NEW RICHMOND — Wally the pig was likely living in the moment when he jumped from a truck on its way to a slaughterhouse that was going 70 mph on Interstate 90 near Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Miraculously, the 9-month-old, 250-pound swine survived last spring’s tumble and went unclaimed at a local humane society.
Frederick and George, a pair of sheep, were saved from a dilapidated farm near Colfax. There are ducks, dogs and chickens named after the cast of Seinfeld, while a curious flock of five turkey think they’re farm dogs, only their greetings include gobbles, chirps and the fanning of tails.
If animals dream, it’s unlikely Wally and the other residents of SoulSpace Farm Sanctuary could have envisioned anything better than their current digs. The haven, located on a historic farmstead in St. Croix County, is the ambitious effort of a former St. Paul, Minnesota, police officer and longtime vegan to rescue unwanted or abused farm animals.
Kara Breci’s mission, now in its third year, has quickly succeeded. She is out of space at her 11-acre farm and in 2017 turned down over 1,000 requests to take in animals. She’s hoping her project, however, will bring attention to the need for more farm sanctuaries and help others consider creating similar farms here in the Midwest where, despite the large agricultural presence, they are few and far between.
“My phone rings all day and I get e-mails constantly,” said Breci, 41. “The first 100, 200, 500 times I said no was awful. But I know these guys are my priority and if I take too many animals in I’m not going to make it. And not only would I fail them, I would be a huge tax on other sanctuaries that would have to take in all my animals.”
Breci, who is on disability after being forced to retire from the police force in 2016 due to a bad back, brought in $35,000 in donations in 2017 to help feed and care for the animals, which include peacocks, a miniature donkey, pot-bellied pig and two other farm pigs besides Wally. Over 80 volunteers, most of them from the Twin Cities, help care for the animals and there are plans for a visitors center, humane education classes and summer camps.
Last spring, a second-floor room of the 1867 farmhouse was converted to a bathroom and the attic to a bedroom, which Breci rents out to guests who are looking for a bed-and-breakfast-like experience, only one surrounded by farm animals. Her attempts to rent the room to guests attending today’s Super Bowl in nearby Minneapolis were unsuccessful.
The other farm sanctuaries in Wisconsin include Tiny Hooves Rescue, founded in 2015 near the Kenosha County community of Somers; Sol Criations in Endeavor; and Autumn Farm Sanctuary in Cedarburg, where the residents include goats, chickens, sheep, a few horses and a goose named Lumpy Francis Lumphead.
The first farm sanctuary in the state is also the largest. Heartland Farm Sanctuary, on Mid Town Road just west of University Ridge Golf Course near Verona, had contributions and revenue in 2016 of $440,452 and in 2017 drew more than 2,600 visitors. Dana Barre opened the farm in 2010 with just a few animals but it now has nearly 100 residents, summer programs, public tours and over 100 volunteers, and on May 18 will have a fundraising gala at The Edgewater hotel.
“We all try to stay connected so we can help the greatest number of animals,” said Jen Korz, Heartland’s executive director, who has networked with all of the farm sanctuaries in the state. “As big as we are we get calls weekly and have to turn people (offering animals) away. We’re at capacity. Somebody needs to open a pot-bellied pig sanctuary, there’s just so many of them.”
For Breci, SoulSpace began in 2015 at a convergence of her life. She had just purchased the farm property, was diagnosed with a bad back, going through a divorce, and on a whim decided to acquire three sheep headed to the butcher. One of the sheep, Frederick, had been cut out of its dead mother, survived and was being raised in a trailer with a litter of puppies, who chewed off one of his ears.
A short time later, Breci, a vegetarian since her childhood days and now a vegan, saw Gene Baur, who is credited with starting the farm sanctuary movement in New York in 1986, speak in the Twin Cities. The speech inspired Breci to action by going to conferences and seminars on animal care.
“It wasn’t my background so I needed a lot of help,” Breci said. “I just started educating myself on how to do this and found out real quick that 95 percent of sanctuaries fail within the first year because they get too big too fast.”
Her sanctuary includes two primary living spaces. One pen consists of a coop for chickens, ducks and a potbellied pig and a small barn for the donkey, peacock or whoever else decides to wander in from the outside enclosure. Another pen and shed are for Wally and two other pigs. The five turkeys have the run of the farm and fly in and out of the main enclosure, while it’s not uncommon for LuLu, a chicken, to wander into Breci’s farmhouse.
LuLu came from a backyard chicken coop in Minneapolis after her partner died, while other chickens and roosters came from a second-grade hatching project in Minneapolis, which is no longer in operation.
“I tried to introduce (LuLu) to the flock and they weren’t having it and she wasn’t having it. It was just too stressful on her,” Breci said. “She’s happy in here so we usually have a little diaper on her. She just wants to hang out. She can be an indoor chicken if she wants.”
Breci grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota, graduated from Mankato State University and worked for a time as a police officer in Colorado. In 2005, she joined the St. Paul Police Department, where she worked on patrol and spent four years working narcotics on the vice squad. Now she runs a farm sanctuary where in November a Thanksgiving event to celebrate and nurture the turkeys on the farm drew 100 people who helped provide pumpkin pie and salads to the gobblers.
“This isn’t something I had actually planned out for my life,” Breci said of her career switch.
But the star of the farm is Wally, who gained international fame last March when he used his snout to push up an unsecured gate of moving trailer, jumped out of the back and not only survived the fall but narrowly avoided being hit by two cars. He wandered into a ditch where he was later picked up by the Sioux Falls Area Humane Society.
“This pig knew exactly what he was doing,” Lynde Miller, who was driving behind the truck, told the Argus Leader, a newspaper based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “I was just in awe of this.”
This spring, SoulSpace will hold a “jumpaversary” to celebrate Wally’s heroic leap of faith, but there is concern. Most pigs are turned to chops, ham and bacon within a year of their birth. Since Wally has found refuge, he’ll likely live for another 10 to 12 years and has a pretty good shot at reaching 700 pounds. Breci gets donations of old produce about five times a week from a local grocery store but Wally’s appetite will likely require additional grains and feed. She compares Wally to Duke, her 9-year-old goldendoodle.
“I’ve loved animals my whole life and I don’t see any difference between Wally and Duke,” Breci said. “I’m not going to put Duke on my dinner plate and I wouldn’t dream of putting Wally on my dinner plate. The personalities of these animals are astounding. Every single one of them.”
Barry Adams covers regional news for the Wisconsin State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.