TIVERTON — For nearly two decades, staff at West Place Animal Sanctuary have been transporting farm animals and wildlife in their family cars from cases of abuse, neglect, or cruelty to a safe haven.
A Land Rover contest may help take the load off their daily drivers.
West Place has been named one of five finalists in Land Rover’s Defender Above & Beyond Service Award event that recognizes nonprofits in seven categories, and gives winners a 2021 Land Rover Defender sport-utility vehicle customized to their needs.
Public voting will determine the winners, and the voting period begins June 16.
After entering a 3-minute video, West Place, a nonprofit animal rescue group, was selected by the judges to move to the final round of the contest, which consists of 12 days of voting. Members of the public may use the link at westplace.org to view video entries in the Animal Welfare category, and vote once per day.
“We are ecstatic to represent Little Rhody on the national stage,” said Wendy Taylor, executive director and founder of West Place. “We have been rescuing farm animals and rehabilitating wildlife for 14 years, and during that time we’ve been needed in areas where there are no roads of which to speak. We’ve relied on personal vehicles to rescue large animals, and to transport animals like pigs, alpaca, peacocks, and others to veterinary hospitals.”
Taylor gave up a career litigating medical malpractice cases to take up animal welfare after nine of her house pets died in a three-alarm fire in February 2003. She started it as a hobby, but it quickly grew into a registered nonprofit.
Taylor’s pets are memorialized, alongside other animals that have lived out their lives at the rescue center, in a beautiful grassy pasture at the back of the property.
Land Rover created the contest to honor “the incredible displays of bravery and resilience” of nonprofits that continued to move forward during the coronavirus pandemic.
West Place arose out of tragedy to aid animals recovering from abuse and horrible living conditions.
In 2016, they took in animals from the Westport Farm animal abuse case, where authorities found more than 1,400 animals in varying levels of distress. About 1,100 survived with the help of rescues. West Place took 67 of them.
“It’s not always dogs and cats going to a nice big hospital with a nice parking lot,” Taylor said. “We are an official response partner of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.”
Jack and Diane, two bonded pigs named for the characters in the John Mellencamp song, were morbidly portly when they arrived, stamped for certain death. They had been fed a diet of stale donuts and junk food and were so obese they could barely walk and were temporarily blinded by the folds of fat on their faces.
The two friends were placed on a nutritious diet, exercise, and skin rejuvenation plan that saved them. Jack was later diagnosed with testicular cancer, but underwent successful surgery.
Now they roam freely at the sanctuary, nuzzling guests and begging for belly rubs.
“That wasn’t showing in them when they came,” Taylor said.
Maggie and Sadie, a pair of goats, came from the Westport case that some called “The Hell Hole.”
Taylor witnessed the scene of sickness and death.
“It was the most disturbing thing you want to lay eyes on,” she said. “And then you meet Maggie and Sadie and they’re five years removed from that and you don’t even know that they haven’t been here their entire lives being babied to death. They really have put it behind them,” she said.
More than 75 volunteers tend to the animals at the farm with tenderness and love daily.
Nancy Mailhot, 68, of Swansea, and her husband, Maurice, 70, are both retired but volunteer three to four hours a week at West Place. They responded to a call about four years ago for help. Neither has any farm experience, just a soft spot in their hearts for animals.
“We’ve always had some animals, house cats, dogs, but we’ve been around horses growing up,” Nancy Mailhot said. “It’s fun to be with the animals, it’s fun to love on them and they love on us. I say it’s kind of therapeutic in a way.”
Volunteer help alleviates some of the financial burden of operating the rescue that pays just shy of $20,000 in medical bills each year, Taylor says. That doesn’t include feed or daily care.
In addition to volunteers, fund-raisers, donations, and contributions, the sanctuary utilizes a pasture grazing system to lower the cost of hay by thousands of dollars, and has multiple 340-foot greenhouses that help feed the animals.
Taylor’s legal experience has helped with grant writing, and West Place reaches out to supporters for special cases for public assistance.
When Bobbert, a resident alpaca with cartoonishly dazzling eyes that the East Bay newspaper dubbed the sanctuary’s “foremost ambassador,” fell ill and died in January, the sanctuary received more than $14,000 in contributions to help cover Bobbert’s medical expenses.
In Bobbert’s honor, West Place established the Bobbert Memorial Scholarship Fund to provide humane education programs for the next generation of animal welfare professionals. The scholarship is bestowed on the refuge’s top student interns.
The Land Rover award would go a long way to helping Taylor continue the work at West Place. In the last 14 years she has gone through three personal SUVs.
”Every time I get a new one, I say, ‘This is not going to be used to transport farm animals,’” Taylor said. “Within days, minutes, seconds, I am doing it again. We use whatever we have.”
Sadly, Taylor says, there will be more “Hell Holes,” and a continued need for animal rescue.
“Just like humans are resilient, we get through tragedies, and we put it behind us and we move on,” Taylor said, “I believe the animals do the same thing.”