WOODSTOCK, N.Y. — For Rebecca Moore, it was a rooster named “Nelly” that helped guide her on a path to creating her own microsanctuary dedicated to rescuing chickens and educating the public about caring for these domesticated avians.
Moore said she had been working with larger animal rescue groups and found that when chickens were brought in, people did not necessarily know what to do with them. She said there was also much less money put toward their care.
Then along came Nelly, a rooster with two crippled feet. Moore said his feet were so bad that he had to stand on a soft surface was often kept in a crate or a small stall-type structure. Moore said she realized she could do better for Nelly if she brought him home. That was in 2009.
“It was through that one friendship with that little guy, it undid everything I had been taught about chickens,” Moore said. “Since then, I’ve made so many more connections.”
Moore is the founder and executive director of The Institute for Animal Happiness, currently housed on a rental property on Ohayo Mountain Road. She founded the non-profit microsanctuary in 2015 and focuses on rescuing chickens, particularly those who are disabled.
Currently, Moore is looking to purchase a property where she can relocate The Institute for Animal Happiness. She said the people who own the property she currently rents have had changes to their lives and need the space back.
“What we really need help with is finding a new space,” Moore said. “We are looking to purchase and we are fundraising.” Moore said she would like to find a property with at least five acres so she can provide a buffer between the sanctuary and neighbors.
While there are many larger animal sanctuaries, Moore said the microsanctuary movement empowers people to become activists and educators even if they do not have a large space. She said, though, there is a difference between being a microsanctuary and hoarding animals. It comes down to the care and treatment of the rescued residents and the education, Moore said.
At present, Moore’s rescue is home to 15 chickens, four of which are disabled and have special needs, requiring hand-feedings and physical therapy. The special needs chickens currently live in portable enclosures within her house where Moore spends much of her time making sure they are fed, cared for and watered.
“As a microsanctuary, we really are trying to educate and make a strong statement to anyone looking at our work that care of these birds is way harder and more involved than the public has been led to believe,” Moore said. She said there needs to be a re-education of people so they understand that when done correctly, the care of chickens can be really demanding and challenging due to all the health issues, reproductive issues and socialization needs they have.
Moore’s disabled birds have an outdoor space for recreation but with the threat of avian influenza still lingering in the area they have not been able to use it, she said.
The remainder of her rescued chickens, though, have outdoor coops that are insulated and heated to withstand the elements, as well as enclosed runs to help keep them protected from predators. Moore’s partner, Brian Normoyle, built the structures.
Each of the coops holds a maximum of four to five birds at a time, and Moore said she would never have more than 14 to 20 rescues at once because of the care and individualized attention each one needs.
Among the residents is a small white hen named “Ghost” who is the lone survivor of a bear attack on her flock, as well as two bantam roosters named “Hall” and “Oatie” who were dumped in the woods in Glenford.
Moore said she tries to be as transparent as possible about what her rescue does. She said she posts information and videos on the organization’s website at www.instituteforanimalhappiness.com and on its social media.
“With chickens, it’s so interesting because people who do care for them tend to fall in love with them,” Moore said. “And then it’s only after you get them that you really comprehend how much like other animals they are. And I don’t mean like the same, but the way they do have relationships.
“One of the reasons we do this microsanctuary thing is because we’re trying to really show them outside of the farm environment,” Moore added.
Moore said people have been taught that chickens need little care and very basic shelter and that they can be hoarded in large numbers. She said chickens are one type of animal that are actually “brutalized in numbers that are unthinkable.”
“Society is so deeply conditioned about chickens that I feel like if we can make a little dent in that, if we can crack that door open just a tiny, tiny bit, it’s actually revolutionary,” Moore said.
Moore said in addition to her rescue work, the Institute for Animal Happiness goes out into the community to do educational outreach. She said the rescue partners with New York Farm Animal Save and People’s Place in Kingston on the “Happy Cart” free vegan food project.
The Happy Cart provides free vegan food every Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. at People’s Place.
The Institute for Animal Happiness also has hosted the Hudson Valley Vegfest, which was on hiatus due to COVID-19. It is also responsible for the Hudson Valley Vegan Guide, which is a mini-educational magazine with recipes, local resource listings and articles.
Photos: Institute for Animal Happiness