In a seven-acre stretch of land in Chatsworth lies a care farm with the purpose of providing healing to a variety of rescued animals, from goats and chickens to emus and alpacas.
The care farm has also recently made a conscious effort to protect another animal in the area: mountain lions.
The Kindred Spirits Care Farm held a blessing ceremony on Feb. 25 for its latest project — a “Compassion Barn” built to protect goats, sheep, pigs and alpacas from nocturnal predators, namely mountain lions.
The barn serves an additional purpose: to be an example of how people do not need to kill predators to keep their animals safe.
“We needed a way to make sure that our animals were protected from the mountain lions and then also that mountain lions were protected from being shot by people who don’t want mountain lions in their backyard,” said Karen Snook, founder and executive director of the animal sanctuary.
“The Compassion Barn has been compassionate both to my animals, keeping them safe from the mountain lions, but also acts as sort of a model of how to coexist with wildlife peacefully.”
Saving Prey and Predators
Kindred Spirits Care Farm first came into being on March 7, 2020, when Snook and her husband, Nathan Goreham, moved in. They were forced to lockdown a week later due to COVID-19, but used that time to build the pens for their 70 animals.
Snook was made aware of predators in the area like coyotes, bobcats and hawks. However, the previous owners did not mention the threat of mountain lions. Snook was unaware of them being in the area until last March when someone from the Cougar Conservancy told her, something she also confirmed with one of her neighbors.
Snook has Hava — a Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog — to look after her animals. But the breed is more capable of fending off coyotes, not mountain lions. Snook knew she needed another way to protect her animals.
Mountain lions — also known as cougars and panthers — are classified as a “specially protected species” under the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). It is illegal to kill a mountain lion without a depredation permit, which can only be obtained after a domestic animal is injured or killed by one.
Snook was adamantly against getting a depredation permit to kill mountain lions.
“It’s not going to happen,” she said. “This is an animal sanctuary. We have extreme respect for all life, and so getting a permit to kill an animal to save my animals was unacceptable.”
The barn cost $20,000 to build. Snook began fundraising for it last June. She received help from her friend Lisa Levinson from In Defense of Animals, an international animal protection organization, which helped raise around $12,000 for the project and even assisted with its construction.
Snook and Goreham began building the barn last October and completed it in late January. Snook said it was a stressful time; she worried mountain lions could appear near her care farm in November and December. She also heard from a veterinarian about two recent attacks: one in Agoura and another in Topanga Canyon.
But Snook said she now feels like she is finally able to rest.
“Spend six months never sleeping, you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to finally be able to have a good night’s sleep,” she joked. “It’s life altering.”
Caring for People and Animals
A lifelong animal lover, Snook — who is a vegetarian — first came up with the idea of her care farm around 2009. The concept of using farming practices for the purpose of promoting healing, mental health, social or educational care services originated in Western Europe, where care farms number in the thousands. It is still rare in the United States.
She started her first care farm in 2013 at John R. Wooden Continuation High School in Reseda, which had an acre of land to keep geese, pigs and goats.
Even though the location was noticeably rundown, Snook volunteered to restore the farm and create an organic vegetable garden to teach students about organic farming and nutrition. She worked there for almost eight years and is still involved with the school.
“I want to work with at-risk kids, I want to work with veterans, I want to work with people who have PTSD, I want to work with the LGBTQ community, who feel isolated … from mainstream America,” she said. “Anybody who needs to feel nurtured [or] cared for, it’s safe [here].”
However, Snook wanted to reach more people.
Snook and Goreham began looking for new property around June 2019. From the start, she was set on purchasing a place as close to people as possible. Snook held a fondness for Chatsworth and asked a real estate agent if there was anyone in the area who would be willing to sell. Luckily for her, she found one — for $2 million. The couple sold everything they owned for the down payment.
The care farm hosts a diverse array of animals — all of whom are rescues — including chickens, emus, alpacas, goats, pigs, sheep and turkeys that are looked after by Snook and her team of 40 volunteers. Although there are a wide variety of species living close to one another, Snook found that giving each animal enough space makes it easier for them to get along.
“Like any human being [when] you meet them, you have to learn what they like and don’t like and you find out when they run away from you and when they want to come towards you and you figure out what their favorite foods are,” Snook said.
Each animal also has their own personality, such as Alice, a dominant pig who doesn’t like to share space with anybody and has her own secondary barn. Another is Emma, a sweet and affectionate broad breasted white turkey with congestive heart failure and deformed feet. She was rescued three years ago from being eaten on Thanksgiving.
“When you think about the animals that are used for food for human beings, they live in the most horrific circumstances that’s possible,” Snook said. “Whenever you pair profit and animals, animals lose.”
Many of the animals came from places where they were abused and neglected by their previous owners. Some suffered abhorrent mistreatment.
Charlie and Martha were once lab pigs and experimented on; they would scream and runaway if a human got within 10 feet of them. A goat named Angel was tossed out of a car at an intersection in Highland Park. Two alpacas named Alan and Charles did not receive any vet care from their wealthy owners, eventually requiring surgeries on their eyes and throat, respectively.
Chance, a horse that the care farm fosters, had his left front hoof mangled in barbed wire and never received treatment. Eventually, the pain was so great that he laid down for seven years and rescuers considered putting him down. He now wears a prosthetic on that hoof.
The list goes on.
“Nature is rough and humans are rougher,” she said.
Feeding the animals alone costs $2,000 a month, with vet costs always fluctuating. Snook keeps the place running through donations and private picnics and dinners hosted on the property that can run $75 per person.
The farm is also open to visitors every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to see the animals and explore the area. Prices for adults are $10 and children are $5.
Although most of her time is dedicated to caring for the animals, Snook maintains that the care farm is meant to bring healing to people as well. She says the peaceful environment and friendly animals create a therapeutic atmosphere — reducing anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation. She plans to reach out to places like rehabilitation homes and veteran centers so others can experience it for themselves.
“There’s something about the unconditional love of animals that can heal people who have been wounded by people in a big way.”
For more information about the care farm, visit https://www.kindredspiritscarefarm.org/.