Summer is the season for road-tripping, and what more enticing reason to hop behind the wheel than a quest to see cute (and often cuddly) animals? In under a two-hour drive, the following rescues and sanctuaries invite you to spend time with animals ranging from piglets to alpacas to wolf dogs and more.
Whether you wish to do yoga with goats, give belly rubs to pot-bellied pigs, or snuggle up with a sheep, the hangout opportunities are vast, and plenty of volunteer experiences are available, too.
Spend the afternoon rubbing the baby belly of a piglet at Ross Mill Farm, open daily to visitors from noon to 3 p.m. The farm is home to about 180 pot-bellied pigs, 120 of which are looking for homes. "I used to say pigs are smarter than my husband," jokes Susan Magidson, who started the operation in 1990. "A pig is a very good companion animal, and when it's a good relationship, the pig will bond to its owner."
About half the pigs are kept in pens, while the remainder wander around the property like curious farm dogs, sniffing out the area and soaking in the sun. The younger ones, most of which have lived out their earliest months surrounded by people on the farm, are particularly friendly. Don't be surprised to find one or two following you around, gently head-butting you as soon as you crouch down to snap a photo.
Visitors are welcome to come and simply hang out or can call ahead to schedule a volunteer appointment. Volunteers typically spend two to four hours helping to clean the pens, change the water, and engage in other maintenance tasks. For those who fall in love with Wilbur, Pipsqueak, Petunia, or one of the other lovable pot-bellies up for adoption, consultations are available right on the spot.
2464 Walton Road, Jamison, 215-322-1539, rossmillfarm.com
While often stigmatized as "Big Bad Wolves," the wolf dogs at Howling Woods Farm will teach you that the true nature of a wolf is anything but aggressive.
"Everything we know about wolves is based on movies and TV, starting when we're kids with Little Red Riding Hood," says Michael Hodanish, president of Howling Woods Farm. "But wolves and wolf dogs are naturally very timid and shy. If a stranger comes to visit, they'll run and hide, yet, they can be as friendly as any other dog once they're comfortable with you."
Head to Hodanish's farm, and the one-hour petting window that each visitor tour offers quickly reveals the harmless personality of the animals. The farm is home to 18 wolf dogs, which range from being partially wolf to almost pure wolf. Some are up for adoption, while others have made themselves the stars of multiple TV appearances, ranging from music videos to movies such as Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
For a $20 suggested donation, visitors will get to go inside three pens, which span in size from half an acre to three acres. All hold multiple wolf dogs that have been socialized — meaning they've been exposed to people enough times to decrease the dogs' shyness and fear. "It's unique to interact with such a large canine — like any other friendly dog, often they'll come right up to you and jump up to smell your face," says Hodanish. "It's usually a surprise to people."
Be sure to call ahead to schedule an appointment. Open Tuesday through Friday and one day each weekend, the farm typically books up three months in advance.
1371 W Veterans Highway., Jackson, N.J., 732-534-5745, howlingwoods.org/animal-rescue
Two years into retirement, Alex Frazier's wife convinced him to buy his first alpaca. "She joked that I needed a project," says Frazier, who knew little about caring for the animal at the time but was intrigued by it's fluffy fiber.
The fiber — AKA the white, gray, or brown hair that covers the animal from head to toe — is prized for being eminently soft. "It's one of the finest fibers in the world," says Frazier. "It's warmer yet lighter than wool, and as soft as cashmere."
Run your hands through one of the 13 alpacas that Frazier and his wife, Sandy, now own eight years later, and you'll feel as if you're petting a winter fleece instead of a farm animal. The couple invites visitors out to learn about the alpacas and tour the farm — also home to two goats and two sheeps — any day of the week. Appointments can be made with a simple call to Alex's or Sandy's cellphone. As long as they're home, you're welcome to drop by.
Given the nature of the shy but docile animal, tours are typically more educational-heavy than snuggle-heavy. However, it's easy to get within arms reach of the animals, and Frazier will place an alpaca on a lead rope to facilitate a little petting time for those who want a hands-on touch of the fleece. "They get scared, but you just have to give them a little rub on the neck rather than going straight for the top of the head," explains Frazier. "They're only defenses are kicking and spitting — they're not going to hurt you."
Throughout the tour, the couple will share fun facts about the member of Camelidae family (the same biological family of both llamas and camels), and afterward, you'll get to visit the farm store, where you can find items ranging from socks to dryer balls to blankets, many of which are handcrafted by the couple from their own Alpacas' fiber. And if you find yourself wanting to return, the couple also offers group events on the farm — which in the past have ranged from birthday parties to bachelorette outings.
1980 Quarry Road, Salford, 484-431-5587 (Alex) or 484-431-9305 (Sandy), www.littlelostcreekalpacafarm.com
Want to spend some time with adorable, grass-munching goats? The friendly creatures may want to hang out with you, too. Studies have compared goats to dogs in their desire to develop social relationships with humans. If you want to bond one-on-one with a goat of your own, there are few better places do so than with the Goats of Anarchy.
Goats of Anarchy (GOA) is a special needs goat and sheep rescue based out of New Jersey. The farm holds more than 80 goats and sheep, and offers two opportunities for visitors to interact with the animals. The first is to attend a yoga class, where goats have been known to come right up and nuzzle the nose of yogis breathing their way through a downward dog. Sometimes the sheep are in attendance, too, which Angela Matassino, secretary of the GOA board, notes are equally as friendly. "You pretty much have to snuggle with the sheep when they come around," says Matassino. "They won't take no for answer."
Classes are free, and unfold only a couple times per year. However, the second option to mingle with the friendly flock unfolds every Saturday, when volunteer hours take place at the farm. From 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., GOA invites about 10-15 people at a time to volunteer. Tasks including mucking the stalls, rinsing the animals' beds, and other farm maintenance duties. "We've had a lot of the animals since they were babies, so they're pretty affectionate and will be right up in your business as your cleaning and helping out," says Matassiono.
Volunteer days can be booked through emailing email@example.com.
Clinton, N.J. (address given out when you sign up to visit), Goatsofanarchy.com
While an array of farms in the area welcome visitors to mingle with horses, sheep, and other animals, The Barn at Spring Brook Farm is the only one in the Greater Philadelphia region designed to serve children with physical, cognitive, and/or developmental disabilities. The nonprofit, which relies on a strong base of volunteers, sets out to provide an alternative therapy for children with conditions that range from autism to attention deficit disorder to cerebral palsy through animal-assisted activities.
Volunteer experiences at the farm include opportunities to work one-on-one with children and animals, like Bum-Bum the bunny and Sugar the Sicilian donkey, as well as animal grooming, barnyard cleaning, general landscaping, and other maintenance tasks. Given that kids are involved, all volunteers are required to complete a background check and fill out a volunteer application that includes a liability release. Although some extra steps are required, it's certainly one of the most rewarding farm experiences available.
"We encourage volunteers who are working with the children to commit long-term so that they can really create a relationship with the children and the animals, but people who just come out for the day are still a vital part in helping to facilitate something that these children will really benefit from," says Emily McClure, executive director of the program. "We've learned that for the whole family unit, this program builds so much hope. When kids are told elsewhere that they can't do this or that, we figure out how they can do it here in a safe environment, and families are able to see their kids excel."