Catskill Animal Sanctuary seeks new home

Catskill Animal Sanctuary seeks new home

Owner and executive director Kathy Stevens. (Photos by Phyllis McCabe)

For over 20 years, the Catskill Animal Sanctuary has rescued thousands of animals in need at their 150-acre refuge on Old Stage Road in Saugerties. But its co-founder said increasingly wet weather brought about by climate change has made the property untenable. 

“We’ve been feeling (the effects of climate change) for a long time,” said executive director Kathy Stevens.“But our concerns have gone from mild eyebrow raising, like, ‘Hmm, that’s an interesting little phenomenon,’ to pretty gravely concerning in the last four years.”

Stevens said the property has lost around half of its trees due to accelerated erosion and a microburst a couple of years ago that felled 22 in one go. The property itself, in the base of a valley, is particularly susceptible to weather, Stevens said. 

“We’re in a bowl, and the animals are in the bottom of the bowl,” she said. “We have more rainfall, and it’s coming in shorter, stronger bursts, which is causing incredible erosion on these hills.”

In addition to erosion, the Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s main barn frequently floods and pastures no longer drain as they once did. 

“We have a big, beautiful pasture that we haven’t had animals in in three years,” Stevens said. “It just never dries out. It’s a combination of clay soil, the increased rainfall, and the increased erosion.”

Stevens said the increasing rainfall and its deleterious impact on the Catskill Animal Sanctuary aren’t going away, and it’s likely to get worse. A state-directed study agrees. 

Published earlier this month, the New York State Climate Impacts Assessment identifies the issues climate change will bring across the state, as well as ways to help mitigate its effects. Among its observations is an increase by 10-20 percent in total statewide precipitation between 1901-2022. Total precipitation is expected to keep increasing by about 6-17 percent by the end of the 21st century, with the largest increases seen in New York City, the Catskills and the lower Hudson River Valley. 

Some of the barns on the property.

Because the issues are unlikely to improve, and because the property is particularly susceptible, the Catskill Animal Sanctuary is looking for another home before it’s too late. 

“I would say it’s not a crisis, but it would be irresponsible when you’ve got the lives of hundreds of animals in your hands to wait until it becomes a true crisis,” Stevens said, adding that ideally, they won’t go too far. “We’re just trying to be proactive, stay in our immediate region, because we absolutely love our team, and it’s a whole lot easier to move animals from one side of Saugerties to another than, for example, to move them to Maine or North Carolina.”

The decision to move was not made lightly. Stevens said the animal sanctuary consulted with Jake Wedemeyer, executive director of the Ulster County Soil and Water Conservation District, who’s been advising them for two decades. 

“The last time he came, he said there’s nothing more you can do,” Stevens said. “His words were, ‘This place is no longer suitable for an animal sanctuary.’”

Stevens said the animals at the sanctuary aren’t presently in danger, but caring for their health is more difficult, with the constant monitoring and management of hooves, which when consistently wet can become flat-soled and flared, and susceptible to cracks, abscesses and bacterial infections like thrush and white line disease. If a single storm is large enough, there is also the potential for dangerous flooding.   

Employee Melissa Pullum walks Mary Jane in from the field.

“Do you remember (hurricanes) Irene, Sandy and Lee?” Stevens said. “Each of those did a number on our property. If we had one of those that was 10 or 20 percent worse, we’d be in trouble. You’d really have to do a mass evacuation.”

Stevens and the Catskill Animal Sanctuary have already begun searching for a new property, one, ideally, which inverts the bowl and less defenseless against flooding. They hope to find their new home this year.

“It happens in three stages,” Stevens said. “You have to find it, and then you have to do a giant capital campaign to fund it and then you have to prepare for the move. So we would like to be at least in the preparing for the move stage before the year’s out.”

Stevens said they recently lost out on a property in Red Hook to a higher bid, but have identified others. But added to the arduous daily routine at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, seeing prospective properties is time-consuming. 

Lauren Babbieri, the education manager, with Mario, a Berkshire pig weighing in at 550 pounds.

“It’s not like looking at a house,” Stevens said. “Each of those trips is a three or four hour adventure. It’s fun, it’s interesting, but you know, it takes a long time to walk 150 acres and look at the barns and look at the soil and look at the fencing and figure out the infrastructure and all of that.”

And Stevens stressed that the goal is to stay in the area. 

“This is our community, she said. “Our volunteers are from here, our donors are from here, our community gets just…you know…It would be a tough thing to move.”

Catskill Animal Sanctuary seeks new home

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