Compassionate Communities: Bringing Sanctuary to the People

By Nick Cooney

June 6, 2013

Back in 2003, I interned at Farm Sanctuary’s shelter in Watkins Glen. Of all the animals I met during that time, my favorite was a piglet named Bella Maria.

Due to health problems, Bella Maria lived in an individual pen in the shelter’s hospital building. Because she didn’t have any pig friends, I’d make it a point to spend fifteen minutes with her every day, giving her belly rubs and scratching between her ears. It became such a routine that when I’d arrive and call out her name, she would immediately start grunting excitedly and running in circles in anticipation. Bella Maria was someone to me — someone funny, lovable, and fiercely alive.

2010_06-18_FSNY_Symphony_hen_005_by ErinAt Farm Sanctuary, we get to know farm animals as individuals. But most Americans don’t get that chance. Many are unaware of Farm Sanctuary or unable to visit one of our shelters. Few have even met a farm animal face-to-face. To the majority of Americans, a pig is a just a slab of bacon: not a someone but a something.

But we can change that. We can bring the sanctuary to the people. Since the 1980s, Farm Sanctuary has worked to shift the public toward a vegan diet by disseminating photos and videos of the cruelty of factory farming and by telling the stories of our sanctuary residents.

In 2011, I returned to Farm Sanctuary to manage the newly launched Compassionate Communities Campaign, created to expand on that tradition of outreach. This project and its volunteers have already brought the sanctuary to the people in a big way. In the past year and a half, nearly 1.4 million people have watched a well-packaged video or read a stylish booklet that shares the stories of Farm Sanctuary’s residents and exposes the cruelty of factory farming.

What Came Before screenshot

1.4 million people have seen or read the heartwarming stories of Nikki, Symphony, and Fanny, three charismatic Farm Sanctuary residents. 1.4 million people have learned about the cruelty these individuals endured on factory farms, and they’ve learned that they can prevent that cruelty by leaving animals off their plates.

What Came Before, our 10-minute video narrated by actor Steve-O, made waves after CNN aired a news segment on it. The Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, and dozens of other news outlets followed suit. Celebrities from Newark Mayor Cory Booker to NHL star Georges Laraque tweeted the video to millions of followers. In the past six months, nearly a million people have watched What Came Before online.

Meanwhile Something Better, our 16-page booklet, has been distributed across the country by hundreds of Farm Sanctuary volunteers. The results of a study conducted by Farm Sanctuary and The Humane League on two university campuses this past fall suggest that, for every two booklets distributed, one fewer animal will be subjected to a lifetime of misery on a factory farm (see our previous blog post for the details). Volunteers distributed more than over 400,000 booklets in the past year and a half.


A decade ago, I had the opportunity to know a special pig as the individual she was. Now millions of others are getting the chance to meet and understand individual farm animals as those of you involved with Compassionate Communities help to introduce the public to the delightful residents of Farm Sanctuary and to the importance of plant-based living. In the process, we’re sparing hundreds of thousands more Nikkis, Symphonys, and Fannys from lives of pain.

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