First the animals came, then the kids

John Oncken
Children and animals learn from each other.

Remember the pot belly pig craze that hit the media in the late 80’s and early 90’s?  But, those cute little pigs grew and grew and got too big for people to take care of.

In recent years, backyard chickens have become a fad but sometimes are more work than their owner expects. Same for goats, sheep and other farm animals that are briefly raised on hobby farms who soon realize animals take time and effort.

Dana Barre, a Madison women — and as described in Brava magazine “a stay at home mother of two, who was feeling restless and began looking for something to do — became involved in the idea of animal rescues and learned of many animals in need of homes.

But how do farm-type animals become homeless? Barre explained that many animals are mistreated or simply unwanted, and that "they are often either abandoned or remain with the owner who no longer wants to — or is able to — take care of them." Barre saw this need and took action.

The beginning

She made the decision to build her own animal shelter and began with an old chicken coop and two homeless goats. After a number of moves Barre and the fledgling operation found a permanent home west of Madison. The former indoor horse riding arena with 28 horse stalls on 14 scenic acres of rolling hills and forest, became Heartland Farm Sanctuary.

Although Barre has now moved away from daily involvement, Heartland continues to thrive with some 80 formerly homeless animals being taken care of by a small staff and over 100 volunteers headed by Jen Korz, a transplanted Delaware native with a social welfare background and who has lived in Madison since 2005 working in non-profits.

Early on Heartland saw the way animals captured the attention of  children and the organization made the decision that it could also be a sanctuary to help children and others in need.

Jen Korz  is the director of Heartland Farm Sanctuary.  She has been a fan of Heartland since its early days and is honored to carry forth its traditions while evolving its mission and place in the community.

An important component of Heartland is its Animal-Assisted Therapy program that believes in the power of people and animals to rescue each other.

Therapeutic programs Heartland offers include Barn-Time, for children ages 7-12 living with a special need. Each year the facility opens its barn doors to dozens of school and youth community groups. The popular Heartland Summer Camp gives hundreds of students a chance to meet rescued animals and learn the Heartland ABCs – AWARENESS of others, BEING KIND to ourselves and each other, and COMPASSION for all.

Animals and children relate

"Animals are such natural healers," Heartland says. “They don't judge us; kids don't feel pressured to discuss their problems with the animals (although many often do!); and they are wonderful to snuggle with!

Youth who have experienced trauma and loss find healing at the  barn, too. Children who have been abused or are homeless can relate to our animals' stories of abuse and homelessness, and by helping provide daily care for our animals, the kids get a handle on their own situation, officials say.

It’s learning

As its web page explains, the sanctuary provides "an experiential basis for children to learn about animals in a way not found in the traditional classroom. That insistence on the shared feelings of humans and animals seems to underlie everything Heartland does, and makes the sanctuary appealing for parents who want to help develop such compassion in their children.

There are over a 100 adult volunteers who work at Heartland for maybe an hour, or hours or days at a time doing the daily chores like feeding, watering and keeping pens clean, treating animals in need and building. Yes, building. During my recent visit a crew of two men were adding siding and a roof to a small storage building that will be converted into a shed to house gardening equipment. It will have a greenhouse feature as well.

Building a new gardening shed for the campers that will hold gardening equipment and have a greenhouse feature as well.

One of the workmen was Bob Walker, an engineer at the Madison-based Weir Minerals, an international company, making centrifugal pumps for the mining industry.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of construction at Heartland, I enjoy it,” he says. “In fact I took a vacation day today just to be outside in the sun and 70 degree temperature.” 

100 plus volunteers

Most of the volunteers seem to be women — about 80 percent. Patty Peters of Madison, the mother of  two children (10 and 7 years old), has been a volunteer since 2012.

"I love animals,” she says. “Today I’m the shift leader of six other volunteers seeing that the animals are cared for. I’ll be coming back later tonight to take care of an elderly goat that needs medical help.”

Vickie Hoehn was a physicians assistant for many years in Marshfield and now volunteers at Heartland.

Patty Peters, Madison, carries water to some of the animals housed inside. She has volunteered at Heartland since 2012.

“Animal illnesses are quite similar to human maladies, so I can help with the animals here," she said.

Tera Runde, Cottage Grove, an accountant by training, has worked at Heartland as a tour guide for over three years.

“I was raised on a dairy farm in Chippewa County who married a ‘city slicker’ and I missed being with animals. My children are grown so I spend three hours a day, four days a week here. I love it," she said. "Our “four-footed” teachers provide a unique classroom experience for children of all ages! Each year our barn doors open to dozens of school and youth community groups and our popular Heartland Summer Camp gives hundreds of students a chance to meet our rescued animals.”

The most popular program at Heartland is the summer day camp that is held for 10 weeks each summer. Kids of all abilities get to help with barn chores and animal care, and also do a lot of fun and educational activities. A  similar camp runs on Saturdays in the fall and spring.

The animals

Winnie, as a 14 lb. piglet, fell out of a truck onto the interstate south of Madison and was picked up by a family who unsuccessfully tried to find a home for the injured little pig. After many failed calls to police, the sheriff, and local animal shelters, they found the number of Heartland Farm Sanctuary.

Winnie, a 500 pond Yorkshire pig has been at the sanctuary since July 2013. She arrived as a 14 pound piglet after falling off a farm truck.  She is eating strawberries donated by Miller’s Market in Verona.

A few hours later a team of veterinarians and technicians at The UW School of Veterinary Medicine tended to her and she survived. The piglet was sent home ahead of schedule. Home was, and is, Heartland Farm Sanctuary.

Now a friendly, 500 lb. people-loving pig (she was taught polite behaviors such as backing up when asked, sitting, and walking on a leash), Winnie is a main attraction to visitors of all ages.

Cookie, a dwarf horse, and her best friend, Joan the sheep, came from the Green Bay area when her owners moved out of state and called Heartland. The happy little horse continues to enthrall visitors.

Then there are the goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, llamas, donkeys and more, each with a name and personality of its own.

What started out as an animal rescue sanctuary remains so but as Korz cites:  “Our mission is to provide care for farm animals in need, nurture people through the human-animal bond, and foster respect and kindness toward animals and each other. Our vision is "A world where people and animals rescue each other".

What could be better?

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John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or e-mail him at