Cloa’s Ark has a tale with every tail
Claudine and cow in New Salem
Patrick in New Salem
Goat in Shutesbury house with Claudine Veistroffers
SHUTESBURY — Every critter has a story, and a name, at Cloa’s Ark.
There’s Pax, the white goat who was rescued at 1-week-old from the Whately Auction in December and nursed back to health. There’s Sietchie, the Jersey heifer adopted from a dairy farm with an infected jaw bone that required surgery. There’s Biquette, the Nubian goat with a lame hind leg from an infection with a meningeal worm, and Lucie Goosie, found with a nylon fisherman’s line binding her legs so tightly that they blocked circulation to her webbed feet.
Unlike the Biblical ark, the critters cared for by Claudine and Patrick Veistroffer don’t step out two by two. There are 15 Nubian goats, seven guinea hens, seven geese, five ducks, 19 cockatiels, 20 chickens, 11 roosters, five rabbits, two cows, one sparrow and one zebu ox that kept police officers from three departments on the hoof for hours late into the night.
The flocks in this bestiary are spread among three locations, thanks to supporters in Shutesbury and New Salem — although the French immigrant couple, who have to move by the end of May from their rented Locks Pond home, hope to find a permanent home for their menagerie.
“It has been an adventure, and it’s been healing, too,” said Claudine Veistroffer, who moved from Beauvais, north of Paris, to New York and then Worcester 40 years ago to work as a skin-care therapist with her own salon and fell into animal care as well by volunteering at a school-run farm in Marlboro.
She and Veistroffer, a former computer worker and art publisher and framer from Brittany (the two were married here a dozen years ago) began caring for birds in their condo in Marlboro — first her son’s cockatiel, Mikie, then Choquette, who still lives with them.
The sanctuary started after they began volunteering at the Hillside School farm in Marlboro. The school decided to downsize, and let the couple adopt nearly a dozen goats, and the Zebu, along with rabbits and then another goat who turned out to be pregnant.
“At first when we started, I was really afraid of the goats,” Claudine Veistroffer said. “Because they were not fed, they were let loose, and they will be wild and swarm and chomp all over me. But that was because of the way they were handled.” She got advice from friends who ran Maple Farm Sanctuary in Mendon, and they set up their first Cloa’s Ark on a 3- or 4-acre donated farm about 17 miles away, in Upton, where they stayed almost three years.
The couple also found their way to the Sirius Community here, where Patrick Veistroffer built an aviary, a chicken coop and cages for 11 roosters and five rabbits that are still there. And with the help of a loaned horse trailer or two, they moved from Upton to a Pelham farm their large animals: Marley, the zebu who balked at entering a transport, and the two sheep and two Jersey calves rescued from a dairy farm.
Again, he put up a shed, fencing, and then — after Marley ran off a few times — more fencing, and then still more fencing.
When the farm changed hands, and the cows got out one weekend, the couple was told to get their animals out or they would be killed. In a matter of hours, Veistroffer called someone in New Salem who had a cow and was willing to shelter the other animals.
“We had to move everything, three cows, 17 goats and two sheep,” he said. “And the shed, and I had to undo the fence.” But the owner called in not only Pelham police, but also Belchertown police and a state trooper, who together with a handful of other people at the scene got Marley more than a little excited and off he ran into the woods near Route 202. The other two Jerseys were coaxed into the trailer, but Veistroffer remembers, “They spent hours with a lasso. At one point, he lay down and wouldn’t move. It started at 9 or 10 at night, and at 3, he was still running loose. The more they chased him, the more he was acting crazy. If you don’t have a genuine relationship, animals don’t trust you and you can’t get anything. It won’t work.”
The Veistroffers claim they were ordered to stay in their vehicle or they would be “shackled” and jailed.
“It was like the Wild West,” adds Claudine Veistroffer. “It was absolutely crazy!” When the police threatened, at about 3 a.m., to shoot the errant zebu, Veistroffer managed to finally convince them, to let him gently coax Marley back in the pen, where he was lock overnight.
“It worked. I managed to bring him back to the field, locked him there until the morning,” when the long-horned buffalo-like animal was convinced to be transported in an animal trailer to New Salem.
Among New Salem, the Sirius Community and their temporary home where their lease expires at the end of the month, the Veistroffers figure they drive 50 miles a day, feeding and caring for the animals, and bringing Pax the 4-month-old goat — pictured on their website being cared for as a baby in their Shutesbury bathtub and home — to get to know the other goats in New Salem. “We have to be careful the way we introduce Pax to the herd,” Mrs. Veistroffer says, after the little white goat has been transported to the farmyard in the couple’s van.
It’s not all self-sacrifice, explained the woman, who is retired and suffers from lupus.
“Taking care of animals is therapy for me,” she said. “We have a very personal relationship with all the animals. We know all of them by name.” The couple is hoping to find a single, five-acre site with an open pasture, running water and electricity, and a house either close by or on the premises so they can care for the menagerie without having to spend so much time on the road. One goat got his horn stuck in the fence this winter and froze to death — a tragedy that Veistroffer said could have been averted if they had been living close by.
It’s not even necessary to have barns, the couple said, since Veistroffer has had so much practice building and rebuilding sheds, chicken coops and aviaries.
But his hope is that someone either donates land to the sanctuary or makes a donation to the nonprofit organization to help buy land somewhere in the Pioneer Valley.
“A big problem since two years is I don’t stop building and rebuilding. It’s crazy,” said Veistroffer who displays a finger that he nearly lost in an accident last year while building one of his containment structures. He hopes to organize a benefit at Sirius Community in the coming weeks for a long-range solution.
The sanctuary accepts donations, especially from people who ask the couple to adopt their unwanted animals. They’re grateful for volunteers to help look after their bestial brood.