CHATHAM — Chatham Animal Haven threw its third annual fundraiser at the Blue Plate Restaurant on Saturday evening.
The event charged attendees $25 per person — more if they could afford it — and offered food, live music, a silent auction and plenty of space to converse with other guests. Tickets were available ahead of time, however most people showed up at the door.
“This event is critical for our sanctuary,” Marcia Cary, one of the event’s main organizers, said. “It’s our major fundraiser of the year and holds us over as we do mini fundraisers and appeals throughout the year.”
Cary is one of the sanctuary’s four board members. She added all of the money from the fundraiser goes toward programming costs at the shelter, such as food, medicine and care. No worker takes home a salary, Cary said.
“Once a month or so we will take to Facebook and make an appeal for something like a medical bill or some hay,” Cary said.
Every music act, auction item and plate of food was donated. The menu was vegan.
“We cannot make and serve sausage and then ask everyone to donate to an animal sanctuary with pigs,” Colleen Carpenter-Rice, another organizer and haven board member, said.
Carpenter-Rice reiterated why every penny counts.
“Just today, I received a call from someone who needed to re-home their pot-bellied pig,” Carpenter-Rice said. “We re-homed two pot-bellied pigs from Stephentown about a month ago.”
Pigs are not the only animals the haven rescues. The nonprofit also houses several chickens, goats and farm cats. They are in the process of helping a local farmer find a better situation for his 30 dairy cows after their care became too much and his only other option was to send them to slaughter.
“People call us and ask us for help with these animals,” Carpenter-Rice said. “Our services are needed.”
Cary added if it were feasible for the rescue, they would fill their stalls within a couple of days.
The haven opened its doors in 2015.
The haven’s life-saving actions do not just impact local farmland. Michael Mah is a local resident and former campaign coordinator for Sea Shepherd, a nonprofit group that specializes in marine wildlife conservation. Mah expanded on why it’s important for these havens to exist.
“Starting with ocean conservation and marine life conservation, it’s a slippery slope,” Mah said. “We need to extend the care and cannot forget to conserve land animals.”
Mah added land farming is one of the largest creators of ocean dead zones. These so-called “dead zones” are areas of the ocean with low oxygen levels, where marine life suffocates and dies. They occur naturally, but can also be caused or enhanced by human activity, specifically nutrient pollution, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
By caring for these animals properly, we are not only conserving land animals, but helping ocean animals, Mah said.
“A pig or a cow is just as sentient and loving as your dog or cat,” Mah said. “Our culture has made it OK to roast a pig, but not a dog like in some other parts of the world.”
Mah is a former meat eater who became a vegan on his first campaign with Sea Shepherd. All volunteers must eat a vegan diet while they are on their campaign, Mah said. Even though he is the grandson of a butcher and a former meat lover, the transformation to vegan was easy, he said.
“I witnessed the slaughter of animals when I was younger and it was life changing,” Mah said. “The lifestyle we live is not sustainable.”
There are a few star animals of Chatham Animal Haven. Podge, a pig who is in the process of getting a prosthetic leg, has made it onto the popular animal website, “The Dodo,” which offers emotionally compelling stories of animal care, designed to be shared to spread the word.
Podge got his foot caught in a fence as a young piglet. By the time he was able to receive medical attention, the foot had suffered a lot of damage.
Despite this, Podge lives his days just like the other pigs.
“He’s like the happiest pig you’ve ever seen,” Carpenter-Rice said.
Podge’s medical bills have racked up to over $8,000, Carpenter-Rice said. He has been to Cornell University twice to work with medical experts. While he has a lengthening device that helps him reach the ground, the haven is still looking for other options.
“We have to try to prevent putting too much stress on his other leg and shoulder,” Cary said.
The haven is also home to beloved Yorkshire pigs Nancy Willa Jean and Oscar. Oscar is 600 pounds, Carpenter-Rice said.
“I really love Oscar,” Sophie Cashen, 14, said. Cashen is one of the haven’s volunteers. “I also love Podge. All of the bigger pigs are really special. Podge has a mini-pig friend named Gunther who lives next door and he visits Podge.”
Cashen added this event is important to her because it helps the animals.
Cary and Carpenter-Rice credit the Blue Plate Restaurant’s owner, Judy Grunberg, for giving them a space to have their fundraiser. Cary and Carpenter-Rice are employees of the restaurant.
“The restaurant is closed in January, so she allows us to use the space for the fundraiser,” Carpenter-Rice said. “She’s been incredibly supportive.”
They also credit the board’s other two members, Pam Joern and Sam Reilly, for their work in bringing the fundraiser to life, Carpenter-Rice said, adding onsite caretaker Karen Conlon is also an integral part of their haven.
“It’s so important to have the community’s support,” Carpenter-Rice said. “It really helps solidify our mission.”
Michael Mah’s son, David Mah, agrees. The younger Mah is also a volunteer for Sea Shepherd and is currently a member of the Peace Corps.
“It starts with the little things,” the younger Mah said. “I believe in breaking things into little pieces and being a body for change. I believe it’s important to be at every single event.”
To reach reporter Kaitlin Lembo, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2513, email email@example.com, or follow her on Twitter at @kaitlinlembo.