How to Kiss a Cow, And Other Lessons I Learned at Asha Sanctuary

06/06/2017 10:20 am ET Updated Jun 06, 2017

Cradled in the lush countryside of Newfane, New York, is a small barn. Unassuming and barely visible from Coomer Road, one could easily drive right on by without seeing it and splash into Lake Ontario a few miles straight ahead in one direction or Niagara Falls the other way.

Roughly the size of a spacious living room, the barn—reminiscent of humble, Shaker perfection—sets back beyond a manicured sea of grass and small orchard. Immediately to the left and behind are pastures framed with wooden rail fences. To the right, a stream flows and echoes. All hugged by picture-perfect groves of trees and fields, humming with fresh breezes and a choir of more than two-dozen types of songbirds.

This barn is the heart of Asha Sanctuary—a 27-acre farmed animal sanctuary and educational center, founded in 2013.

I arrived on a late Friday afternoon, invited for the weekend by Founder and President Tracy Murphy to guest-host and emcee the annual “Kiss A Cow Day!” event. The fundraiser draws hundreds of guests from the region and beyond, to have fun and to learn.

From the very beginning, my visit was a refresher course on how all life is precious.

As Tracy slid apart the two front doors of the barn, I recalled a favorite children’s book I once had. It was about a farm full of animals—cows, pigs, sheep, horses, turkeys, chickens—who all hopped into an old-fashioned sleigh one night and went for a midnight ride. I often dreamed of what it would be like to be tucked in among them: warm and cozy, loving and laughing.

Stepping inside the Asha Sanctuary barn, suddenly that children’s book came to life!

I was five again. I was wide-eyed, bubbling with pure excitement and glee.

On a carpet of fresh hay, a most unique furry-and-feathered family encircled me. Each one a rescued farm animal with her or his own story. Each one with telling eyes and a sparkling personality that induces love at first sight. Each one instantly forging an indelible imprint on my heart.

Nick the Pig reclined next to the front doors, watching me while three other sleeping pigs—Ruth, Rebekah, and Todd—lined the wall. Portly and oblong, Nick flashed me a satisfied smile from his comfortable perch.

An abandoned, former house pet, Nick and the other rescue pigs taught me about the gift of contentment—how sometimes it’s the darkest pathways that lead us to a place of peace and calm, and rejuvenating stillness.

Next, Michael the Goat introduced himself with his own version of a handshake: a head-butt to my right leg, causing me to giggle. With foot-long, curved horns, he continued to gently head-butt like a mischievous toddler teasing me into playing with him. I appeased my new pal by scratching a hard-to-reach itch between his horns, while a smile grew on his face as well.

Once abused and neglected, Michael’s new incarnation at Asha Sanctuary reminded me to always remain light-hearted and playful in the moment . . . with a little mischief thrown in every now and then for good measure.

To my left, Dawn and Lindsay—mother and daughter mini-donkeys—stood together like joined halves of a sweetheart locket. Before being rescued, they would have likely been separated and exported to countries where donkey meat is a delicacy.

I couldn’t resist cupping their silky, demure heads in my hands and then melting into a full-on group hug. They embodied the indomitable bonds of connection between parent and child, and all living beings.

Quietly and patiently floating around me, the sheep—named Tracy and Anu, as well as Little Mary and her brother Gabriel—were like walking clouds. Their fluffy coats spongy and soft, they nuzzled me. I gently massaged the back of their necks in return. Tracy especially took a liking to me, flicking my hand with kisses. They showed me how the simplest affection and touch are prayerful.

Travelling over from an outside coop, several hens, a rooster named Gary the Great, and two flamboyant turkeys—Abraham and Abigail—bobbed and weaved near the barn doors, gathering like curious onlookers. Each had been rescued from lives either spent in a confined space no larger than an iPad or while on their way to slaughter.

I chuckled at these busybodies, who were like endearing old biddies in search of the latest gossip. Each one was a harmonious note on how humor and curiosity are vital spices of life.

In slow, deliberate motion, Cindy—a 1500-pound Brown Swiss, former dairy cow—approached me next. The monumental force of her grace awed me. Unhurried and dignified, her gait regal, I nicknamed her “Queen.” She became a powerful symbol to me of mindful and purposeful living.

Trailing close behind Cindy, I finally met my co-host for “Kiss A Cow Day!” . . . Albert the Super Cow.

At one-day old, Albert—a Jersey steer—was taken from his mother, whose only purpose on a factory farm was to produce milk. As a male, Albert was of no use to the dairy farm owners. Like millions before him—to the tune of 3,000 farm animals per second, his fate was sealed the day he was born: to be discarded as garbage or sold at auction and slaughtered for food. That is, until Asha Sanctuary rescued him, nurtured him, and showed him that not only is love possible in this world, but that in the end good always prevails one way or another.

Albert has since become Asha Sanctuary’s logo of joy, the resident super hero helping to welcome thousands of visitors each year. In addition to having his own social media pages, he also has his own fan club—one admirer even has Albert’s face tattooed on her arm!

I soon found myself bookended by well over a ton of bovine beauty. Albert on my left and Cindy to my right. Towering over me, they brought their large and shiny, marble eyes down close to mine.

Eye-to-eye, we gazed into one another’s soul windows as I gently caressed their cheeks. In their eyes, I saw the courage and strength wrought from long journeys and forgiveness. I understood more deeply what it means to transcend fear and embrace compassion. To transform hate into unconditional love. And, to be grateful.

Albert and Cindy then bowed their heads further toward me—a sign of camaraderie and fellowship, and poetry in motion. I smiled, leaned in, and sealed our new friendships with gentle kisses on their foreheads.

In our crazy-busy everyday lives—laden with frenzy and commitment, places like Asha Sanctuary, and these rare moments of pause and communion, are blessings.

My new friends there are each messengers of hope and second chances.

Nestled within that tiny barn, I discovered a precious treasure: the living, breathing proof that there is, indeed, such a thing as living happily ever after.

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