Inspiring Women

Fighting the Good Fight in Woodstock

Interview with the founder of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (plus, super adorable photos!)


Looking at pictures of Jenny Brown today, I see a beaming woman who positively radiates her joie de vivre. It’s surprising then to learn that she hasn’t always had an easy go at it. As a child, Jenny underwent a leg amputation. At the time, this left her feeling out of control. But it also fostered the growth of what would become an incredible amount of compassion and forward thinking about animals, and all living beings. A strong advocate for veganism and animal welfare, Jenny is the co-founder (along with her husband, Doug), of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary as well as the author of “The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight For Farm Animals.”

Fighting the Good Fight in Woodstock

Jenny Brown, with a rescue friend

After witnessing animal cruelty firsthand as an adult, Jenny decided to leave the film industry to work at a sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY. Founding her own sanctuary was the next logical step. Today, WFAS is home to many rescued cows, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, pigs, ducks, goats and sheep, all of whom would have been otherwise bound for the slaughterhouse or left to die. WFAS serves both as a place of refuge for animals and a place to teach about animal welfare. Here’s a quick, touching video about the adorable animals that WFAS has saved:

Here, Jenny gives Urbanette the scoop on the truth behind your “happy meat,” and the many benefits of living a vegan lifestyle:

Urbanette Magazine: A pivotal point for you was filming undercover at livestock auctions/stockyards. What was that experience like? Did you have a pretty good idea of what you would see or did it come as a shock?

Jenny Brown: I had a pretty good idea of what I might see but actually seeing it was traumatic. Not being able to do anything to help them was even worse. They are open to the public for buying and selling animals including bidding on the ones who are forced into the auction ring but filming/photographing will get you kicked out and your equipment confiscated.

Fighting the Good Fight in Woodstock

Jenny with Dolly, the alpaca

Urbanette: You mention some gnarly examples of animal cruelty on your website, including the practice of castrating goats without anesthesia. Why do such practices take place? Is it a cost issue?

Jenny: Mutilations occur on every level — on factory farms and small farms alike. It’s too expensive and time-consuming to anesthetize them or provide pain relief. All goats, sheep, cattle, and other animals are castrated, dehorned, and/or tail-docked without pain killers as “standard farming practices.” And again, this is not only on animals languishing in factory farms. This occurs on organic, free-range, grass-fed or whatever “humane” farm they are raised on. [Learn more here.]

If the same were done to dogs and cats there would be animal cruelty charges, but sadly the same standards do not apply to animals considered “livestock,” which is a deplorable term. Cattle are also branded in the face or elsewhere on the body causing severe 3rd-degree burns. It’s all unethical. And turkeys and chickens have their beaks seared off, and turkeys have their toes cut off, too.

Fighting the Good Fight in Woodstock

Pigs are much better at problem solving and are more emotionally intelligent than dogs or cats

Urbanette: That is pretty horrific. I think you’re right that as a society we’ve made a distinction between animals that are pets and animals that are livestock, and with that has come an imbalanced set of rules about how each is to be treated. I was going to ask about your perspective on organic and certified humane animal products, but it sounds like a lot of harmful things happen on those farms, too. Could you expand on that a bit?

Jenny: We’re a society that shakes our fists at the Asian countries who eat cats and dogs, yet we eat other animals who are just as capable of thinking, feeling and suffering. It’s just that we’re indoctrinated to put farmed animals into a different category and argue that “that’s what they’re here for.” We shouldn’t base our compassion on intelligence, but if we did, then we should be eating dogs over pigs because pigs are smarter.

Fighting the Good Fight in Woodstock

The Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Regarding “happy meat,” there is a growing trend with conscious consumers to purchase animal products that are advertised as being raised humanely. I will quote from what I have written on our website first: The very existence of labels like “free-range,” “cage-free,” and “humane certified,” attests to society’s growing concern for the welfare of animals raised for food. But any time consumers of meat, eggs or dairy advocate for “humane” treatment of farm animals, they confront an unavoidable paradox: the movement to treat farm animals better is based on the idea that it is wrong to subject them to unnecessary harm. Yet killing animals we have no need to eat constitutes the ultimate act of unnecessary harm.

We owned slaves for most of human civilization, but did that make it right?

Organic is the only governed label besides “humane certified.” Grass-fed, free-range, cage-free labels are self-governing and not certified by an overseeing body, so they can freely make these claims, regardless of the actual conditions the animals are kept in.

Fighting the Good Fight in Woodstock

In the case of dairy, there is nothing humane about forcibly impregnating cows, stealing their babies at birth (or within 48 hours tops), hooking her breasts up to cold metal machines several times a day for months and months while you re-impregnate her and start the cycle all over again until she reaches the age of 4-5 when she is considered “spent” and slaughtered for ground beef, AKA hamburgers. Cows cry the most heartbreaking bellows when their calves are taken away. It is incredibly stressful to them, as it is to the calves. The male calves are killed at birth or raised in crates for veal, as they are not the same breeds that are used for beef. I could give you many more examples of why these labels are bogus and used as propaganda to make consumers feel less guilty about their food choices.

More climate change is caused by the meat industry than by all the cars, planes, trains, and other forms of transport combined.

The moral argument against consuming animal products is that their embryos, breast milk, and lives, are not ours to take. Our self-appointed dominion over all the other beings who share the earth with us is an archaic and immoral way of thinking. To use the excuse that we’ve always eaten animals is not a good reason to keep doing so. We owned slaves for most of human civilization, but did that make it right?

Fighting the Good Fight in Woodstock

The Visitor Center at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Urbanette: Wow. That is shocking. And frightening. So clearly consuming animals does harm to the animals themselves, but what about the impact on the environment?

Jenny: Farming animals is incredibly inefficient and wasteful. It takes 2,500 gallons of water, 16 pounds of grain or soy, 35 pounds of topsoil and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of feedlot beef. Half the world’s grain crop is fed to animals raised for food, while an estimated 1 billion people are malnourished, and 6 million children starve to death every year. The latest report from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), “Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock,” confirmed that more global climate change is caused by the meat industry than by all the cars, planes, trains, and other forms of transport combined.

Fighting the Good Fight in Woodstock

Each individual animal has a distinctive personality

Urbanette: You make a compelling argument. Something that really stuck out to me on your website is that there’s a misconception that we need to eat animals to get certain nutrients, yet these animals get said nutrients from (drum roll please), plants! Could you give us some examples of this?

Jenny: Take fish—they get their omega-3’s by eating seaweed. We could get our omega-3’s directly from seaweed, which I do every day! That’s just one example.

Urbanette: Wow, I had no idea. I suppose you can also get omega-3’s from things like flax seeds.

Jenny: Absolutely! There’s more about this on our website.

Fighting the Good Fight in Woodstock

Hanging with animals at the Visitor Center at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

“If the same were done to dogs and cats there would be animal cruelty charges…”

Urbanette: How does eating only plants affect human health?

Jenny: There is a huge body of scientific evidence that irrefutably demonstrates the power of plant-based/vegan diets for preventing, managing and even reversing some of the most serious diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. The ADA has been clear in stating that vegetarians have consistently lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and obesity than meat-eaters. Bam! Even the UN has called for a global shift to a vegan diet as the most effective way to combat climate change, world hunger, and environmental devastation.

Fighting the Good Fight in Woodstock

Jenny and Dylan, a rescued cow

We’re a society that shakes our fists at the Asian countries who eat cats and dogs, yet we eat other animals who are just as capable of thinking, feeling and suffering.

Urbanette: Got it. Okay, this one is just for fun. Your cat, Pogo, has quite a picture on your website. Actually, there’s a whole string of pictures of him in dramatic poses. He looks like quite the character! Is he as fierce as he looks?

Jenny: He is the sweetest kitty who has lived here for many years. He roams the sanctuary meowing and purring, seeking attention from anyone with two hands (or one would work too!). He climbs on laps, follows tours, invites himself on top of picnic tables while people are eating lunch (vegan-only here!), and can be found sleeping with goats or sheep. Everyone loves him and we have no idea why he is missing his tail.

Fighting the Good Fight in Woodstock

Pogo, the tail-less cat

Urbanette: I love it. Finally, how can our readers get involved?

Jenny: Great question! They can visit us online, donate online, by mail or by phone (we’re a charitable organization), volunteer any day of the year, sponsor an animal as a gift for themselves, or visit us during our open season (April-October). But most importantly, moving away from animal products is the most compassionate, healthy, environmentally conscious, responsible and sustainable thing they can do.

Fighting the Good Fight in Woodstock

At the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, piglets are allowed to stay with their mom

Read more: 5 Reasons I Love Being a Vegan and Michelle Pfeiffer Tells Us About the Benefits of Being Vegan and WFAS’ How To Go Vegan and this The NY Times article, which states:

“…the animals sent through those factories often endure an unimaginable amount of mistreatment and abuse. Cows too sick to walk are dragged by the neck across cement floors. Pigs are stabbed and beaten with sledgehammers. Chickens are thrown against walls and stomped to death. And accepted industry practices, like confining animals in impossibly small cages, are just as brutal…”

99% of meat sold in America come from factory farms. Yet every day, more and more Americans start to question the suffering of factory farmed animals. And the great news is, it’s never too late to make a difference. Discover how to take back your power, and make truly informed choices that are in line with your own values. Find it here, in a free and easy download.

Avatar of Jennifer Spillane

Raised in California and North Carolina, Jen is both an actress and a writer. She loves writing fiction, especially for young adults, and exercising her non-fiction muscles through Urbanette and her chocolate blog: Chocofiles. Jen also loves adventures, yoga, live music and spontaneous dance parties.

Reader Discussion: 57 Comments

  1. Avatar of Alexis Clarkson

    I have a pot belly pig for a pet. But I still eat pork. A pet is a pet and food is food. I know my food once had life, But it’s now giving me life. Therefore I must survive for all the fallen animals and plants that I consumed as a sign of respect to their souls.

  2. Avatar of ysabelle raven

    ysabelle raven

    life is important. having said that I say ANY FORM of life is important. and again that being said I say life has its end. what I’m trying to say is I’m an advocate of eating every part on an animal as a sign of respect for the life it once had.

  3. Avatar of Arthur Mence

    Arthur Mence

    Pigs, goats, and cows are the best companions pets. If I had a farm I would have some for sure!

  4. Avatar of Jessica Rainert

    I’d never really thought about it before, but this article really makes me want to go vegan… I just bought their book – Living the Farm Sanctuary Life. Thanks for covering such a great cause. I can’t imagine what her daily life would be like!

  5. Avatar of Zenly


    This human world is built on the suffering of animals and sadly, I have seen and read of so much horror and cruelty towards animals at the hands of humans. The last straw was the baby dolphin that was killed as it was passed around for Selfies. Since that, I now really do hate the human species. We are a talking virus that wears clothes that is destroying the planet with our sheer numbers. When the planet burns up, my last thought will be how I feel sorry for the animals who were always innocent in all this.

  6. Avatar of Jenny Brown

    I’m so honored by all these wonderful, supportive comments and especially happy to hear that it opened the eyes and touched the hearts of some who never thought about the plight of farmed animals and our indifference to them. Thank you Jennifer for the chance to be interviewed for your fine publication!

  7. Avatar of Kimberly Thompson

    Kimberly Thompson

    So sad, it breaks my heart. They too have feelings. I don’t want to put terror, cruelty, violence and suffering into my body. These animals have a right to a life free from abuse and suffering. I wish ALL people would at least become vegetarian.

  8. Avatar of Amanda Roberts

    Amanda Roberts

    It’s about time that animals have more rights and aren’t just pushed around like objects… I think it’s about time farmers stopped making a profit off the abuse and murder of the voiceless and the defenceless poor animals!

  9. Avatar of Frances Seifert

    Frances Seifert

    Some may argue that that farm animals don’t deserve to have legal protections. However this point is invalid because even though they are raised to be food, these animals don’t deserve the treatment they are being given. Imagine your dog at home, who has legal protection, experiences the things that these poor animals have to go through. This is the least of it, all of the animals on farms and tested on and experienced inhumane treatment… How scary!

  10. Avatar of Roberta Bennett

    Roberta Bennett

    Big kudos for this interview. I am extremely concerned with where my food comes from and because of that I have chosen to exclude the use of animals and animal products for any purpose, not just food, in all aspects of my life as is practical and possible. The only humane way to raise an animal is to not slaughter it. This should be the end goal. There should be a shift in our society to eventually (hopefully sooner rather than later) treat animals humanely, since we, as intelligent beings, should know better. But, until we reach that point new laws do need to be implemented. Laws should include more transparency within farms, more humane living conditions, leaving newborns with their mothers for long times, and less painful slaughter methods as well as other methods of treating animals with more respect and kindness.

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