Franklin Park sanctuary safe haven for unwanted farm animals
Karen Phillips, 45, remembers the day she tried to beautify her Franklin Park home.
As she knelt to plant flowers along the walkway, a 6-foot-tall emu appeared from behind her, uprooting the flowers and eating them as fast as she could plant them.
“There literally is no hope for flowers here,” she said. “But the emus, they're hilarious. Everyone should have an emu.”
Phillips, a veterinarian, is the founder and owner of Hope Haven Farm Sanctuary, located on Warrendale-Bayne Road in Franklin Park. She rescues pigs, goats, sheep, poultry, llama, alpaca, emu and more from factory farms, neglectful homes and inadequately equipped animal shelters, and brings them to her farm to live out their days.
“I named it Hope Haven because that name encompasses what I want the farm to be. It's a place for animals with no hope to come for safe haven,” she said.
Phillips became aware of the increasing problem of unwanted farm animals while working as a spay and neuter surgeon at animal shelters across the region.
According to Dara Metzger, manager of Medical Services at Humane Animal Rescue on Pittsburgh's North Side, the shelter receives about six farm animals each month.
Phillips watched people drop off Pekin ducklings that had been hatched in small incubators in school classrooms, and now were being discarded because they were no longer wanted.
She met a peacock that had been hit by a car.
And she fell in love with a pot-bellied pig that had been found running through a Pittsburgh city neighborhood in the middle of winter.
To accommodate them, Phillips bought 6.35 acres of grassy pastures, large wooded areas and muddy bogs. She added a barn and installed a perimeter fence. She converted the two-car garage into a chicken coop and renovated the dilapidated farmhouse so she could live in it.
Today, the farm is filled to near-capacity with 125 farm animals, poultry and birds.
Wally is a 600-pound Red Waddle farm hog. Rigby is an emu with tiny wings on his chest and feet that look like a pterodactyl's. Butters is a sassy, energetic miniature horse whose best friend is an alpaca named Jack.
The farm is open to the public for tours and educational opportunities from May to November.
“I discourage people from thinking it's a petting zoo,” Phillips said. “I tell them, ‘Hope Haven is the animals' house, and you're visiting.' The animals can come and go as they please. You can pet an emu, snuggle a chicken, laugh with a pig and give them snacks, but I can't guarantee the animals will want to hang around you.”
It is Phillips' hope that visitors will get to experience the personalities of the animals and realize they are more than meat.
“Nothing is more important to me than opening people's eyes to see how amazing these animals are. This is why I'm here,” she said.
There is no breeding on the farm. Each animal is spayed or neutered, and every egg is collected before it can hatch.
Hope Haven, a volunteer-run 501(c) nonprofit organization, costs $50,000 annually to operate. A portion of the money is raised through fundraisers and donations, but many expenses are paid out of Phillips' own pocket.
Much of her time is spent there, too.
“I haven't been home to visit my family in Vermont for five years,” she said. “It's not that easy to find someone to babysit 125 farm animals while you go off for the weekend.”
This past winter, one of her bantam chickens got its foot frozen to a bucket near the barn. Phillips thawed it out and, to avoid any recurrence, decided to keep the chicken in her bathroom for the remainder of winter.
“The poop and shed feathers made for a real mess,” she said. “Maybe that's why I'm not married at this age. I've had boyfriends, but they never last.”
Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributor.