A few months ago, I was wrapping up my final semester of classes (crammed them all into the summer semester to graduate by August) and overwhelmed with meetings, events, and campaigns at work. It was one of those moments where I knew I was going to go completely insane if I didn’t get out of New Jersey soon. Thus, on a whim, which is my usual way of doing things, I booked a long weekend for two at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s Homestead. I was so excited to learn that it is a possibility to stay on the sanctuary itself! I couldn’t imagine a better way to get away from society, reconnect with nature and animals, and reset, while simultaneously supporting a beautiful cause.
The weekend was finally upon us and I had Jeff awake at 5am, more excited than I had been in a very long time. After kissing the babies goodbye, promising we’d be back soon, and giving them lots of snuggles, we hopped in my little red Mazda and shot up to our first stop, Garden Cafe on the Green, located in the cute, hippie, and perhaps a little (or perhaps a lot) gimmicky town of Woodstock, NY. This was my first trip to Woodstock, as I’ve spent most of my life in the Southwest, and I immediately fell in love. Though I could see it getting tiresome with the endless tourists and the not-quite-subtle weed references strewn throughout the town, I was blown away by the amount of vegan options. On top of two or three fully vegan restaurants, every menu advertised as being vegan-friendly. This combined with the concerts on the green and drum circles every Sunday, I could see myself moving away from all the NJ hubbub and transitioning to the laid-back lifestyle of Hudson Valley.
Our first meal up the Hudson did not disappoint. Garden Cafe had a variety of options, all of them vegan. Jeff went for an Italian Tofu Scramble with mixed vegetables and roasted potatoes and I went with my usual instinct and selected the Huevos Rancheros. Though everything was excellent, I would have to say the best part was how perfectly done those potatoes were. Just the right amount of crisp, seasoning, and perfectly soft (but not too) on the inside. We raved about them for a good amount of time after.
Breakfast unfortunately came to an end when we scraped our plates clean and we wandered through Woodstock, stopped at a brewery in Kingston with vegan beer options, and headed over to check in at the Homestead.
Just on the outskirts of Saugerties, NY (another very cute town) the Catskill Animal Sanctuary opened up to us like a little piece of heaven. The pictures explain better than words, but even those don’t do it justice. Along with the serene landscape, there was an air of unity, acceptance, pacifism, and love. I quickly felt all of the pressures of my life slip away as we checked into the Sanctuary and took a walk around the grounds.
Since we were staying at the sanctuary that weekend, the Homestead Manager invited us to attend what would usually be a sponsors-only event – Sunset Stroll. This event took place in the barn on Saturday evening (the day we arrived) and included live music from Rootbrew (not too loud that it disturbed the animals), vegan hor d’oeuvres, beer and wine, short tours of the sanctuary, and even photography tips from the sanctuary’s volunteer photographer. We had planned on taking part in the tours and photo tips, but somebody was being incredibly friendly and would not allow us to stop giving her pets and keeping her company. How could we say no to the big beautiful blue eyes of Cricket, resident horse? We spent most of the evening hanging out with her and enjoying the refreshments, which were to die for. We were most obsessed with the deviled potatoes (what a great idea!) and I, admittedly, was quite fond of the rosé (though I’m typically a Malbec girl).
My favorite part of the evening, aside from meeting Cricket, was meeting Catskill Animal Sanctuary founder, Kathy Stevens. She was warm and welcoming and had this calming sense about her that I could see reflected in both the humans and the other animals. She took the time to speak to us on multiple occasions throughout our stay and her dedication to the CAS mission was prevalent. It was after speaking with her about Cricket at the Sunset Stroll that we decided to sponsor Cricket (We would have adopted her, but we thought our landlord might be a little peeved).
The following morning, after taking a stroll around the sanctuary, exploring Saugerties a bit, and getting our fill of coffee, we greeted our Homestead manager, Erica, who started prepping breakfast for the B&B guests. As we were awake and energetic, she let us help make the delicious vegan breakfast which consisted of a savory tofu scramble and mouth-watering pancakes.
Though the food was definitely something to write home about, it was the atmosphere surrounding the morning that truly captured my heart. There were two other couples staying at the Homestead that weekend who we immediately connected to and spent our breakfast having vibrant conversations about the animals, sanctuaries, joys and challenges of being vegan, our love for Cowspiracy and our distaste for What the Health, and how nice it would be to spend Thanksgiving at the Homestead, surrounded by our newfound sanctuary family members, cruelty-free dishes covering the table.
We took a tour of the sanctuary later that day with an excellent tour guide, Rocky. Young, vivacious, and exceedingly knowledgeable, Rocky introduced us to chickens that enjoy being cuddled, lounging pigs escaping the heat, grazing cows, and friendly turkeys. We were even visited by a tribe of goats, strolling down the trail on their way to get some food and pets. We learned the stories of every animal we met (though the two hour tour didn’t allow for a visit to all of the animals because the sanctuary has over 300 rescued animals!) Each animal was rescued from a terrible life of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It was often difficult to listen to the devastating tales of their past lives. At times I felt a few tears escaping from my eyes – tears of pain and anger, but also tears of joy, seeing these animals now living a life where they are cared for and loved.
At the end of the tour we were treated to a buffet of vegan samples, revealing to those who may not be vegan or who are new vegans the endless possibilities of a plant-based diet, whether someone is a top chef or more of a grilled cheese chef. They also had an array of brochures and demos offering enlightenment on everything from vegan restaurants to the horror of factory farms.
The remainder of our trip comprised of exploring charming Hudson Valley towns, meeting friends at a brewery, dreaming about moving up to the Catskills and living a simpler life, and finally, meeting up with our new sanctuary friends from Portland, Maine in their suite at the Homestead. We chatted about veganism among other topics – hiking, traveling, pets – and enjoyed beer they brought down from one of the many local breweries popping up in Portland. I kept thinking about how nice it was to connect with and become friends with people we had just met. Being a mostly introverted and socially anxious individual, I usually find it very difficult to speak comfortably with people I’ve just met. Jeff even commented on how impressed he was with my extroversion.
Since going vegan, but even before, I have never felt more comfortable and accepted than when I was at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Every person we met was a delight, from our fellow visitors, to our Homestead Manager Erica, to our tour guide Rocky, to the founder Kathy. It was the perfect getaway – we were able to relax, be social, learn and grow. I would recommend staying at the Homestead to anyone who lives the vegan lifestyle (and those wanting to learn more!). Even though we may have spent a little more money than if we had stayed at a hotel, the experience was worth it and knowing that our money was helping the sanctuary and the animals was the best part. I didn’t even feel guilty when I bought myself an array of gifts at the gift shop. 🙂
See you at the sanctuary!