This is part of a series highlighting recipients of Lady Freethinker’s new Urgent Needs grant, created to help rescuers with lifesaving veterinary expenses. Learn more about the program and how to apply here.

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Every morning by 10:30 a.m., Oregon resident Helen Demes feeds more than 170 animals.

She also collects more than 100 pounds of poop.

While some of us might flinch at even the thought of picking up that much feces, Demes doesn’t bat an eye. The animal rescue and sanctuary owner explains matter-of-factly that besides the physical inspections she does each morning of the animals, there’s no more important indicator of her animals’ health than their poop. 

And for Demes, her animals and their well-being are top priority.

“The animals in my life complete me,” Demes wrote on the sanctuary’s website, which also hosts resources for vegan living. “Without them, I would never reach my full potential. Their unconditional love teaches us how love can change our life.”

The sanctuary in Brownsville, Ore., takes in unwanted, abused, or lost domestic and farmed animals. They also specialize in high-risk baby animals and animals with special needs. 

Demes and her husband, Brian Reeds, currently have, among their esteemed house guests, one goat who requires a wheelchair, one goat with two prosthetic legs, a premature lamb they are nursing to health, two roosters, and a turkey. They also have another 133 animals they tend outside on their sanctuary grounds. 

Sunset Farms Sanctuary was one of four nonprofits granted the full award of $5,000 through the first cycle of Lady Freethinker’s (LFT) Animal Crisis grant program, a part of the Urgent Needs grant program that we rolled out in Winter 2020. 

We wanted to spotlight our awardees so LFT readers can see exactly what kind of phenomenal work for animals they are supporting! We’ll highlight the other award winners as well in upcoming stories. 

If you’d like to further support Sunset Farms Sanctuary, you can learn more here.

Sunset Farms Sanctuary

(Photo Courtesy of Helen Demes and Brian Reeds)

A Q&A with Helen Demes, Founder of Sunset Farms Sanctuary

What’s a “typical” morning like for you?

My day often starts at 4:00 a.m. and ends after 8:00 p.m. First comes bottle feeding the babies, then the feedings for the animals inside our house and cleanup. When it starts to get light, I’ll go out and feed the rest of the animals. Then I do the watering before it gets too hot. You get very little one-on-one time with so many animals, so the most important thing is to take stock of every animal and make sure they are all okay during the morning. Then I come in, around 10:30 to 11:00 a.m., and I can take a breather. 

Tell us about 2020.

2020 has been an unusually hard year for us. We were affected by the fires in Oregon and had to evacuate 170 animals for a period of three weeks. It was brutal, 44 hours and 170 animals, and three separate evacuations. Fortunately, we were able to do that and experienced no loss in human or animal life. Although the farm remained intact, the expenditure of housing very large farm animals for three weeks was quite expensive. 

COVID-19 also made it a hard year. A lot of people couldn’t afford to keep their animals. We had a full-blooded boxer left tied to the door one morning. And people also seemed to be really angry. We had a baby pig come in with a pregnant mama, and someone had kicked the baby hard enough to break the ribs and jaw. 

In 2020, we took in so many abused, deformed, and neglected animals that it tapped us out on reserves. We do lambing season every year, and although I said we wouldn’t do it this year, we took in over 52 lambs, some significantly sick enough that they required hospitalization.

What keeps you going on a bad day?

The hardest part for me is not the daily toll. There are times when I will break down because I haven’t had a single day off in more than four years. But the hardest things is putting in so much to save some of these animals… and with some, you can’t.

But it’s like the story with the starfish that wash up on the beach: You can’t save them all, but you can save the one in front of you. I can’t save them all, but I can make a dent. What gives my life meaning is my family and saving these critters. I want to be worthy of their love and affection, so it drives me to be a better person. 

What made you decide to become vegan and advocate for a vegan lifestyle?

Doing this work, you can’t not be vegan because we go to slaughterhouses to pull the animals. As a vegan, my message is that I wonder if people realize that every animal we eat was still a baby. Chickens and lambs are slaughtered at three months or less… they are still babies. Calves slaughtered for veal are six months… they are babies. 

How did you decide to invest the grant money?

Well, we’ve had more than 50 lambs this year, and a lot of them come in really sick. They are hypothermic, they have pneumonia or umbilical ill (an infection that’s common in young lambs who are often born into unhygienic conditions). Just in the last few months their veterinary costs have been more than $13,000. So that $5,000 went toward their bill. 

Anything you’d like LFT supporters to know about their support or your nonprofit?

Your contribution helps ensure that we can continue this important work. It’s been humbling to ask people for money. It’s been a hard word. But I’ve realized that what matters is not the material things, but what we leave behind. I want to say we are just so grateful for the support. No rescue can do this alone. We not only need the funds but for people to step up and volunteer. To save them all, we all have to step up.

Sunset Farms Sanctuary