially nonprofit, 501(c) (3) organization with a board of directors, so any donations are fully tax-deductible.

"You can make a difference," she says. There was a time in the 1960s when her generation thought about saving the world. What she knows now is that she has saved more than a dozen elegantly waddling potbellied pigs, last decade's exotic fad pet.

That may not be the world, but for Dorothy and Monte, it's a start.

Sasha Farm is about 58 miles northwest of Toledo. For more information, visit the farm on the Web at

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