sanctuary: a sacred place, a place of refuge or safety.
The story begins at a chance meeting during a birthday party in San Diego, California. Two young women; both intelligent, well-traveled and accomplished. Hope Hilman with bachelor’s degrees in finance and science and Kate Tsyrklevich in biology, oceanography and environmental systems. They literally could have chosen any path in life. The love part was easy for them; they knew they were meant to be together but meeting each other would begin a life’s journey that was definitely not the path of least resistance.
Kate had lived in San Diego since her family relocated from the USSR. Hope originally from the state of Washington was in town on vacation. Their relationship, originally long distance, began in 2015 but that changed when Kate decided to join Hope in Tacoma, Washington and the two have never looked back.
They spent the early part of their time as a couple in a humble apartment in downtown Tacoma.
As their lives grew together, they decided a house would be more suitable, so they began looking for a cozy home in a quiet neighborhood and surrounding property with room to spare.
After carefully searching, they found the perfect location in Gig Harbor, Washington.
They moved in, adopted a dog and lived happily ever after.
But their story doesn’t end there.
While settling into their new life, they happened to stumble upon a local social media post in a vegan group looking for forever homes for rescued cock-fighting roosters.
With no big plans in mind they adopted a single rooster and named him Porter. Porter quickly became the cock-of-the-walk at their home, yes, I had to say it, and that was it. The two had caught the “animal rescue bug” and although there were other small sanctuaries in their community there was, surprisingly, no organization that had an adoption system in place. Something that Kate and Hope say now separates them from other sanctuaries.
Porter, who had by now definitely pecked his way into Hope and Kate’s heart had inspired them into adopting several roosters and chickens to keep him company in the roost. At this point the two women realized there was a void that needed to be filled in their community. So, in September of 2017 they officially launched Heartwood Haven Sanctuary. No small feat!
Heartwood, the inner rings of a tree, is now home to a wide variety of farm animals including but not limited to pigs, turkeys, ducks, chickens and of course roosters.
Hope, who still, for the past 11 years, holds down a prominent full-time position in the finance industry handles all of the logistics at the sanctuary and Kate with six years experience working in a veterinarian clinic, being a collegiate professor of science and involved with several research projects cares for all the animals in the sanctuary. The perfect emulation of yin and yang.
A Day at The Sanctuary
Their day begins at 4:30AM, yes 4-3-0.
Hope and Kate begin their morning routine and when Hope finally leaves for her full time “off-site” job Kate hits the ground running and gets to work with her two or three volunteers taking care of all the animals.
“It’s not just hanging around cute animals all day this is really hard work,” Kate admits
Animal care, feeding, cleaning, not to mention website work, emails, thank you cards, grant writing, marketing, sanctuary tours, social media and much much more.
From 8:00AM until noon they muck the barns as well as take care of any painting that needs to be done.
Projects in the afternoon can include contacting donors, arranging vet appointments, hosting tours, outreach and more. When Hope returns from her job at about 4:30PM she sits down and works for another four or five hours on sanctuary related matters. Then by 9:00PM they finish off any little tasks or projects providing them their “couple’s time.”
This was not always the case, the two say, “for the first couple of years we were clocking hours from 4:00AM to midnight every day.”
When I asked them how they remain a strong couple they explained they try to steal a few hours for each other every other Friday, but it didn’t sound like that panned out all the time.
This work is not for the faint of heart but that is where it comes from. These ladies are all heart, and you feel it when they speak about how proud they are of what they have built, with and for their community.
Two is Always Better Than One
Together they have a very strong bond in love and in life and according to Hope this is what keeps it real. Yes, they do take comfort in friends, but they have each other. In Hope’s words, it’s their relationship that’s the “major difference” that keeps them going. Taking care of the animals is its own reward and they credit that act for keeping them on track and always being reminded of why they opened Heartwood and how they persevere.
Support from family and friends is a mixed bag. When you choose a lifestyle that is still considered atypical in this world. Let’s face it who amongst us has never been to a family gathering and heard comments and gasps about our vegan lifestyle and our dedication to animal rights.
One for The Books
Their most memorable experiences revolve around the rescues.
In their words, “They offer a sense of immediate accomplishment.”
What keeps them going is knowing that they are there for the animals who have nowhere else to go.
You can hear the sense of responsibility in their voices when they say “this is our calling until animal exploitation ends.” Even through the phone I could feel the nurturing energy they exude and how they deeply care for the animals they have taken responsibility for.
One of their favorite stories involves a multiple rooster cruelty case.
“The roosters were stuck in 3×3 crates in an urban city shelter. The shelter agreed to release the birds in our care but only gave us 3 days to find them homes,” Hope said. “Not having any room ourselves, we set out at all cost to find these roosters the forever homes they deserved. We were adamant about making sure each and every one went to a loving home.”
“We shamelessly posted on social media and drove around for days looking for reputable homes,” she continued. “We received a break when we were contacted by a local news outlet who agreed to cover the story. We processed over 250 adoption applications, drove around for three days visiting potential homes and met with each viable applicant all while running a full-service Sanctuary. We were able to successfully place each one and received beautiful pictures of the roosters in their forever homes. Not only did all the roosters find loving homes, but we also educated many people on cock-fighting and the true nature of roosters and how they are loving, intelligent and beautiful sentient beings.”
“… this is our calling until animal exploitation ends.”
Unlike other sanctuaries who only take animals in until their capacity has been met, Heartwood helps animals they cannot care for themselves and makes sure they find homes elsewhere.
They have a beautiful working relationship with their community who admires them and their efforts to contribute to other organizations that do similar work.
Extra Curricular Activities
Heartwood also does outreach through two full-service pet food banks where they provide free food and in-depth animal care education including spay and neuter programs. They also provide education and assistance to those who are trying to save a wild or farm animal as well as companion animal assistance for those trying to care for a pet.
Of course, like all of us COVID has impacted their lives and many of the onsite events have been postponed. However, if you want to learn “why do pigs actually roll in mud,” outdoor tours are available, and they still provide outreach and assistance.
There may be some people who believe that sanctuaries are not the most efficient way of saving animal’s lives however I’m convinced through Kate, Hope and Heartwood that the people who visit the sanctuary are forever changed. Truly understanding farm animals and their need for compassion, rescue, and love.
The ladies also believe the vegan movement is in full swing. Check out their “Go Vegan” resource page here. As more people become informed and uncomfortable with industrial agriculture and have more access to plant-based foods worldwide, this will continue to grow. Sanctuaries are a positive way to reinforce veganism and stay connected; reminders do not have to come from watching horrific imagery.
You can visit a place where farm animals live in peace and with each other. You can witness for yourself they are persons with hearts, minds, and spirits. Beings who yearn for love and family, no different than the dogs and cats we choose to share our lives with every day.
Veganism is not deprivation, but inclusion.
In this everchanging urbanized world where we are being led further and further away from nature and all its children, a visit to Heartwood will mend that tear.
If we dare open our hearts, we shall feel the connection between who they are and ourselves.
Even if you don’t live near beautiful Gig Harbor, Washington, you can still support Heartwood Haven Sanctuary by following them on Instagram and Facebook and by visiting their website at heartwoodhaven.org (support their work with a tax deductible donation here). And, if you want to get
your hands a little dirty, and meet some adorable beings, volunteer applications are available here.