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Charlie’s Acres farm animal sanctuary in Sonoma hopes to go public

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#friendsnotfood

Just over a month into the new year, and more than 5.2 million animals have already been killed for food so far in the United States.

The U.S. consumes the most meat per capita of any nation in the world. Americans consumed an average of 265 pounds of meat per person annually, dwarfing the global average of 92 pounds per person.

Chickens, cattle, and hogs make up the vast majority of meats produced in the U.S. More than nine billion chickens are slaughtered nationwide annually, followed by roughly 32 million cattle, and 121 million pigs.

Source: Department of Agriculture (USDA) Livestock Slaughter Reports and animalclock.org.

Tucked back away from the bustle of Napa Road is an unmarked 32-acre farm where every animal has a poignant story of its rescue from death, or escape from the dinner table.

The farm animal sanctuary is a passion project for animal lover and vegan Tracy Vogt. The 32-year-old Vogt doesn’t expect to convert the world to veganism but she would like to help people connect their food to animals and to raise awareness about how their meal got to their plate.

“A lot of people have never seen a live animal of the meat they eat and haven’t thought about where their meal comes from,” said Vogt. “It’s a first step, teaching people about the beauty and intelligence of these animals and how to leave them off your plate, if you choose to do so.”

Vogt said she had been thinking long and hard about how she could best make a difference in the world, and affect positive change for animals.

“I realized that I wanted to give farm animals a voice,” she said. “There are so many of them and they are basically ignored.”

On a weekend trip up from their home in San Francisco in 2016, Vogt and her husband Kyle were shown a lush, sloping farmstead along the south side of Napa Road back. They fell in love with the spot. Only after the transaction closed did they learn that the previous owner had run her own informal animal sanctuary on the property.

Today, Charlie’s Acres is home to pigs, dairy and miniature cows, horses, goats and sheep, as well as chickens, Cornish game hens, ducks, turkey and geese. Whether rescued from abuse, abandonment, backyard butchers, factory farms or laboratory testing facilities, “all these animals have had some level of trauma in their lives that is hard to imagine,” said Vogt.

After growing up in a small California town on the Oregon border, Vogt studied psychology and communication at Western Washington State. A decade later, she uses those skills in a charming online blog about the animals who end up on her property.

The first pig she took in was rescued from a wildfire. Her game hens fell off of a slaughter transport truck. A couple of pot-bellied pigs were rescued in Puerto Rico after the hurricanes.

Right now, Vogt and her husband are funding the operation themselves, with some donations coming in, but they are hoping to get public funding over time. This is Vogt’s full-time passion project. She says her husband loves animals, too, “thank goodness,” although she laughed that it would be hard for him to love them as much as she does.

“But he’s very supportive,” she said. Kyle Vogt is the founder and CEO of Cruise, a self-driving automotive tech company that General Motors bought for $1 billion in 2016.

Tracy Vogt herself works on the farm three or four times a week, commuting up from their home in San Francisco. Her time is also occupied by their first child, a 7-month-old son who, despite what visitors to the farm initially think, is not named Charlie. Charlie is her female Chihuahua, Vogt’s very first rescue a decade ago.

“She was the inspiration behind this, so I named the sanctuary after her,” said Vogt.

Because it is a nonprofit, Vogt can’t live on the property, only the farm staff can. But she has two full-time animal caregivers who live in and several part-timers who help out with property maintenance and animal care.

#friendsnotfood

Just over a month into the new year, and more than 5.2 million animals have already been killed for food so far in the United States.

The U.S. consumes the most meat per capita of any nation in the world. Americans consumed an average of 265 pounds of meat per person annually, dwarfing the global average of 92 pounds per person.

Chickens, cattle, and hogs make up the vast majority of meats produced in the U.S. More than nine billion chickens are slaughtered nationwide annually, followed by roughly 32 million cattle, and 121 million pigs.

Source: Department of Agriculture (USDA) Livestock Slaughter Reports and animalclock.org.

But rescuing animals is only half of Vogt’s goal. The other piece is education.

To that end, Vogt appeared before the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission last week in her quest to open Charlie’s Acres to the public – less than 20 people a day – and to build a 3,200-square-foot barn on the property that would serve as a visitors center with space for workshops, an office and restrooms. She has spent the past year going back and forth with the county planning department, responding to any questions or concerns it posed.

“I said to them, let’s work on this together,” she said, adding that their responses have been enthusiastic. Next up is an environmental review and then, hopefully, a conditional use permit. She would love to start construction this summer and to begin allowing small groups onto the property to interact with the animals.

“We look forward to being a resource for the community,” she said, talking enthusiastically about her plans to offer public workshops so that people who already have animals are better able to take care of them.

She told the story of a pig who was brought to Charlie’s Acres after having been neglected. Bella had been fed only candy and she was so overweight that she was “fat blind.”

“She couldn’t see anymore because her fat rolls covered her eyes,” said Vogt. “The owner said, ‘I just can’t take care of her anymore and I don’t know what to do.’” A workshop explaining what is appropriate to feed your pets, paired with a vet offering low-cost appointments, might help avoid these kind of situations, and the owner might then have been able to keep her pig.

Charlie’s Acres complements, and does not compete with, Pets Lifeline, said the pet-rescue nonprofit’s executive director Nancy King.

“I applaud them and think they are doing amazing work,” she said, noting that she, herself is a vegetarian. “I am really happy that there is someone local looking after livestock and raising awareness about those animals.”

The Charlie’s Acres property is spacious and well-maintained and the small tidy barns clustered on the site each house just a handful of animals. Vogt plans on always keeping one barn empty so that she is able to take in animals from a disaster.

The October 2017 wildfires came right down onto Charlie’s Acres but Vogt took in animals from Sonoma Valley High School and her neighbors until she herself had to evacuate. More recently, she offered to take in animals from the Camp Fire.

Vogt said she wants to be a good neighbor and a community resource. She loves the idea of students from Sonoma Valley High helping out on the property and the idea of school groups being able to interact with the animals.

“After making a connection with animals, what people choose to do in terms of what they eat and how they treat animals is their own decision,” she says. “But I do know that having compassion for animals translates into compassion for humans.”

After walking the loop of small barns, Vogt slows her tour to introduce her visitors to two old horses.

“These guys just arrived last week and they came from two different places but both were about to be euthanized,” she said. “But they are already like best friends, they won’t leave each other’s side.”

She said that every time a new rescue is driven in the gates, the animals run over from their corners of the pasture to greet the new arrivals.

“It is so fun to see,” she said. “It is like they hurry over to tell them that they are safe now.”

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

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