Part of the family: Some 250 rescued animals now live at Cloa’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, which has nally found a permanent home after 8 moves in 9 years

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 01-29-2023 9:06 PM

HADLEY — Bringing a van filled with hay to feed some of the more than 250 animals living in the sanctuary, Patrick Veistroffer is joined by Mini, a Jacob sheep, who hops inside.

As Veistroffer exits the vehicle to disperse the hay, and make sure other food is provided to the sheep, goats, cows, rabbits and various birds, Mini follows him out, and is then soon accompanied on the journey around the snow-covered site by a Canada goose named Fifi that flies from its cage and lands nearby.

Mini and Fifi, Vestreiffer explains, have become fast friends at the Cloa’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, with the goose periodically appearing to manicure the sheep.

“It’s the way we should want it to be between humans,” Veistroffer says of the relationship the two animals have built. “Mini and the goose are what people need.”

Mini has also become well known outside the sanctuary, sometimes accompanying Veistroffer to his home in Northampton, where, with a leash, can be walked on the city’s trails and where passers-by come to pet him, not much different from the way they might approach a dog.

“Mini gives people joy and happiness,” Veistroffer said.

On a recent afternoon, Veistroffer was making one of his two- to three-times daily treks to the 23 Lawrence Plain Road site in Hadley to make sure the goats and sheep, cows, a pot-bellied pig, chickens and ducks and roosters, doves and rabbits were getting the nutrition needed, each living in their own space that provides a comfortable environment, including some areas that are heated for the winter.

There are even homing pigeons kept in their own enclosure. “We’re the only sanctuary who do pigeons,” Veistroffer said.

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What is striking to Veistroffer is how content the animals are after the challenges of moving from them site to site, in Shutesbury, Greenfield, Charlemont and Deerfield, a total of eight moves in nine years before settling in Hadley.

“This is the most happy they’ve been in the 13 years we’ve had the sanctuary,” said Veistroffer, who founded the facility in 2009 with his wife, Claudine.

The sanctuary has evolved over the past three years since being divided between two sites on Route 9. Veistroffer said the death of his mother in France provided him an inheritance and he purchased a 5.4-acre site, clearing wood from 1 to 2 acres to accommodate the animals as they live out their natural lives.

Belief in the mission

Cloa’s Ark continues to depend on financial support from those who believe in the mission of what has been dubbed “the land of permanent miracles for many animals,” operating on a slim budget of less than $30,000 a year.

Veistroffer observes that he would never abandon those that have become part of the family. “You love animals, you stay with them,” he said.

One of them is Choquette, a 21-year-old cockatiel, that allows his head to be caressed and makes cooing sounds audible as if responding to the affection.

“This is why you work every day for 15 years without a break,” Veistroffer said. “I don’t have time be sick.”

What began as a way to save abused and neglected animals and those at risk of perishing, more than half are now coming from people who have fallen on hard times, such as those who are unemployed and can no longer afford the expenses, or are going through a divorce. Some of the chickens and cows come from a sanctuary in Barre whose owners are moving to Tennessee. The surge in backyard chickens has left some people without a way to move on.

One person even travels from Boston regularly to see sheep that she was unable to care for. “It’s like we do boarding long term,” Veistroffer said.

During the winter months, the sanctuary hosts visitors from New York and Connecticut who may be heading to ski areas in Vermont. Others may visit because they support the objectives.

One of the supporters is Elizabeth Keifer of Northampton, who credits Patrick Veistroffer for the worthy and wonderful way he is giving back.

“It’s amazing how much of every day is spent taking care of all of these formally abused or neglected animals,” Keifer said.

Keifer understands there is more to do.

“There are always more animals to be rescued and who deserve to live out the rest of their lives in comfort and health,” Keifer said. “He gets called all the time about additional animals who need care so the need for his sacrifice will never cease.”

Colleen Fang of New York said she was impressed with what the Veistroffers are doing, calling it a “a very special place that was perspective changing.” She brought her young child, then around 6-months old, as her family was opening a vegan restaurant in Deerfield.

“They put so much caring and attention toward the animals, and do it with so much love,” Fang said.

Veistroffer acknowledges he must turn away more than half of the adoption requests that come in, not only because of costs associated but also for space reasons. Even if he clears more of the land, he would have to make enclosures, some of which need to be heated by propane.

“If I don’t have enough money or help, I don’t keep it,” Veistroffer said.

The success has been based on low overhead, no loans and the time and energy he has. He would like to eventually have paid help and possibly interns from University of Massachusetts.

Since Dakin Humane Society closed its adopting facility in Leverett, Veistroffer said he is also exploring starting up a cat rescue. Ideally, he said such a spot would be in Northampton to house the felines and adopt them out, though it needs to be affordable. It’s possible he might combine that with his expertise in picture framing and art business.

Veistroffer works with three other sanctuaries in Westfield, Boston and formerly in Barre.

Illustrating his love for all animals, when Veistroffer gets a call on his cellphone, he hears the sound of a rooster. But when he gets a text it’s sound from a goat, and when it’s an email received, a songbird sings.

The sanctuary started with one cockatiel and, at that time, he didn’t know that he would have the gift for animals, but after so many years the sanctuary has become a way of life. “It felt like it was meant to be,” Veistroffer said, observing that it’s possible he’s been reincarnated. “Like my wife says, you were probably an animal in your past life.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.]]>