Animals redeem life at Barnyard Bhutan

… the sanctuary is home to 500 animals

Some had the best start in their life but later they were dumped as they grew old and some abandoned animalshave never seen a happy day until rescued.

At Barnyard Bhutan, life revolves around the abandoned pets – Sundown to Sunrise, and the mood at the sanctuary is always uplifting, hopeful, nurturing and at times, quite dramatic. It is indeed a rollercoaster ride, a happy ending for all of them.  

Billy the goat is quite the artist and loves to draw on vehicles with his horns.

Zara the horse is always available to offer the assistance of her nose in every wound dressing and car unloading efforts.

Panda the dog, is absolutely everywhere you are, or everywhere he is not supposed to be.

Happy the cow, the shelter’s first born after her mom was set on fire, is just the sweetest and goofiest girl, while holding the record for most broken fences and assisted animal escapes.

Besa, their first mule rescue and prosthetic wearer is a doll. She has kicked Jamie and thrown her shoulder out more times than she can count, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

And then they have their cats who just will not learn how to use the litter box and insist on peeing in the kitchen sink while Jamie attempts to make coffee.

All of the animals, like people, have their own personalities. “So, it’s always an adventure,” said Jamie Vaughan, the executive director at Barnyard Bhutan Animal Rescue & Sanctuary.

That was a long time ago.

Before moving to Bhutan in 2006, Jamie had a very different life. 

She lived in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, United Nations of America (USA). She worked in the finance division at her local water utility company and either wakeboarding or snowboarding on the weekends, and travelling a few times a year. 

Today, Jamie and her team look after about 550 animals. 330 dogs, 40 cats, 60 horses and mules, 53 cattle, 30 goats,21 pigs and formally wild boars and 10 birds at the barnyard.

The barnyard Bhutan was finally registered as a Civil Society Organization(CSO) on November 5, 2020, though they have been working in Bhutan for more than 15 years, earlier known as Maya Foundation- a non-profit in the USA.

Jamie traces her love for animals since she could remember. She looked up to her grandmother who co-founded the first humane society for animals in Virginia, her hometown. She said, “I probably got it from my grandmother who was always rescuing any animal she found, raccoons, rabbits, ducks, cats and dogs.”

Jamie clearly remembered her first ever rescue. She was riding her bike one day when she was really young and she found a little crow on the road. “I picked him up and rode back to my grandmother’s house in tears, only to learn the poor bird was already dead.”

The next was the matted little skinny white dog found wandering in the middle of nowhere in the mountains of Virginia. “We picked him up and put him in the car and after it was determined he had been abandoned, we named him Muffin.” Muffin moved in and lived with Jamie’s grandparents until his passing many years later.

Many have failed the animals. Their humans left them in distress, mistreated, abandoned, neglected, abused and starved. Making the animals aggressive. 

At some point, those animals were someone’s pet. A lot of them had owners. Barnyard has become a dumping yard over the years, where people abandoned the animals without letting them know. “We have had cows tied up at the gate early in the morning,  had puppies and cats thrown over at the gate in a sack.”

“We see too many dogs and cats abandoned when they are no longer puppies or kittens, or when the care or house situation becomes difficult, so it is important to us that they go to good families prepared for a lifetime commitment.”

Jamie observed that the adoption rates are low. Only about five to ten cats and dogs a year found their forever home. “Most people want to adopt the purebreds. Which is unfortunate!”

“We hope that this number will increase now that one of our neighbors is regularly fostering dogs and overseeing adoptions for us  including the follow up which is very important,” she said. 

The greatest concern at the moment is lack of space. The shelter is completely out of room and every new emergency means a juggling act of patients just to provide even the basics of accommodations. She said, “And having to prioritize life or death patients and stray versus owned animals is heartbreaking.” 

They said that it is difficult and a daily struggle. Food alone cost them Nu 350,000 per month and that doesn’t include treatment supplies, staffing.

They rarely receive any donations. “Mostly, we use personal funds and support from contributions to the Maya foundation.”

She said that the feed for equines and grass for all the livestock is the most challenging. Because unlike in most countries, hay or grass is not available for purchase and is nearly impossible to import.

Aside from paddy straw which is not exactly healthy, we have to rely on grass which can be cut or donated and that is just seasonal. It has been more than 2 weeks, the shelter is horribly under staffed. Five workers disappeared to join contract work.

Jamie said that getting enough staff is also tough because, though they have had some amazing people for several years, the constant emergencies and new animals mean they always need more. “And unfortunately volunteers are rare. We are looking for volunteers at the shelter, to do some work like digging drains, basic repair of fences, gates and kennels.

Jamie hasn’t been anywhere in the last 12 or more years except for a horse emergency in India, and one overnight horse rescue in Bumthang. “There is no such thing as a holiday or day off in this line of work.” She sees one or two emergencies every night at least, typically car accidents.

She hopes that her family will be able to come visit Bhutan again soon. She said, “I have no place to go anywhere because the responsibilities here are far too great.”

She doesn’t really think about what she might be missing out on. “It’s just who I am now. Though a full night’s sleep and a day off would be pretty amazing.” They live off donated old clothes, towels, blankets, mattresses, even old socks for the three-legged horses, under their prosthetics.

“People can pretty much donate anything old we can use, need not be fancy!”

Right now during the summer, their paddy storage is already running very low.”We urgently need grass, green grass, willow tree leaves for the horses and cows.” She said that the green stuff is good for the livestock. And that they don’t have anything growing there. “People can also donate any kind of food basically.”

Jamie believes that it would be much easier if all animals could be returned to where they were found or released later but this is not always realistic or a humane option. She said that many of the dogs now have permanent disabilities or health conditions which require long term care. Dogs whose owners have abandoned them, or puppies who were tossed over our gate in a sack at a young age cannot survive on the streets.

Cats without owners can’t be dumped on the same street or field where they were found for obvious reasons. 

Old three legged and unsound horses and mules must also be provided for, so they don’t wind up hit by another car , made to work when they are unfit or left to collapse in a field from starvation. 

Cattle, goats and pigs are generally only wanted if they are within their so-called productive life and after that or if they are a male are at great risk of slaughter . 

“Ultimately we’re-home when possible, but ensuring the long term health and the safety of an animal is a priority.”

“I can’t say that I have a favorite animal because they are all loved, but there are of course some that you form close bond with, usually dependent upon how long they had to stay in the bedroom being nursed back to health, how many times they tried dying on you but you wouldn’t let them, or the number of sleepless nights or weeks spent just trying to stabilize them.”

“I wish I would have known when I was young where foods, clothing, and other animal products actually came from though. As children we don’t associate leather with a hide of a killed animal, or a rabbit fur coat with the animals we are used to playing with and have as pets. We know we are eating chicken for dinner, but at that age, we don’t really understand that chicken has been killed for us.”

She said that she always supported animal protection groups with whatever spare change she had, meanwhile until 11, she was still eating meat and wearing leather shoes. “How hypocritical! I really just wish someone would have been clear and honest with me from the very early on. So, I could have made better decisions sooner. If we are not hiding anything, why are we not talking about it?”

There will be more animals waiting for their homes forever, the lesson is, your home can be the best home.

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