Dana Barre is pioneering a kind of animal shelter not currently offered in Wisconsin — one that provides a permanent home for abandoned, neglected or abused livestock.
Animal welfare experts in Wisconsin and across the country say there's a growing need to provide care for farm animals that suffer criminal abuse, are surrendered during foreclosure or get lost after wandering away from their homes.
"Farm animals do become homeless," said Barre, founder and executive director of Heartland Farm Sanctuary based in Dane County.
In 2009, Dane County Humane Society took in 114 farm animals — more than double the number it cared for in 2008 — including 48 chickens, 16 horses and two sheep.
The society has a small barn with a few stalls where it can temporarily house livestock. But the barn can become overcrowded, as was the case last year when 42 roosters were seized from a cock fighting ring and had to be housed in the society's garage, said Gayle Viney, spokeswoman for Dane County Humane Society, which is working in partnership with Barre.
Providing care and food for these animals also strains the organization's limited staff and resources, she said.
Once up and running, Heartland will be a one-of-a-kind animal sanctuary in Wisconsin, she said.
It would join dozens of others across the country.
Tricia Barry, communications director for Farm Sanctuary, which has farm animal shelters in New York and California, said she knows of between 30 and 50 farm animal sanctuaries across the country, but only a handful are established.
In the past 25 years, Farm Sanctuary has rescued more then 6,000 animals, and Barry said the need is growing.
"These neglect cases are on the rise because of the recession," she said. "A lot of small farms, when they have economic difficulty, often the first to suffer are the animals."
Barre, who has a masters in counseling psychology and worked as an actuary, didn't have a lot of interaction with farm animals until she visited Farm Sanctuary in New York about a year and a half ago and was inspired to start a similar shelter in Wisconsin.
Heartland Farm Sanctuary, which she founded last year, currently rents a stall at a farm in southern Dane County while she works to raise money for land and facilities — hopefully between 40 and 100 acres. So far the organization has raised about 10 percent of its $500,000 goal.
"We desperately need to raise money to purchase a farm property to really start helping animals," she said. "Now we just have a few therapy animals and rescues at foster farms."
So far Barre has partnered with Dane County Humane Society along with animal welfare agencies, human service organizations and educators let them know Heartland is a resource for sheltering farm animals and other humane education programs. She's also building relationships with farmers throughout the state that could serve as foster farms for livestock and homes for feral cats, which do best in a farm setting.
Heartland will be based on Dane County, but will accept animals from around Wisconsin — likely lots of goats and chickens — as both have become more popular in urban settings.
"Hobby farming is getting more popular right now and (later) people realize it's not for them," Barre said. "People will be surprised how many cases come our way."
So far Heartland has received donated sheep and goats and rescued two pigs that had wandered away for their farm and were found in a woman's garden in Franklin, a Milwaukee suburb. Barre was able to place the pigs in a foster farm.
While the goal will be to place animals with adoptive farm families with the understanding they could never be butchered, the sanctuary also will be designed to provide long-term care for animals that people aren't likely to adopt.
"Most people don't want to adopt a cow that's going to live for 20 to 25 years," she said.
Alyson Bodai, Wisconsin state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said she's talked to Barre about her plans for Heartland and it will "absolutely" fill a need.
"Law enforcement regularly hears from animal control officers that are reporting abuse or neglect of farm animals," Bodai said.
Casey Langan, spokesman for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, said some county farm bureaus also are considering partnerships with humane societies to serve as foster farms when dealing with a large number of livestock, such as in a seizure.
"Hopefully farms around the state will be able to help humane societies when they find themselves with those kinds of unique cases," he said.