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Full Throttle: “Whatever it Takes” in the Winter of 2018

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Plenty of challenges accompany a “normal” winter day at Catskill Animal Sanctuary: ice must be broken in troughs that lack heaters, compromised animals must be blanketed, bedding in pig houses doubled or even tripled to ensure our porcine friends’ safety and warmth. And then there are the chickens: the care they require when the thermometer dips toward “winter normal” includes protecting their combs and wattles from frostbite with a coating of Vaseline.

But last week, temperatures plummeted to -12 and were accompanied by gale-force winds. These were not “normal” winter days–these days tested the grit and the heart of our cherished caretakers, the folks responsible for the well-being of our 300 charges. For a week or more, they were in full throttle, ensuring that even though they were struggling to stay warm, our animals would be comfortable.

What does “full throttle” actually look like? Well, rather than blanketing the three or four most compromised horses or goats, for instance, caretakers blanketed dozens of elderly animals. On the most treacherous days, our elderly and blind horses stayed inside, so cleaning our 20-stall main barn was more difficult—there was more poop!

Caretakers piled pig barn straw four feet high, and programmed heaters to turn on during the bitterest hours of the long, cruel nights. Where it was safe to hang heat lamps, they did so, and where it wasn’t, the chickens moved into our heated offices, which added many additional crates to the daily cleaning schedule.

The payoff? Even on the morning after our worst night, every single animal was okay.

But there’s more to “full throttle” than the extra care that the animals need. Locks and latches freeze shut and must be warmed or pried with gloveless hands, and sometimes fingers freeze to the metal itself. Today, a full ten inches of snow has blanketed the grounds.

Rich, our intrepid maintenance man, alternates between snow blowing and snow plowing all day long so we have access to the 35 pastures and paddocks where our animals live. Animal Care Director Kelly Mullins will walk “equine alley” to determine whether it’s too icy to risk turning out the horses. Our Animal Care team battles stress, and worry, and exhaustion. Still, they smile and grit their way through.

Whatever it takes to ensure that our animals are okay. That’s what “full throttle” looks like in the Winter of 2018.

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