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Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary employees and volunteers are hoping to spread the word about the rescue facility and have fun while doing so.
They will ring in summertime with a Summer Solstice kick off party on June 21.
The sanctuary rescues, rehabilitates and re-houses criminally abused, neglected and abandoned farm animals. They partner with rescuers, humane officials and farms both in Ohio and across the United States to help rescue animals in need and find them them new homes.
The party also serves as a fundraiser. Volunteer Manager Fred Lefton said the farm has important improvements going on including replacing the floor of the horse arena and replacing "Big Blue," the farm's dump truck that recently died. The truck is paramount to farm work as it was used every single day at the sanctuary and must be replaced.
"The arena floor is made of dirt, but the dirt needs replaced," Lefton said. "The dirt is too fine and creates too much dust. It's not good for the animals or the people. We also want to add some ventilation to the arena."
Lefton said the Summer Solstice Party is designed to welcome the official start of the summer and those who attend can expect a fun evening with a sunset toast and sweet treats from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Several activities are lined up for this evening including raffles, a best sunset photo contest, plus some surprises to be revealed that evening.
Tickets are $25 per person or $45 per couple. This event is for adults age 21 and older. There is no set dress code for the event but boots or some sort of durable, comfortable footwear is recommended. Space is limited and tickets may not be available at the door if they sell out. To purchase tickets visit www.happytrailsfarm.org and click events to find the link.
The Summer Solstice Party is not the only summertime event, with the tour season in full swing. The farm gives tours every weekend usually led by Ilona Urban, who is both a volunteer and a part-time staff member of Happy Trails. Urban walks guests around the farm and introduces them to the animals. She knows the animals names and stories. Urban she has her favorites, but it's clear she loves them all as she tells visitors about the 100 roosters the sanctuary took in from a cockfighting ring or how Wilby the pig was so overweight he could barely walk when he came in. Wilby often greets guests at the fence now as visitors begin their tours.
Urban also intertwines history and facts about the farm such as explaining how Annette Bragg founded the farm 17 years ago after rescuing a pot belly pig named Janice. Bragg realized there was a need for a farm animal sanctuary as many area animal rescues had no options for farm animals as they are only equipped to handle domestic animals.
Bragg retired in 2016 and Laurie Jackson, who became involved with Happy Trails when she was introduced to the founder at a foster home in 2001, is the new director. Jackson, served as 6-year veteran dispatcher for the city of Akron and is a 9-year member of the Summit County Mounted Unit. She owned and managed Moxie Stables in Mogadore for 8 years before leaving it in the hands of her long-time business partner, according to the farm's website. After becoming aware of Happy Trails, Jackson became a supporter, volunteer, member of the rescue team, emergency foster home and adoptive parent.
During the past 17 years the farm has grown. There are 12 staff members, 7 full-time and five part-time, and 22 active volunteers. Where once there was just a house there is now a 14-acre farm with a horse stable, an arena, rooster condos, several barns that hold pigs, cows, other animals and equipment.
One of the first buildings added to the farm was Piggerton Estates, where pot belly pigs are housed. Urban explained pot belly pigs are a tropical animal, so heat lamps are kept in the barn, and the pigs who live in stalls may be hard to see at first because they burrow under piles of hay. Urban dug Queenie out to say hello, while explaining to a family of three visiting the farm recently, that pot belly pigs actually make good pets.
"They are clean, odorless and smart," Urban said. "They can be housebroken but they can also tear up a house if you aren't careful."
She said people adopt often them as babies thinking they are "teacup" pigs but when they grow to their normal size pot belly pigs can weigh anywhere between 80 and 200 pounds, people discard them and they end up needing to be rescued. She added there are so many pigs that need homes "no one needs to be breeding pigs."
While Happy Trails is not a petting zoo, interaction with the animals is permitted. But Urban, or whomever the tour guide may be for the day, will let guests know which animals are OK to pet since the animals haven't had the happiest of lives and some may be shy.
Apart from the two projects Lefton described, staff and volunteers are working to clear an area toward the back of the property to build another pasture for horses. Urban said some clean up of the on-site cemetery is needed as well. If an animal dies while in the farm's care, it is buried in the shaded cemetery and given a grave marker.
Tours are small groups of no more than six and Urban said boots are strongly recommended.
Happy Trails is a non-profit rescue, receives no government funding and relies on donations. There a number of ways to help including monetary donations, donating items from the farm's wish list, volunteering, or adopting, sponsoring or fostering animals.