Trails to happiness

Pamela Crimbchin

Happy Trails farm offers a sanctuary for recovering animals

A strong metal gate acts as the entrance to Happy Trail Farm Animal Sanctuary. It lets people pass but protects the animals inside from escaping into a world that has hurt them.

Happy Trails takes farm animals that have been seized by the government, helps them recover and finds them homes for adoption.

Lady Godiva: the brown donkey

Inside the big red barn on Happy Trails Farm, two rescued barn cats, Tiger Lilly and Lola, hop down a ladder from their warm and hay-bail protected crate in the upper part of the barn. Lola pauses, staring at Lady Godiva, a donkey with a thick, curly brown coat, who is standing leisurely next to the ladder in the aisle way.

Lady Godiva, like most donkeys, has an attitude. Her beautiful, full brown forelock covers most of her face, hiding what could be considered a glare.

Volunteer Ilona Urban hands her a ginger snap, Lady Godiva takes it and promptly spits it on the floor.

“Fine, well be that way,” she jokes.

Lady Godiva was found abandoned on the side of a mountain with a buffalo, four goats and a mini horse.

Lady Godiva was underweight when coming to the farm and needed to be given food and supplements. A few weeks ago, Lady Godiva had her teeth floated. That’s when a dentist files the animal’s teeth to be smooth and contoured, which Lady Godiva did not approve of.

Lady Godiva follows Ilona to the end of the aisle before deciding to head back to the ladder. Seeing Tiger Lilly at the base, she pins her ears back and swiftly steps toward the cat, chasing her up the ladder.

Happy Trails is talking to a couple potential homes. Ilona has high hopes that Lady Godiva will be adopted soon.

Pumbaa: the shy pig

“Piggerington Estates” reads the small sign above the brown barn to the right of the main gate.

Ilona walks to a small gate into the Estates. A bag of ginger snaps in hand, she stops at the sight of a small, black potbelly pig, standing at the end of a path of a February snow. The unplowed snow is level with his back.

“Are you stuck in the snow?” she asks Pumbaa, stomping down a path to let him through.

The small pig backs away warily. Pumbaa was found running loose in Mt. Vernon last August. When he first arrived at Happy Trails, no one could touch him at all. The volunteers worked with Pumbaa by giving treats and positive reinforcements to reassure him that they were not there to harm him.

He chooses not to take Ilona’s path. Instead he backs up, turns around and follows his original path, popping out just behind Ilona.

“Oh here, you had a way out, didn’t you,” she says, holding a ginger snap for him to take.

Pumbaa inches slowly to Ilona’s hand, stretching his short, fuzzy neck just far enough to snag a ginger snap. Then he quickly retreats two steps back.

She wipes the fresh slobber left by Pumbaa’s mouth and nose off her hands and walks away.

Mac: the gentle giant

A large black Clydesdale with a kind, white face moves slowly towards Ilona and her bag of ginger snaps. His name is Mac. His large hoofs making craters in the already plowed snow.

“When we rescued him, he was 700 pounds underweight,” she says, patting his large neck.

Mac’s owner had left him in the care of a woman in Ohio. The woman claimed to be taking care of the animals, but instead Mac, along with 11 other horses, three hens, three guinea fowl and a calf, were neglected, according to Happy Trails founder Annette Fisher.

Ilona walks away toward the farm’s large red barn, with Mac pivoting to follow. His large legs move leisurely with his face close to the middle of Ilona’s back.

“He just kind of follows everybody around like a pup,” she says.

Since coming to the farm, Mac has gained 300 pounds. The volunteers of Happy Trails started him on hay and supplements based on veterinarian recommendations. When he started to gain some weight, they added grains.

Mac, who only shuffled when first coming to the farm, now spends his days cantering in the pasture with Tony and Houston, two other horses on the Happy Trails farm.

Odessa: the little goat with spunk

A small, playful white goat chases sheep and goats twice her size around the 5-by-3 foot hay wheel. She runs to the animals, head ready to ram. Then she veers off course, looking back only to taunt them into a chase.

Little Odessa was not this playful when she first arrived at Happy Trails Farm.

When rescued from an undercover investigation into a livestock facility in Medina County, she had pneumonia, worms and pink eye so bad that one of her eyes had to be removed. After surgery for her eye, volunteers and local veterinarians nursed Odessa back to health.

Odessa is now part of Happy Trails pet therapy program. She visits schools, retirement homes, churches and events in the area, where volunteers tell people her story and she steals some hugs and kisses.

However, today Odessa is not looking to snuggle. She is looking for fun and excitement as she tries — but fails — to jump on top of the large hay wheel.

The Rooster Hut: a very loud place

What was originally built as a barn for rescued cock-fighting roosters now holds roosters, three guinea fowls and 35 rabbits.

Four volunteers are stripping the roosters’ cages. They wrestle with the screeching birds, from cage to cage. Each rooster is given its own cage so they don’t fight with each other. The task of removing old hay and adding new is made more difficult by the addition of rabbit cages along the walls and in the aisles.

Many of the rabbits have since found adoption and foster homes. The farm does not generally take rabbits, but because of the large quantity, they made an exception to their rule of farm animals only.

The three guinea fowls taunt the roosters and rabbits by walking along the tops of cages and in the rafters of the barn.

“It’s very loud in here,” a young women shouts from inside a rooster’s cage.

“It always is,” Ilona replies.

Choosing to leave the chaotic barn, Ilona walks next to a long metal fence. Pinned to the fence is a laminated picture of a large potbelly pig, Oliver. She stops to brush the fresh snow from the sign and sighs.

“Annette came out on a Friday and he was fine,” Ilona said. “When she’d found him Saturday morning, he’d died.”

Ilona said the farm does not know why the 1,000-plus pound pig died. It could have been a stroke or a heart attack.

The animals that die on the premises are buried in the woods on the far left corner of the farm. Ilona said a Native American blessed the area. Each grave is marked with a wooden stake so the animals can be put to rest with dignity.

Contact assistant features editor Pamela Crimbchin at [email protected].

How to volunteer

&bull Must be at least 18 years old, physically fit and able to dedicate four hours per month.

&bull Fill out application and a criminal background check, then attend a volunteer orientation.

&bull During the first 90 days of training, volunteers are on probation and are scheduled to work with a seasoned volunteer. During this time, the volunteer is evaluated and it’s determined if their skills, attitude and teamwork is appropriate to be included as part of the Happy Trails Volunteer Crew.

&bull After 90 days, the volunteer is then permitted to sign up for weekday volunteer assignments as they become available.

Information found at

Steps for adoption

&bull Fill out an application and someone will come to examine the facility.

&bull If approved, the adoption fee will be paid and the new owner will have two weeks to return the animal if it does not work out.

&bull If the two weeks go well, the adoption is finalized and a contract is signed.

&bull Students do not often adopt an animal because they do not have adequate facility for large farm animals on campus or in dorm rooms and don’t have a permanent residence since their stay in Kent is usually limited to four years.

Information found at

Learn more about animal cruelty cases and how they are worked through by attending a free presentation by Happy Trail Farm Animal Sanctuary at 6:30 p.m. on April 14 at the Akron Public Library.