What it Means to Be a Tour Guide

Today we have a guest post from one of our tour guides, Julie Squires. Julie is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and has led workshops for guests of the Homestead on transitioning to veganism.  

What I love about being a tour guide are the transformations. Most of my tours start the exact same way, I give the history of CAS, some minimal ground rules (no feeding the animals!) and tour expectations. I like to get personal and ask folks for their names and where they are from and it’s during this time that I pick out the enthusiasts from the fair-weather participants.

If you have kids chances are you’ve gone many places you really had no interest in going to but you go anyway. If your significant other is an animal lover (well, first thank the universe!) chances are you’ve been to many animal-centered events and places just to be supportive. As I look around my tour group I can almost always tell who has been coerced into coming along. It’s often written on their face and in their body language.

Franklin through the years: as a baby when we first met him and the adult he grew into.

My tour often begins with the big pigs (I’m talking 700-800 lbs., people. That definitely qualifies as big.) and after folks get over their size I start to tell them about their stories and their personalities. It’s really hard to not be impacted by Franklin’s story of being tossed aside and left to die at a commercial pig farm because he was a runt and very sick. And I go on to explain that a kind soul took that little 5 lb. piglet and brought him to CAS where he was nurtured back to health and shown love for the first time in his little life. But his story doesn’t end there. Oh no. You see pigs are not only extremely intelligent but they are also intuitive and they sensed something was a little “off” with Lil’ Ole Franklin.

Our dear Franklin had some serious self-esteem problems. All he knew was being bullied and pushed aside by humans and just like it would be for you and me, it had psychological effects. So I share the rest of Franklin’s story of how he went to “Animal Camp” (also the name of CAS founder, Kathy Steven’s second book) with a cow and horse who had also been shunned by their respective species, and how these three characters healed not only Franklin’s wounded heart but that of all involved. This is about when I start to see the beginnings of the transformation of fair-weather to almost-enthusiasts.

As the tour progresses we are often followed around by what’s lovingly referred to as “the Underfoot Family,” the group of free-roaming goats, sheep, donkey and chickens. I watch as the expressionless become engaged and delighted by the antics of the cast of characters who call Catskill Animal Sanctuary their home.

Mirage greets visitors to his pasture.

But if I’ve got a particularly tough visitor, I know it’s just a matter of time. Enter the blind horses. Yes, we have two blind horses and one mule Diane who is quickly becoming blind. Most (including myself) have never seen a blind horse (let alone two AND a mule!) because most people wouldn’t keep a blind horse. But this is CAS and everyone is welcome, thankfully. Interacting with our blind equines, Buddy and Mirage, is an absolute thrill of a lifetime, especially when they are showing off. People are expecting to see a couple of horse just standing there and sometimes that is exactly what they are doing. Other times Buddy is cantering figure eights, galloping full on from the other end of the field and stopping just short of the fence where all the eager tour participants are standing breathless.

And it’s this moment that I can always count on. The one where despite your age, gender, race, political stance, team affiliation, or motivation for visiting, everyone sees something in that horse that they connect with and are inspired by. If he can do that, then perhaps I can.

God I love this place.

Why not plan your visit to CAS now? Check out the tour schedule!



Sanctuary Life