Close your eyes and dream about a place where farm animals gambol and frolic in a beautiful, bucolic setting. Imagine rolling green lawns, flowering gardens, and brightly painted barns with fruit trees like papaya, pineapple, and banana perfuming the air for the cows, ducks, goats, sheep, turkeys, chickens, pigs, cats, and horses that live there.
That paints a perfect picture of the Leilani Farm Sanctuary, an animal rescue nonprofit and home to more than 300 farm animals on the Hawaiian island of Maui. The sanctuary was named in honor of its first resident donkey, Leilani, a particularly inspiring creature, and founded by Laurelee Blanchard, a former commercial real estate executive who left her corporate job to pursue her lifelong passion for protecting and advocating for animals.
“My vision was to provide food, shelter, and veterinary care for rescued animals; humane education to the community; and a model of compassionate living,” she says.
After a career in animal-rights activism, with jobs at Farm Animal Rights Movement and Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s largest farm-animal protection organization, Blanchard bought eight lush acres of land in Haiku, on Maui, in 1999. There she created the Leilani Farm Sanctuary to provide an idyllic home for rescues, along with programs to educate children about the animals who live there. “Animals, with their unconditional love and nonjudgmental attitude, can often reach kids more deeply and effectively than people can,” she says. Picture, if you will, a place where Old MacDonald and Charlotte’s Web come to life.
Here the animals graze freely, nibble on leaves in the garden, and provide memorable interactions and education for visiting children, families, and school groups, as well as the general public.
The staff is all volunteer. And it’s not surprising that they are drawn to this Edenic spot, where the animals are happy and playful. Each inhabitant has a unique personality—some bigger than others!—and favorite ways to occupy each day. “When I wake up in the morning,” Blanchard says, “I look out the window of my cottage and see happy animals in every direction ducks swimming under the waterfall, animals grazing in the fruit orchard, and sometimes a parade of goats, pigs, donkeys, sheep, and deer walking through the animal alley behind my cottage that serves as a bypass from their barn to the pasture. As I sip my cup of coffee, several purring cats crowd onto my lap.” Apparently, there is one particular cat who loves to be combed while hangin out on the wraparound lanai. The resident busybody, she has a solid friendship with a few of the sheep and pigs and keeps a close eye on just about everybody.
At the end of the day, Blanchard will often walk out to the pasture to photograph the animals before sunset. One balmy summer night, she heard some unfamiliar pig sounds—”grunts, snorts, and oinks that I didn’t recognize,” she says. Opening the gate to the animal paddock, she found Kea, a rescued pig, engaged in animated conversation with a young wild boar standing on the opposite side of the fence. “He had likely lost his mother to hunters and wandered up from the wild area in the gulch behind the sanctuary,” Blanchard says. “I watched from a distance to avoid scaring off Kea’s cute suitor. He wanted to be friends with the animals here, it appeared, and started following the donkeys along the fence line.”
Visitors can take personalized, guided tours, which may include giving a pig a belly rub, cuddling a bunny, brushing a goat’s coat, and more. The tours—as well as monthly or yearly paid sponsorships—support the costs of maintaining the sanctuary, which include feeding the animals, veterinary care, fencing, and building repairs.
“Most visitors have never had the experience of cuddling a chicken, a turkey, or a goose,” Blanchard says. “They are amazed to discover how soft and warm animals are, and how much they enjoy being petted. The healing that takes place when children get together with the animals is profound.”
Visit leilanifarmsanctuary.com to make a donation or learn more.